Jack Rabinovitch, the beloved businessman who created the lucrative and prestigious Scotiabank Giller Prize literary award that boosted the profiles and sales of countless Canadian fiction authors, has died.
Rabinovitch died Sunday afternoon in Toronto, his daughter Elana confirmed. He was 87.
An obituary posted on the website of Benjamin’s Park Memorial Chapel, which is handling the funeral arrangements, said Rabinovitch died as a result of a “catastrophic fall” at this home last week.
The Montreal-born, Toronto-based Rabinovitch tackled several careers throughout his life, including journalism, food retail and real estate. But it was his Giller award that made him a recognizable face across Canada and internationally.
The idea for the renowned honour was hatched not over boardroom coffee, but over bar drinks with author Mordecai Richler.
“It started at a pub in Montreal called Woody’s and ended up at a famous restaurant in Montreal called Moishes, and over chopped liver we decided what to do,” Rabinovitch told The Canadian Press at the Giller Prize gala in October 2012.
The prize was established in 1994, a year after the death of Rabinovitch’s wife, literary journalist Doris Giller.
Rabinovitch wanted to create a literary award to honour Giller while also recognizing excellence in Canadian fiction — in long format or short stories.
“The only real major [literary] prize [back then] was the Governor General’s and most people just felt that it wasn’t right to just let the government handle the situation,” said Rabinovitch, who was named Maclean’s magazine Man of the Year in 1999.
“So private people like myself and various other people have started new prizes to highlight and admire new writers.”
The Giller Prize initially endowed $25,000, which was the largest purse for literature in the country.
‘For the price of a dinner in this town you can buy all the nominated books. So, eat at home and buy the books.’
– Jack Rabinovitch, on Giller-nominated books
In 2005, the award teamed up with Scotiabank and the prize grew to what is now $50,000 for the winner and $5,000 for each finalist.
According to the prize’s website, more than 2.5 million Giller-nominated books were sold in the first 10 years of the award, resulting in headlines about the so-called “Giller effect” on finalists.
“We learned a long time ago that authors are really interested in selling their books, that’s how they make a living, so that’s what we’re…