Books about a historic murder, a Vancouver architect, the state of nature, the treatment of native peoples and Canada’s role in Afghanistan have been singled out for praise as the jury of the RBC Taylor Prize for literary non-fiction reveals its short list.The list for the prestigious 13-year-old prize, previously known as the Charles Taylor Prize, was announced Wednesday and includes The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master, and the Trial That Shocked a Country; Arthur Erickson: An Architect’s Life; The Once and Future World: Nature As It Was, As It Is, As It Could Be; The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America and The Dogs Are Eating Them Now: Our War in Afghanistan.
The Massey Murder is an account of a 1915 crime by a teenage Toronto servant written by Ottawa historian Charlotte Gray who intersperses her recreation of the trial with a story of class and empire at the outbreak of the First World War.
David Stouck’s biography of architect Arthur Erickson paints a complex portrait of a greatly talented artist but deeply flawed man against the backdrop of Vancouver’s cultural scene in the 1940s and 1950s.
The Once and Future World is a rumination on the history of ecology and the current state of nature by Vancouver writer J.B. MacKinnon, winner of the 2006 Taylor prize for Dead Man in Paradise, about the murder of his missionary uncle.
The Inconvenient Indian is Thomas King’s subversive and irascible yet ultimately hopeful dissection of cultural myths and historical realities surrounding native people in North America.
The Dogs are Eating Them Now, an account of Afghanistan by the former Globe and Mail correspondent Graeme Smith, has previously won the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Non-fiction.
The winner of the Taylor Prize, who will be announced March 10, receives $25,000 while the remaining finalists each receive $2,000.
The prize commemorates the life and work of Charles Taylor, the essayist, author and Globe foreign correspondent.
The 2014 list was decided on by three jurors: Canadian literature scholar Coral Ann Howells who teaches at the University of Reading in the U.K.; editorial director, author and professor James Polk, and Andrew Westoll, an author, creative writing instructor and former Charles Taylor Prize-winner.
They considered 124 books, submitted by 45 publishers from around the world.
“The quality, interest and variety of the submissions frankly stunned the jury this year,” Polk said at a press conference announcing the short list.