We love literary prizes here at 49th Shelf, because of the way they cast light on some of the many incredible books published every year in Canada. The best kinds of literary awards seasons are the ones where all the shortlists are different, where the literary juries approach their tasks with different tastes and standards, and the result is lists of books you may not have read already, and which you'll love when you do. And just to broaden the selection, we'd like to remind you of some of the winners of literary prizes awarded earlier this year. There is so much literary goodness to go around.
Indianland, by Lesley Belleau
Winner of the Pat Lowther Memorial Award
About the book: Written from a female and Indigenous perspective, the poems in Indianland incorporate Anishinaabemowin throughout. Lesley Belleau explores rich themes of sexuality, birth, memory, and longing, as well as touchstone issues in Indigenous politics including Elijah Harper, Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, forced sterilizations, and Kanesatake with immediacy and intimacy. This multiform collection moves from present day to first contact and back to the present, immersing us in images of blood, plants (milkweed, yarrow, cattails), and petroglyphs, and grounding the book in the beloved land of which it speaks.
Brother, by David Chariandy
Winner of the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize
About the book: An intensely beautiful, searingly powerful, tightly constructed novel, Brother explores questions of masculinity, family, race, and identity as they are played out in a Scarborough housing complex during the sweltering heat and simmering violence of the summer of 1991.
With shimmering prose and mesmerizing precision, David Chariandy takes us inside the lives of Michael and Francis. They are the sons of Trinidadian immigrants, their father has disappeared and their mother works double, sometimes triple shifts so her boys might fulfill the elusive promise of their adopted home.
Coming of age in The Park, a cluster of town houses and leaning concrete towers in the disparaged outskirts of a sprawling city, Michael and Francis battle against the careless prejudices and low expectations that confront them as young men of black and brown ancestry—teachers stream them into general classes; shopkeepers see them only as thieves; and strangers quicken their pace when the brothers are behind them. Always Michael and Francis escape into the cool air of the Rouge Valley, a scar of green wilderness that cuts through their neighbourhood, where they are free to imagine better lives for themselves.
Propelled by the pulsing beats and styles of hip hop, Francis, the older of the two brothers, dreams of a future in music. Michael's dreams are of Aisha, the smartest girl in their high school whose own eyes are firmly set on a life elsewhere. But the bright hopes of all three are violently, irrevocably thwarted by a tragic shooting, and the police crackdown and suffocating suspicion that follow.
With devastating emotional force David Chariandy, a unique and exciting voice in Canadian literature, crafts a heartbreaking and timely story about the profound love that exists between brothers and the senseless loss of lives cut short with the shot of a gun.
Class Clown, by Pino Coluccio,
Winner of the Trillium Book Award for Poetry
About the book: More punk than prog, neither light nor overweight, the verse in Pino Coluccio's second book hews to the classic themes of love, death and the passage of time, while presenting a cast of longers and losers whose admirable stubborn pluck is also at times tragic. A collection that above all champions that highest of human art forms: clowning around.
Once More with Feeling, by Méira Cook
Winner of the Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award
About the book: After twenty years Max Binder is still in love with his fiery wife, Maggie, and is determined to get her the perfect fortieth birthday gift. But Max’s singular desire—to make his wife happy—leads to an unexpected event that changes the course of his family’s life and touches the people who make up their western prairie city.
Set over the course of a single year, Once More With Feeling tells the story of a community through intersecting moments and interconnected lives. The colourful citizens who make up this city — bisected by railway lines and rivers, connected by boulevards and back alleys—are marked by transformation, upheaval, and loss: the worker at a downtown soup kitchen who recognizes a kindred spirit amongst the homeless; the aging sisters who everywhere see the fleeting ghosts of two missing neighbourhood children; a communal voice of mothers anxious for the future of their children in the discomfiting world they inhabit—this place of memory, amnesia, longing, and belonging.
Featuring a cast of eclectic characters, Once More With Feeling is about a community, about a family, and about the way time makes fond fools of us all. Award-winning author Méira Cook has crafted a novel that is at once funny, poignant, and yes, full of feeling.
