Toronto author Anna Porter has won the 11th annual Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for excellence in political writing for her book The Ghosts of Europe: Journeys through Central Europe's Troubled Past and Uncertain Future.
Porter received the $25,000 non-fiction prize at a ceremony on Wednesday evening in Ottawa. Her book, published last year, was one of five short-listed for the award by a jury of three Canadian journalists L. Ian MacDonald, Rosemary Speirs and Paul Wells.
The four runners-up, each of whom received $2,500, were Globe and Mail writers Doug Saunders and Lawrence Martin, nominated for, respectively, Arrival City: The Final Migration and Our Next World and Harperland: The Politics of Control, plus historians Shelagh D. Grant and Tim Cook, nominated for, respectively, Polar Imperative: A History of Arctic Sovereignty in North America and The Madman and the Butcher: The Sensational Wars of Sam Hughes and General Arthur Currie.
Porter, a Hungarian émigré, arrived in Canada in 1970 and went on to become a major player in Canadian publishing, serving as editor-in-chief and vice-president of McClelland & Stewart and co-founding Key Porter Books in the early 1980s. She has written three novels, the first published in 1985, but since 2000 she has concentrated on memoirs and non-fiction, including 2007's Kasztner's Train: The True Story of Reznö Kasztner, Unknown Hero of the Holocaust, a finalist for the $25,000 Charles Taylor Prize for excellence in literary non-fiction.
In their citation for The Ghosts of Europe, the Shaughnessy Cohen jurors lauded Porter for being both a skilled journalist "on a personal journey back to her own origins" and "a gifted storyteller who shapes a historically consequential narrative."
The prize, started in 2000 and administered by the Writers' Trust of Canada, is named after the late Liberal MP Shaughnessy Cohen (1948-1998) and is dedicated to honouring books devoted to important topics of interest to Canadians. About 500 invited guests attended Wednesday's event, raising close to $250,000 for the Writers' Trust.