The list of previous winners of the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, includes many of Canada's most-acclaimed authors: Alice Munro, who won in 2004 for Runaway; Joseph Boyden, whose now-classic debut novel, Three Day Road, won the prize in 2005; Lawrence Hill, who was awarded the prize in 2007 for The Book of Negroes, one of the best-selling Canadian novels of all-time; Emma Donoghue for Room, which sold more than two million copies around the world; André Alexis, who won last year's prize for Fifteen Dogs.
The five nominees for this year's award – which include two debut novelists, as well as a two-time nominee for the prize – hope to add their name to the list.
Michael Helm for his novel After James, which the jury called "a warning, a lament, a virtuoso engagement with our times" and "a singular puzzle-box of a novel delivered in gorgeous prose." Helm is the author of three previous novels, including Cities of Refuge (2010) and In the Place of Last Things (2004), both of which were nominated for the prize.
Katherena Vermette for her debut novel The Break, about the aftermath of a violent sexual assault in a North End Winnipeg community. "Although this is a novel of social importance," write the jury in their citation, "it transcends politics, taking the reader on a journey to the heart of what it means for one person to care about another, survive trauma, and endure." Vermette is the author of North End Love Songs, which won the Governor-General's Literary Award for Poetry in 2012.
Vancouver novelist and playwright Anosh Irani for The Parcel, which the jury hailed as "a searing indictment of the sex trafficking industry and a compassionate portrait of a troubled but resilient community." Irani's previous novels include 2010's Dahanu Road, which was nominated for the Man Asian Literary Prize.
Victoria writer Yasuko Thanh for Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains, which the jury described as an "elegant and tantalizing" debut novel set in Vietnam during the turn of the 20th century. Thanh is the author of the 2012 short-story collection Floating Like the Dead.
Finally, Moncton's Kerry Lee Powell is nominated for her debut collection of short fiction, Willem de Kooning's Paintbrush, which the jury called "an exquisitely written, vibrant, and thoughtful collection that pulses with life, humour, intelligence, and great feeling, one that signals a bold new direction for the Canadian short story." Willem de Kooning's Paintbrush was recently long-listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, as well.
The winner of the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize receives $25,000, while the remaining finalists receive $2,500.
The nominees were chosen by a jury consisting of writers Lauren B. Davis, Trevor Ferguson and Pasha Malla, who is also a columnist with The Globe and Mail's books section. In total, they considered 135 books before settling on a short list.
Last week, the finalists for the Writers' Trust/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize, which gives $10,000 to an emerging author on the basis of a short story published in a Canadian magazine or literary journal, were revealed. The nominees are: Charlie Fiset for If I Ever See the Sun, published in The Fiddlehead; Colette Langlois for The Emigrants, published in PRISM International; and J.R. McConvey for How the Grizzly Came to Hang in the Royal Oak Hotel, published in Event.
Meanwhile, the nominees for the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Non-Fiction will be announced on Sept. 28.
The winners of these prizes will be announced on Nov. 2 during the Writers' Trust Awards ceremony, which is being held at Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto.