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Ian Williams, Tomson Highway on all-male short list for $60,000 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust non-fiction prize

Ian Williams, Tomson Highway on all-male short list for $60,000 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust non-fiction prize
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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 by jury members and writers Kevin Chong, Terese Marie Mailhot and Adam Shoalts.

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

“NISHGA,” by Edmonton writer Jordan Abel, published by McClelland & Stewart. This is a gorgeous and powerful book that combines notes and poetry and ephemera and art and photos. In an interview with the Star , Abel said, “The book, in addition to being about the afterlife of residential school, is absolutely philosophically about what it means to be Indigenous and what it means to be human, as well.” 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., published by 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.”

“Permanent Astonishment: A Memoir,” by Tomson Highway of Gatineau, Que., published by Doubleday Canada. Cree writer and playwright Highway’s latest book is being feted here pre-publication: it’s not out until Sept. 28. While his most recognizable title might well be the play “Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing,” this memoir is highly anticipated. 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., published by 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, published by Random House Canada This book of essays comes out in a week, but in an advance interview with the Star, Williams said, “Sometimes I think Blackness is a case study for the human experience. Nobody wants to be generalized, nobody wants to be unfairly treated or disadvantaged. Nobody wants any of that.” He 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.”
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