The Governor-General‘s Literary Awards, established in 1936 and administered by the Canada Council for the Arts, recognize Canada‘s diverse and unique literary landscape. The Council awards $25,000 to the writers, illustrators and translators of the winning books and $3,000 to their publishers, as well as $1,000 to each of the finalists. The categories are fiction, non-fiction, poetry, young people’s literature, young people’s illustration, drama and translation. On October 30, 2018, the Council announced the winners of this year’s awards.
In the fiction category, Sarah Henstra, Associate Professor of English literature at Ryerson University, looks at rape culture and the extremes that ideology can reach. The Red Word is a novel of campus life seen through the eyes of Karen, who encounters radical feminist activism in her sophomore year. “Groundbreaking and provocative, this is an astonishing evisceration of the clichés of sexual politics as they exist not only on our college campuses, but also within broader present-day society.” ECW Press; distributed by Jaguar Books Group
Darrel J. McLeod, a Cree from Treaty 8 territory in Northern Alberta with degrees in French literature and Education from the University of British Columbia, is the winner in the non-fiction category with Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age. “Mamaskatch” is a Cree word used as a response to dreams shared. The memoir is a series of linked, story-like intervals that weave together Darrel and his family’s wounded lives, their individual and collective traumas, the tragic flaws that shatter trust and dissolve relationships, the attempts to hold on to family and culture. It “dares to immerse readers in provocative contemporary issues including gender fluidity, familial violence, and transcultural hybridity”. Douglas & McIntyre; distributed by University of Toronto Press
In her book of poetry, Wayside Sang, Cecily Nicholson offers glimpses and echoes of the Canadian landscape as she explores ideas of borders, identity, industry and travel. It is a poetic account of economy travel on North American roadways, and concerns entwined migrations of Black-other diaspora coming to terms with fossil-fuel psyches in times of trauma and movement. The poet is from small-town Ontario via Toronto and South Bend, now living in Vancouver. Talonbooks; distributed by PGC Books/Raincoast
Jordan Tannahill’s two-play volume explores the fragility of social consensus in a world made uneasy by the forces of social division. Both plays are poetic, irreverent and funny, offering the pleasure of entertainment. Botticelli in the Fire Jordan Tannahill imagines the famed painter Sandro Botticelli as an irrepressible seeker of love and pleasure, caught in sexual and political brinkmanship. In Sunday in Sodom, Lot’s wife, Edith, tells of the Biblical destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, but set in the present day. Jordan Tannahill is a playwright, author, and filmmaker. His plays have been translated into multiple languages and honoured with various prizes. Playwrights Canada Press; distributed by University of Toronto Press
Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster is a heart-rending adventure about the everlasting gifts of friendship and hope. For nearly a century, Victorian London relied on “climbing boys”, orphans owned by chimney sweeps, to clean flues and protect homes from fire. Eleven-year-old Nan Sparrow is a girl doing hard, thankless and brutally dangerous work, who is saved from a fatal fire by a monster. The author Jonathan Auxier admits to writing strange stories for strange children. Puffin Canada/Penguin Random House Canada Young Readers
They Say Blue follows a young girl as she contemplates colours in the known and the unknown, in the immediate world and the world beyond what she can see. The sea looks blue, yet water cupped in her hands is as clear as glass. Beautiful illustrations show a world full of colour and mystery. “Its lively and dynamic compositions are sure to captivate both children and those who love to read to children.” Jillian Tamaki is a cartoonist and illustrator from Calgary, Alberta, who now lives in Toronto, Ontario. Groundwood Books; distributed by University of Toronto Press
In Descent into Night, translated by Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott, a young dramatist from a West African nation describes a student protest against a brutal oligarchy and its crushing aftermath. While distributing leaflets with provocative quotations from Samuel Beckett, Ito Baraka is taken to a camp where torture, starvation, beatings, and rape are normal. Forced to inform on his friends, whose fates he now fears, and released a broken man, he escapes to Quebec. Phyllis Aronoff translates fiction, non-fiction and poetry, solo or with co-translator Howard Scott. Scott and Aronoff received a Quebec Writers’ Federation Translation Award for The Great Peace of Montreal of 1701. Mawenzi House Publishers; distributed by University of Toronto Press; translation of Explication de la nuit by Edem Awumey, published by Les Éditions du Boréal