Wednesday, October 02, 2019

History at the G-G Literary Awards -- not so much

It's award season and the shortlists for the Governor-General's Literary Awards came out this morning.

The nonfiction list confirms history is very much out of fashion. The slim memoir rules. Some obscure volumes here, even allowing for the anonymity of nonfiction in Canada.

The outlier here is Alan Walker's Fryderyk Chopin, a huge, American-published, authoritative biography of the musician, much admired in the worldwide music press, actually. Walker is a retired McMaster University professor, who has also written a life of Franz Liszt.  It's an outlier because this is a big academic biography and, you know, a history, almost, a massively researched literary biography.  Write well enough, historians, and you might be noticed 

Dan Werb's City of Omens: A Search for the Missing Women of the Borderlands, is an epidemologist's story of his study of deaths and disappearances in Tijuana, Mexico, published in the USA, and I would say largely unknown in Canada, though the author's citizenship makes him eligible.

The other three are more straightforwardly memoirs:  Naomi K Lewis's Tiny Lights for Travellers, about her Holocaust-survivor grandfather; Brian Harvey's Sea Trial: Sailing After My Father; and Don Gillmor's To the River: Losing My Brother, a suicide memoir.  Gillmor is the only known writer here, I'd say. He's published by PenguinRandom. University of Alberta Press (Lewis) and ECW Press (Harvey) both count as small-presses in this company.

I'm inclined to trust the jury who have read the books and made bold judgments not much influenced by the book-buzz machinery. But it's hardly an affirmation of nonfiction publishing in the country when most of the books they plumped for are out of country or almost out of sight.
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