Gone to Pot, by Jennifer Craig
Winner of the Leacock Medal for Humour
About the book: After losing her job and learning she might also lose her house because of a bad investment, Jess, a fiercely independent and hilariously wry BC grandma, resorts to growing pot in her basement to make ends meet. She then has to juggle her public life as a grandmother and member of the town’s senior women’s group—The Company of Crones—with her secret life as a pot grower. The unusual characters she meets along the way include Swan, the enigmatic young woman who introduces her to the grower’s world, and Marcus, the socially awkward “gardener” who shows her the tricks of the trade. Both of her new young friends are more than they appear, and Jess’ adventures in pot growing break down barriers in both her old and new circles. The delightful outcome of an almost legitimate business leaves Jess and her associates flushed with success.
Barrelling Forward, by Eva Crocker
Winner of the Alistair MacLeod Prize for Short Fiction
About the book: Eva Crocker sees life in sharper focus than the rest of us. The objects, rituals, and scenes of everyday life take on an almost mythic quality in these stories, even while remaining intimately recognizable to us all. Crocker peers at the underbelly of poverty and work, ambition and apathy, loneliness and love, to find the sliver of beauty in each spot. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems: the boundaries between friendship and sex dissolve; power relationships are turned on their heads, if only long enough to examine them from all angles; transgressions and escapes become new kinds of traps. In “Auditioning,” a young twin makes a desperate attempt to reclaim her individuality. In “Serving,” a father and a son give parallel accounts of what it looks like when you let life eat you from the inside out. In “Star of the Sea,” a man watches his past get literally torn down before his eyes. And in the Cuffer Prize-winning “Dead Skin,” an after-school walk through the barrens leaves two boys forever changed.
In stories that ache with longing even as they pulse with new possibilities, Crocker gives us an unforgettable array of ordinary people, sometimes soaring, sometimes sinking, but always, ultimately, barrelling forward towards what’s next. Vivid, sexy, funny, and raw, this is a marvel of a debut from one of Canada’s most thrilling new writers.
Blood Fable, by Oisin Curran
Winner of the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award
About the book: Maine, 1980. A utopian community is on the verge of collapse. The charismatic leader's authority teeters as his followers come to realize they've been exploited for too long. To make matters worse, the eleven-year-old son of one adherent learns that his mother has cancer.
Taking refuge in his imagination, the boy begins to speak of another time and place. His parents believe he is remembering his own life before birth. This memory, a story within the story of Blood Fable, is an epic tale about the search for a lost city refracted through the lens of the adventures the boy loves to read. But strangely, as the world around them falls apart, he and his parents find that his story seems to foretell the events unfolding in their present lives.
Glass Beads, by Dawn Dumont
Winner of the Saskatchewan Muslims for Peace and Justice Fiction Award
About the book: These short stories interconnect the friendships of four First Nations people—Everett Kaiswatim, Nellie Gordon, Julie Papequash, and Nathan (Taz) Mosquito—as the collection evolves over two decades against the cultural, political, and historical backdrop of the 90s and early 2000s.
These young people are among the first of their families to live off the reserve for most of their adult lives, and must adapt and evolve. In stories like “Stranger Danger”, we watch how shy Julie, though supported by her roomies, is filled with apprehension as she goes on her first white-guy date, while years later in “Two Years Less A Day” we witness her change as her worries and vulnerability are put to the real test when she is unjustly convicted in a violent melee and must serve some jail time. “The House and Things That Can Be Taken” establishes how the move from the city both excites and intimidate reserve youth—respectively, how a young man finds a job or a young woman becomes vulnerable in the bar scene. As well as developing her characters experientially, Dumont carefully contrasts them, as we see in the fragile and uncertain Everett and the culturally strong and independent but reckless Taz.
As the four friends experience family catastrophes, broken friendships, travel to Mexico, and the aftermath of the great tragedy of 9/11, readers are intimately connected with each struggle, whether it is with racism, isolation, finding their cultural identity, or repairing the wounds of their upbringing.
