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The penultimate winner, Kate Harris, seen here on March 4, 2019, won for her book Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road.

Tijana Martin/The Globe and Mail

After 20 years of championing the art of literary non-fiction, the Charles Taylor Foundation is discontinuing the RBC Taylor Prize after its final awarding next year.

According to Noreen Taylor, who founded the prize in the memory of her husband, the journalist and philanthropist Charles Taylor, the reason for the winding down of the $25,000 award is that its mandate to enhance public appreciation for the genre had been fulfilled.

“It became clear last year that we had achieved every goal Charles and I set out," Taylor said in a press release announcing the move. “While I know that there are huge changes on the horizon for writers, publishers, and the platforms they use to communicate their stories, I am confident that the current interest in well-written Canadian non-fiction will continue to sustain and engage its readership.”

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At the time of the award’s creation, there was the perception that if the novelists were the rock stars of Canadian literary culture, non-fiction writers were the wallflowers. The criteria for the prize – originally named the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction – is that a non-fiction work should combine “an uncommon command of the English language, an elegance of style, and a subtlety of thought and perception.”

The inaugural prize was given out in 2000 at a gala eggs-Benedict breakfast ceremony at Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel, attended by some 200 luminaries of the country’s literary community. The winner was Wayne Johnston, whose Baltimore’s Mansion was a sprawling memoir of three generations of his own family. The 2019 winner was British Columbia’s Kate Harris, for her book Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road.

The 2020 longlist of nominees will be shared on Dec. 4, with the shortlist of five books announced at a news conference on Jan. 8, 2020. The winner, chosen by a jury that includes Margaret Atwood, will be revealed at a gala luncheon on March 2. The prize consists of $5,000 for each finalist, and a further $25,000 for the winner. All finalists will be presented with a custom leather-bound version of their shortlisted book.

It is the sense of Taylor, along with her co-trustees on the Charles Taylor Foundation and title sponsor RBC Wealth Management, that the business of books in Canada had changed in the 20 years since the prize’s founding. Undertaking what they describe as an “in-depth analysis,” they found that literary non-fiction had developed into a “major component of Canadian publishing.” They cite the record 155 eligible books submitted for the 2020 prize.

“As the prize wraps up," said RBC Wealth Management’s Vijay Parmar, "we share the board’s sentiment that the genre is well-established in Canada.”

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