Toronto Star

Memoirs, Indigenous writers dominate Weston finalists

Williams, Highway on all-male short list for $60,000 non-fiction prize


Memoirs, men and Indigenous writers dominate the short list for the 2021 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust non-fiction prize, the winner of which will be awarded $60,000.

The shortliste­d books, announced Wednesday morning, were chosen from 107 volumes submitted by 64 publishers across the country.

The five finalists, who each receive $5,000, are:

“NISHGA,” by Edmonton writer Jordan Abel (McClelland & Stewart) This is a gorgeous and powerful book that combines notes and poetry and ephemera and art and photos. The jury’s citation said that: :‘NISHGA’ wades into Indigenous artistry in a colonized space and the brutal history of forced assimilati­on … Abel takes the most natural path to its end and, in doing so, finds his own winding way.”

“On Foot to Canterbury: A Son’s Pilgrimage,” by Ken Haigh of Clarksburg, Ont. (University of Alberta Press) Part travel writing, part memoir, this book chronicles a time-worn pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral, as the author explores literature and ideas of spirituali­ty. “Beautifull­y written, eloquent, descriptiv­e,” said the jury. “A story that skilfully weaves historical anecdotes into the author’s journey, leaving the reader with practical, sage advice,” said the jury.

“Permanent Astonishme­nt: A Memoir,” by Tomson Highway of Gatineau, Que. (Doubleday Canada) Cree writer and playwright Highway’s latest book is being feted here pre-publicatio­n: it’s not out until Sept. 28. The jury’s comments: “A mesmerizin­g, funny, joyous story of coming of age in a Cree-speaking family … While unstinting about the abuse he and others suffered, Highway makes a bold choice to accentuate the wondrousne­ss of his school years.”

“Peyakow: Reclaiming Cree Dignity, A Memoir,” by Darrel J. McLeod of Sooke, B.C. (Douglas & McIntyre) McLeod’s previous memoir, “Mamaskatch,” won the 2018 Governor General’s Literary Award for non-fiction. This followup memoir focuses on his later life; it’s a book the jury thought “digs into the complexity of Indigenous identity, including the divisions sowed by colonizati­on and by one’s community … This book is a testament to the connection­s that remain, and the power to repair and reconnect.”

“Disorienta­tion: Being Black in the World” by Ian Williams of Toronto (Random House Canada) This book of essays comes out in a week. Williams is no stranger to prizes, having won the Giller for his novel “Reproducti­on” and been a finalist for the Griffin Poetry Prize. The jury calls this book “a collection of structural­ly innovative, erudite, multi-faceted and nimble essays about race and Blackness … In an age of hot takes and condemnati­on, Williams’ essays reflect, explore and illuminate.”

The winner of Canada’s most lucrative non-fiction prize will be announced on Nov. 3 via video on YouTube and Facebook.

The prize was founded in 1997 as the Writers’ Trust Nonfiction Prize to honour the year’s best works of Canadian nonfiction that demonstrat­e a distinctiv­e voice, and persuasive and compelling command of tone, narrative, style and technique. It’s been sponsored by Hilary Weston since 2011.

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