Prison Industrial Complex Explodes, by Mercedes Eng
Winner of the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize
About the book: Combining text from government questionnaires and reports, lyric poetry, and photography, Prison Industrial Complex Explodes examines the possibility of a privatized prison system in Canada leading up to then Prime Minister Harper’s Conservative government passing the Anti-Terrorism Act, also known as Bill C-51. This legislation criminalizes Indigenous peoples’ attempts to protect their traditional and unceded territories from ecological destruction by classifying their actions as acts of terrorism, at the same time that it criminalizes refugees, who as victims of colonization and globalization, attempt to flee genocide and poverty yet are targeted as suspected terrorists. Simultaneously, the incarceration of Indigenous people, refugees, and people of colour is rapidly increasing and corporations eagerly court the government for private-public partnerships to fund the building of new prisons and detention centres.
Eng’s father was an addict who supported his habit by breaking the law. As a result, she spent her formative years acquiring intimate knowledge of the Canadian prison system through visitation rights. The impetus for Prison Industrial Complex Explodes was the discovery of a cache of her father’s prison correspondence: letters from the federal government stating their intention to deport him because of his criminal record; letters from prison justice advocate Michael Jackson advising her father on deportation; letters from the RCMP regarding the theft of her father’s property, a gold necklace, while in transport to prison; letters from family members and friends; letters from Eng and her brother. The cold formality of the government letters in accidental juxtaposition with the emotion of the personal letters struck a creative spark that led to the writing of poems in this collection.
Cloud Physics, by Karen Enns
Winner of the Raymond Souster Award
About the book: In her third collection of poetry, Karen Enns ranges over endings of many kinds: cultural, ecological, and personal. But the poems are also replete with affirmations of love, of music and language, and of our rootedness in place and history. Enns describes our predicament with startling and surreal precision, yet also with tenderness and compassion. Her work is unusually wise in the ways of innocence as well as grief.
All Is Beauty Now, by Sarah Faber
Winner of the Margaret and John Savage First Book Award, Fiction
About the book: Brazil, 1962: A young woman walks into the waters off a crowded beach and vanishes. A year later, her family—the once-golden family of their privileged little community—prepares to leave behind the seeming paradise of Brazil in the wake of their eldest daughter's presumed drowning. As they attend a series of goodbye parties and count down the days to their departure, we are taken into the heart of a family whose many charms belie more troubling truths.
There is the family's charismatic father, whose emotional extremes are becoming increasingly disturbing; his long-suffering wife, who made a mistake that has shattering consequences for the family she meant to protect; and their two remaining daughters, both on the precipice of joining the adult world with all its secrets and lies. Then there is the lost daughter herself, a woman undone by her attempts to grasp at happiness.
With settings ranging from the opulence of the legendary Copacabana Club to the poverty of Rio's fishing villages, this sensual and beautifully written novel reveals the soul of a family living in the shadow of tragedy, one poised on the brink of a new life, if only they could make peace with the past.
Breathing at Dusk, by Beth Goobie
Winner of the Saskatoon Book Award
About the book: Gut-wrenching and awe-inspiring, breathing at dusk is the new collection of poetry from the award-winning Beth Goobie as she explores her past and revels in her future.
Autobiographical in nature, breathing at dusks follow the journey of one girl as she escapes her childhood home and all of the painful memories that home elicits—her memories largely centred around the physical and sexual abuse she experienced as a child at the hands of her father and the untimely death of her brother
Years removed from these experiences now, Goobie is able to cast an unblinking eye on her relationship with her father, and looks back at her emotional journey with fiercely striking language. Often with a focus on classical music and the beauty in nature, this collection, while painful, is a moving and elegant testament to Goobie's strength and resolve as she heals and grows and finally chooses joy.
Runaway Wives and Rogue Feminists, by Margo Goodhand
Winner of the Alexander Kennedy Isbister Award for Non-Fiction
About the book: In the supposedly enlightened ’60s and ’70s, violence against women was widespread. It wasn’t talked about, and women had few, if any, options to escape their abusers. Yet in 1973—with no statistics, no money and little public support—five disparate groups of Canadian women quietly opened Canada’s first battered women’s shelters. Today, there are well over 600.
In Runaway Wives and Rogue Feminists, journalist Margo Goodhand tracks down the “rogue feminists” whose work forged an underground railway for women and children, weaving their stories into an unforgettable—and until now untold—history.
