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Trillium Book Award winners Brecken Hancock (English language poetry), Kate Cayley (English language), and Micheline Marchand (English language children’s literature). Absent: Michel Dallaire (French language).

When the finalists for the 2015 Trillium Book Awards were announced last month, Kate Cayley and her partner explained to their 7-year-old daughter that Cayley was nominated alongside some of the best writers in Canada, including Dionne Brand, Thomas King and Margaret Atwood – all past recipients of the prize.

"[My] daughter, without a beat, said, 'Well, you're not going to win.'"

She won.

On Wednesday, Cayley was awarded the $20,000 Trillium Book Award in English-language, which recognizes the best books published each year by Ontario authors, for her debut collection of short fiction, How You Were Born.

"I can't believe I'm up here," she said upon accepting her award. The other nominees were Atwood for her short story collection Stone Mattress; King for his novel The Back of the Turtle; Brand for her novel Love Enough; James King for his novel Old Masters; and Edmund Metatawabin for his memoir Up Ghost River, written with Alexandra Shimo.

"I thought I was dreaming," she said afterward of the moment her name was called. "It's a first collection, I'm not well-known, it's a small press – I'm a bit gobsmacked about it."

This is her first fiction book for adults; her previous books include When This World Comes to an End, a collection of poetry, and The Hangman in the Mirror, a novel for young adults. A playwright-in-residence at Toronto's Tarragon Theatre, her works for the stage include After Akhmatova and The Bakelite Masterpiece.

The winner for the $20,000 French-language Trillium Book Award was Michel Dallaire for Violoncelle pour lune d'automne, while the $10,000 award for French-language children's literature was Micheline Marchand for Mauvaise mine. The winner of the $10,000 English-language poetry prize was Brecken Hancock for Broom Broom.

"It took me so long to write this book," she said upon taking the stage. "It took me my whole life to write this book. And winning the Trillium never seemed like a possibility, to me, for this work. I'm completely struck dumb by this honour."