Deborah Campbell's A Disappearance in Damascus: A Story of Friendship and Survival in the Shadow of War, lauded as a book that "illuminates the dangers of life and work in a conflict zone," is the winner of this year's Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Non-Fiction.
The announcement was made at the Writers' Trust Awards ceremony in Toronto on Wednesday, during which time seven awards, totalling $219,000 in prize money, were presented to writers from across the country.
Campbell's book, which chronicles her time as a journalist covering the plight of Iraqi refugees in Syria following the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, as well as her search for her friend and fixer, Ahlam, who was kidnapped from her home. The jury – writers Carolyn Abraham, Stephen Kimber and Emily Urquhart – praised the book for its "compelling prose, nuanced context and intimate narration." The Vancouver-based author receives $60,000, while the four other finalists, including Globe and Mail feature writer Ian Brown, receive $5,000.
Another B.C. writer, Yasuko Thanh of Victoria, won the $25,000 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize for Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains, a novel inspired by the Hanoi Poison Plot of 1908. The jury – writers Lauren B. Davis, Trevor Ferguson, and Globe and Mail books columnist Pasha Malla – singled out the novel's "compelling narrative drive" and "mesmerizing characters" in their citation.
It was the second time Thanh has won a Writers' Trust award; in 2009, she took home the Writers' Trust/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize, which is awarded to an emerging writer for a short story. This year's recipient of the $10,000 prize was Colette Langlois, of Edmonton, for The Emigrants, a story set in rural Saskatchewan in 1885 and Mars in 2070 "and richly imagines what has come before and what is to be," according to the jury of Madeleine Thien, Brian Francis and Kate Cayley.
Four awards were also presented to authors based on their body of work.
Eden Robinson of Kitamaat, B.C., an author whose work "resonates with crucial political and ethical questions that everyone needs to consider," received the $25,000 Writers' Trust Engel/Findley Award, which goes to a writer in mid-career; her new novel Son of A Trickster will be published in February.
The $25,000 Latner Writers' Trust Poetry Prize was awarded to Gregory Scofield, a Métis poet, memoirist and storyteller. The author of seven collections of poetry, including The Gathering: Stones for the Medicine Wheel, he is currently an assistant professor of English at Laurentian University, where he also teaches creative writing.
Ottawa's Alan Cumyn, whose work was commended for its "sure-handed mix of humour, poetry and melancholy," was awarded the $25,000 Vicki Metcalf Award for Literature for Young People.
Finally, the Matt Cohen Award: In Celebration of a Writing Life, which is given to an author "dedicated to writing as a primary pursuit," went to Brian Brett of Salt Spring Island, B.C.; the jury called him "a consummate example of one who has lived the writers' life."