As they lobbied for funding, scrounged for furniture and fended off outraged husbands, these women marked a defining moment in Canadian history, triggering monumental changes in government, schools, courts and law enforcement. But was it enough to stop the cycle of violence? Forty years later, these pioneers describe how and why Canada has lost its ground in the battle for women’s rights.
The Water Beetles, by Michael Kaan
Winner of the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction
About the book: The Leung family leads a life of secluded luxury in Hong Kong. But in December 1941, the Empire of Japan invades the colony. The family is quickly dragged into a spiral of violence, repression, and starvation. To survive, they entomb themselves and their friends in the Leung mansion. But this is only a temporary reprieve, and the Leungs are forced to send their children away.
The youngest boy, Chung-Man, escapes with some of his siblings, and together they travel deep into the countryside to avoid the Japanese invaders. Thrown into a new world, Chung-Man befriends a young couple who yearn to break free of their rural life. But their friendship ends when the Japanese arrive, and Chung-Man is once again taken captive. Unwittingly and willingly, he enters a new cycle of violence and punishment, until he finally breaks free from his captors and returns to Hong Kong.
Deeply scarred, Chung-Man drifts along respectfully and dutifully, enveloped by the unspoken vestiges of war. It is only as he leaves home once again—this time for university in America—that he finally glimpses a way to keep living with his troubled and divided self.
Written in restrained, yet beautiful and affecting prose, The Water Beetles is an engrossing story of adventure and survival. Based loosely on the diaries and stories of the author's father, this mesmerizing story captures the horror of war, through the eyes of a child, with unsettling and unerring grace.
Otter, by Ben Ladouceur
Winner of the 2018 Dayne Ogilvie Prize
About the book: Moving from the absurdity of the First World War to the chaos of today’s cities, where men share beds, bottles of ouzo and shade from willow trees, these poems ask questions: If your lover speaks in his sleep, how do you know 'you' is you? What good is it to decorate a headstone? What if you think of the perfect comeback to a six-year-old argument? Otter fails, with style, to find answers.
Darwin’s Moving, by Taylor Lambert
Winner of the City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize
About the book: Darwin's Moving introduces readers to the colourful characters who populate the furniture moving trade, a male-dominated world of labour with relatively high pay and no need for education of any sort. Movers have a unique window into the private spaces of the city as they perform their difficult and delicate job inside all manner of homes, from government-subsidized housing developments to multi-million dollar McMansions.
Taylor Lambert intriguingly explores class and work in a city that would rather focus on the wealth and prosperity brought to it by the oil and gas industry. Darwin's Moving shows us the Other Calgary, a world populated by transient men and women struggling to survive in a boomtown's shadow.
Darwin's Moving takes us behind the scenes of a business that is almost completely undocumented in Canadian literature.
The Reconciliation Manifesto: Recovering the Land, Rebuilding the Economy, by Arthur Manuel and Grand Chief Ronald Derrickson
Winner of the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize
About the book: In this book Arthur Manuel and Grand Chief Ronald Derrickson challenge virtually everything that non-Indigenous Canadians believe about their relationship with Indigenous Peoples and the steps that are needed to place this relationship on a healthy and honourable footing.
Manuel and Derrickson show how governments are attempting to reconcile with Indigenous Peoples without touching the basic colonial structures that dominate and distort the relationship. They review the current state of land claims. They tackle the persistence of racism among non-Indigenous people and institutions. They celebrate Indigenous Rights Movements while decrying the role of government-funded organizations like the Assembly of First Nations. They document the federal government's disregard for the substance of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples while claiming to implement it. These circumstances amount to what they see as a false reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians.
Instead, Manuel and Derrickson offer an illuminating vision of what Canada and Canadians need for true reconciliation.
In this book, which Arthur Manuel and Ron Derrickson completed in the months before Manuel's death in January 2017, readers will recognize their profound understanding of the country, of its past, present, and potential future.
Expressed with quiet but firm resolve, humour, and piercing intellect The Reconciliation Manifesto will appeal to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people who are open and willing to look at the real problems and find real solutions.
