The literary gravity of Canada shifted sharply to the left Tuesday when jurors for the 2012 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction released a short list made up exclusively of books from British Columbia writers.
Showing a similar tilt away from the big issues of public life in favour of the personal memoir, the Charles Taylor jury registered basic agreement with juries that granted similar honours late last year, with four of the five books on its short list previously nominated for other awards.
Only one book – Wade Davis's Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest – is new to the sweepstakes. The author's retelling of George Mallory's fatal assault on the world's highest mountain in the 1920s "powerfully links the devastating carnage and destruction of the war to the transcendent aspiration of Mallory and his compatriots to ascend Everest," according to the jury.
First brought to prominence by her nomination for the inaugural Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize last fall, fellow B.C. writer Charlotte Gill has returned to the lists with Eating Dirt: Deep Forests, Big Timber and Life with the Tree-Planting Tribe. "Only a writer as skilled as Charlotte Gill could make the back-breaking work of planting more than a million seedlings sound like one of life's essential adventures," the jury said.
Vancouver writer JJ Lee was nominated for a Governor-General's Award for his debut book, The Measure of a Man: The Story of a Father, a Son and a Suit, and the Charles Taylor jury agreed with that assessment, calling the book "beautifully crafted" and "a heartbreaking page turner about a family, an abusive father and men's fashion."
University of Victoria creative-writing teacher Madeline Sonik earned a nomination for Afflictions & Departures: Essays, which also competed as a finalist for the most recent B.C. National Award for Creative Non-Fiction. "Startlingly original, Madeline Sonik's moving story of her childhood defies all our expectation of memoir," the jury said, calling the book "a visceral portrayal of a family imploding."
Writer and primatologist Andrew Westoll created "a stunning and important work of art and documentary and science" with The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary: A Canadian Story of Resilience and Recovery, according to the Charles Taylor jury. The book, also previously nominated for the B.C. national award, documents the lives of chimpanzees rescued from laboratories and ending their lives in a sanctuary where they are "loved by an extraordinary group of people."
The jury that made the selections consisted of writers Stevie Cameron and Allan M. Brandt along with publishing consultant Susan Renouf. The winner of the $25,000 prize will be announced at a ceremony on March 5.
Runners-up receive $2,000 and additional promotional support.