The Charles Taylor Prize is one of Canada’s richest non-fiction honours. On March 5, the $25,000 award will be handed out to one of five writers in Toronto. The Globe spoke with each nominated author about a theme common to their works.
Today, JJ Lee, author of The Measure of a Man, discusses his memoir about sons, fathers and men’s fashion.
All of the books involve a journey be it physical or spiritual. Is there a conclusion or ‘closure’ for you as the writer in your nominated book?
In the book, I grappled with the past, my father and his patrimony. My strongest recollections were violent and sad moments, and I worried I would leave behind a long string of failings for my sons. Altering my father’s last suit became my bridge to my father. It brought back really fine wonderful memories and, somehow, a new equilibrium, a more balanced understanding. I suppose it did make me feel better. But I’m loath to characterize the writing or reading of the book as therapeutic. It’s a book, not New Age revelation, nor medicine.
Closure is an abysmal motive for writing a memoir. Is that what I was after?
How much exploration did you do in preparation for telling a story of exploration?
I did go to London and New York to research the history of tailoring and suits. I did spend a year as an apprentice tailor. All of this enriches the book. But the trail-blazing and the mapping of the unknown really took place at the ironing board, through conversations with my family, and through reflection. That’s how I rediscovered my father and the love I had for him.
The winner of the Charles Taylor Prize will be announced Monday, March 5, in Toronto.