Birds Art Life, by Kyo MacLear
Winner of the Trillium Book Award
About the book: For Vladimir Nabokov, it was butterflies. For John Cage, it was mushrooms. For Sylvia Plath, it was bees. Each of these artists took time away from their work to become observers of natural phenomena. In 2012, Kyo Maclear met a local Toronto musician with an equally captivating side passion—he had recently lost his heart to birds. Curious about what prompted this young urban artist to suddenly embrace nature, Kyo decides to follow him for a year and find out.
A distilled, crystal-like companion to H Is for Hawk, this memoir celebrates the particular madness of loving and chasing after birds in a big city. Intimate and philosophical, moving with ease between the granular and the grand view, it celebrates the creative and liberating effects of keeping your eyes and ears wide open, and explores what happens when you apply the core lessons of birding to other aspects of life. In one sense, this is a book about disconnection—how our passions can buckle under the demands and emotions of daily life—and about reconnection: how the act of seeking passion and beauty in small ways can lead us to discover our most satisfying life. On a deeper level, it takes up the questions of how we are shaped and nurtured by our parallel passions, and how we might come to cherish not only the world's pristine natural places but also the blemished urban spaces where most of us live.
Birds Art Life follows two artists on a yearlong adventure that is at once a meditation on the nature of creativity and a quest for a good and meaningful life.
All the Names Between, by Julia McCarthy
Winner of the J.M. Abraham Poetry Award
About the book: All the Names Between is Nova Scotia poet Julia McCarthy’s meditative and crackling-with-dark-energy third collection. From her observation of “long-horned beetles... rearranging the landscape” to an apperception of “part of me /...seeded by dust / of meteors and asteroids,” McCarthy makes palpable, in richly layered imagery and with attentiveness that unfolds stillness, the “Singing Emptiness” that informs and quickens the crow’s flight, the stones’ weight, and our own being as we move in “the defined world both elegant / and maimed.” Concerned with both the inadequacy and the necessity of word to convey world, the poems move through a shifting landscape of seasons and creatures, of the remembered dead, and of scattered stones reading the Akashic field.
Grounded in the experience of presence, where the external and internal meet, a crossroads of consciousness where “a language without a name / remembers us” and the poem is a votive act, All the Names Between reflects the shadow-light of being, of what is and what isn’t, the seen and the unseen, the forgotten and the remembered where
Otolith, by Emily Nilsen
Winner of the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award
About the book: Otolith—the ear stone—is a series of bones that help us to orient ourselves in space. In Otolith, Emily Nilsen attempts a similar feat in poetry: to turn the reader's attention to their relationship to the world, revealing an intertidal state between the rootedness of place and the uncertainty and tenuousness of human connection. Born in the fecundity of British Columbia's coastal rainforest, these poems are full of life and decay; they carry the odours of salmon rivers and forests of fir; salal growing in the fog-bound mountain slopes.
This astonishing debut, at once spare and lush, displays an exquisite lyricism built on musical lines and mature restraint. Nilsen turns over each idea carefully, letting nothing escape her attention and saying no more than must be said. Combining a scientist's precision and a poet's sensitivity, Otolith examines the ache of nostalgia in the relentless passage of time.
Just Jen: Thriving Through Multiple Sclerosis, by Jen Powley,
Winner of the Margaret and John Savage First Book Award, Non-Fiction
About the book: Jen Powley was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at fifteen. By thirty-five, she had lost the use of her arms and legs.
Just Jen is a powerful memoir that tells the story of Powley’s life at the time of her diagnosis, and the infinite, irrevocable ways it has changed since. Powley’s writing pulls no punches. She is lively, bold and unapologetic, answering questions people are often afraid to ask about living with a progressive disease. And yet, these snapshots from Powley’s life are not tinged with anger or despair. Just Jen is a powerful, uplifting and unforgettable work by an author who has laid her life—and her body—bare in order to survive.
Comma, by Jennifer Still
Winner of the Lansdowne Prize for Poetry
About the book: Comma is a poetry infused with pause and quaver, inspired by Jennifer Still's collaboration with her ailing brother's hand-written field guide to prairie grasses. Trusting the instability of words, she attends to torn paper, shadings, erasures, and intervals, venturing inside the chrysalis, the breathing tube, and the brittle lexicon of botany to achieve a lyrical foliation of grief. From coma to comma, the held breath sprouts, and hums.
Comments herecomments powered by Disqus