Thursday, November 01, 2018

Prize watch: Move along, nothing here to see?

Particularly during the fall book prize season, I like to note history prize winners. Since there were none among the Governor General's Awards winners announced yesterday, I thought I'd just pass them over. But Daniel Francis has a thoughtful response to the awards at his blog, specifically about the Non-Fiction prize:
I cannot help noting that each of the five finalists for this year's award is a memoir. I am not sure what that says about non-fiction writing in the country, if anything...  Where were the historians, the biographers, the science writers, I wondered?...  
...Naturally, as a writer of history, I'd prefer to see some history titles in the mix. But I accept that these things go in cycles. Maybe next year.
Read the whole thing, particularly for the salute to the winner, Darrel McLeod for Mamaskatch.

Meanwhile, another source for prizeworthy history, the Cundill Prize for History, announced its final shortlist of three for this year's prize, the winner to be announced in Montreal on November 15. The three are:
Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser;
The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World by Maya Jasanoff;
A Cold Welcome: The Little Ice Age and Europe’s Encounter with North America by Sam White.
On a quick shelf-browse I found the argument of White's book, the only one I've glanced at, a bit ... thin: the global climate was colder in Champlain's time than in Cartier's and that made European settlement in North America harder.  But maybe I missed the qualities the jury saw. Interesting that the other two books are both about writers -- both ambitious literary/cultural histories, from what I've heard.

Getting back to Mamaskatch, I think it is worth noting its honour links not only to the vogue for memoir, but also to a recent wave of recognition for the high-quality and often provocative writing being done here by indigenous writers in all genres: poetry, children's lit, fiction, politics, philosophy, history too. Some mainstream writers, I think, have held back in recent years from writing anything that might seem like speaking for indigenous peoples. That gap, if there is one, is being magnificently filled -- though a post today on Active History regrets an emphasis on what it calls "damage-centred research."
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