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U.S. author Gary Shteyngart aggravates Canada’s literary insecurity

Gary Shteyngart. (Image: Gary Shteyngart/Facebook)

Gary Shteyngart. (Image: Gary Shteyngart/Facebook)

Can a country whose most celebrated living writer just won a Nobel Prize still be anxious about its literary chops? The answer, evidently, is yes. The proof is in Gary Shteyngart’s Twitter feed.

Shteyngart—who’s best known for his novel Super Sad True Love Story, a near-future sci-fi romance/comedy—has just released a memoir. As part of his publicity rounds, he did an interview with Vulture.com. In response to a question about whether literature should be subsidized, he said the following:

Let me say this. I was the judge of a Canadian prize [that is, the 2012 Giller Prize], and it’s subsidized, they all get grants. Out of a million entries, we found four or five really good ones, but people just don’t take the same damn risks! Maybe they want to please the Ontario Arts Council, or whatever it is.

It’s clearly a put-down, but it’s a mild one. One could even call it constructive criticism—but so far, few people have. Several Canadian media outlets have picked up the story, turning it into a genuine mini-controversy. Shteyngart, true to form, has spent the past day using the situation as an opportunity to be hilarious. Check out his command of Toronto’s cultural zeitgeist:

His book tour comes to the Toronto Reference Library on January 31, and tickets are free. If all of this is anything to judge by, it should be an entertaining show.