Annabel Lyon beat out her idol, Alice Munro, to nab the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize last night in Toronto.
Lyon, who lives in New Westminster, B.C., won the $25,000 award for her debut novel, The Golden Mean, a tale of Greek philosopher Aristotle's stint as a tutor to a young Alexander the Great.
"I wasn't expecting it at all - I was completely expecting to hear Alice Munro's name," Lyon said in an interview after the awards ceremony.
"I can't tell you what an influence she's been on me and how important her work is to me, not only as a writer but just personally - it's been something that's been with me through all my adult life and I revere her."
Lyon, a short story writer who studied philosophy, spent eight years crafting her winning novel, which is told in Aristotle's voice and takes its title from his quest for a balance between extremes in life.
The Golden Mean was the only book to be shortlisted for all three major literary awards this fall (the others being the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor General's Literary Award).
Its win on Tuesday puts to rest superstitious talk of a curse plaguing authors who've been nominated for all three awards in the past (Rawi Hage for Cockroach in 2008 and for De Niro's Game in 2006/2007, and M.G. Vassanji for The Assassin's Song in 2007).
"There's no curse, my God," Lyon said with a laugh. "If I had not won tonight I would've walked away happy because the book's doing really well."
Lyon spoke on the phone with her husband and two young children right after she won and said they're breathing a sigh of relief.
"I've put them through this three times now," said Lyon, who has a master's in creative writing from the University of British Columbia and now teaches an online creative writing course there.
"It's nice to be able to reward them finally."
Other finalists for this year's Writers' Trust fiction prize included Vancouver's Douglas Coupland for Generation A; Nicole Brossard of Montreal for Fences in Breathing, translated by Susanne de Lotbiniere-Harwood; and Ottawa author Andrew Steinmetz for Eva's Threepenny Theatre.
Jury members called Lyon's book "alarmingly confident and transporting."
"Lyon offers us that rarest of treats: a book about philosophy, about the power of ideas, that chortles and sings like an earthy romance," said R.M. Vaughan, Marina Endicott and Miriam Toews, who won the prize last year for her novel The Flying Troutmans.
Brian Brett of Salt Spring Island, B.C., landed this year's $25,000 Writers' Trust Non-Fiction Prize for Trauma Farm: A Rebel History of Rural Life, about the "mixed farm" he tends in the Gulf Islands.
He said he'll use his prize money to "pay off a lot of debts" and possibly go on a trip.
"Or I'll keep on farming until it's all gone," he said with a laugh.
Finalists for the fiction and non-fiction prizes each receives $2,500.
Netting the $10,000 Writers' Trust of Canada/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize for emerging writers was Yasuko Thanh of Victoria, for Floating like the Dead.
The Vancouver Review receives $2,000 for publishing the winning entry for that prize, given to a new and developing writer for a short story or excerpt from a novel-in-progress.
Winnipeg's David Bergen won the $25,000 Writers' Trust Notable Author Award.
And Marthe Jocelyn of Stratford, Ont., won the $20,000 Vicky Metcalf Award for Children's Literature, which honours a body of work.
The Writers' Trust of Canada is a charitable organization that awards almost $150,000 in various categories annually.
It was founded by Margaret Atwood, Pierre Berton, Graeme Gibson, David Young and the late Margaret Laurence.