Wednesday, November 03, 2010

History thin at the Writers' Trust Awards.. or does it just seem that way?

Straight-up history was thinly represented among both winners and nominees at the awards ceremonies of the Writers' Trust,(which now gives out more money to Canadian writers than any other non-governmental agency), held at the Isabel Bader in Toronto last night.

But the nonfiction winner, James FitzGerald's family memoir What Disturbs Our Blood, is also a study of medical and scientific history and of attitudes to work, mental health, and much more in early 20th century Toronto.

Michael Winter's nonfiction novel The Death of Donna Whalen did not win the fiction prize (Emma Donoghue's Room did), but it's a novel historians might take note of. Donna Whalen was the victim of a brutal murder in St John's some years ago, and Winter has followed the transcripts of the trial very closely, almost verbatim, in order not only to create a dramatic crime drama but also to evoke the language and imagery of working-class urban Sinjanners. I have not read it yet, but I heard Winter speak and read from the book recently.  He's is a smart and inventive writer, and this is an impressive and creative use of sources worth the time of anyone working with trial records as social history sources.

The Matt Cohen Prize "in celebration of a writing life," went to the luminous nonfiction writer Myrna Kostash, author of the recent Frog Lake Reader, a writer whose whole career, back to All of Baba's Children in the 1970s, has been engaged with Canadian culture and history. Well done, Writers' Trust.
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