Wednesday, November 15, 2017

History of who is winning book prizes

The Writers' Trust annual prize giving last night in Toronto was the usual mass gathering of the local writing community, come out to drink and air-kiss and see writers receive about a quarter million dollars in prizes for writing. .

The winner in children's literature was Ruby Slipperjack, an Anishnabe writer from northern Ontario who has written several novels and stories set in that territory. The winner in poetry was Louise Bernice Halfe, the prairie-based Cree poet. Anishnabe writers Leanne Betasamosake Simpson and Darlene Naponse were nominated in the fiction and short story categories, respectively.  Last week two of the English language winners of Governor-General's Literary Awards were Cherie Demaline, who is M├ętis, and David Robinson, who is Cree.

There have been indigenous writers winning literary prizes in previous years -- Richard Wagamese and Eden Robinson come to mind -- but last night there was the feeling of a gravitational shifting, a community of writers making itself known beyond ignoring. Indigenous writing has been establishing itself for years, and publishers are seeing the talents there and the markets. Now prize juries are inclined to recognize them.

There were writers of colour and of many ethnicities among the nominees last night. But it was the sheer mass of indigenous writing power and skill that really impressed. (Not many historians among the prize winners -- the nonfiction winner was a medical doctor -- but it would be good to see as many indigenous historians being recognized when the next big set of historical prizes comes out.

Kudos to all, but I think the book I want to read first is Demaline's speculative-fiction novel The Marrow Thieves. As the world collapses, indigenous peoples are being hunted for their bone marrow, which has become the only thing that enables people... to dream.  Eeeeee.
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