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Books Author Thomas King takes home $25,000 Charles Taylor Prize for non-fiction

Thomas King, the author of The Inconvenient Indian, won the RBC Taylor prize for non-fiction literature in Toronto on March 10, 2014.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Read a review of The Inconvenient Indian here.

Read an excerpt here.

Learn more about all the nominees here.

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Thomas King has won the $25,000 RBC Charles Taylor Prize for his book The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America. The win caps a remarkable year for the book, which was a finalist for three major prizes including the Taylor, the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction and the B.C. National Non-Fiction Award. It won the $40,000 B.C. prize last month.

The book, which the Taylor Prize jury called "subversive, entertaining, well-researched, hilarious, enraging, and finally hopeful," is a history of the continent's indigenous populations – one that, for Mr. King, represented a serious challenge.

As he told The Globe in an interview last week, "The Inconvenient Indian was a difficult book to write for three reasons. One, even though I had studied native history at university and then had taught it for over 30 years, there was a great deal of research that had to be done, much of which never made it into the book. Two, the material itself wasn't enough. Much of it was factual but dry, and I had to figure a way to put the story of native people in North America into a coherent and readable form. In the end, I used some of the strategies that I had learned writing fiction. And, three, because I lived through some of this history, was a part of this history, writing the book conjured up old memories and opened up old wounds."

In the same interview, Mr. King also argued that prizes such as the Taylor are essential lifelines for writers in Canada, many of whom struggle to make their work financially viable. "Most writers, even good ones, can't make a living from their art," he said. "In that regard, the prizes are welcome as many of these prizes represent a year's salary."

The success of Mr. King's book arrives at a remarkable moment for literature by and about Canada's indigenous people, which has flourished since the Idle No More movement. Last week, Joseph Boyden's The Orenda, an account of the conflicts between Iroquois, Huron and Jesuit missionaries, won CBC's popular Canada Reads book-discussion show. Musician and broadcaster Wab Kinew called it a book that could improve Canada through expanding people's understanding of native societies as they existed before Europeans arrived. While filming a video interview at The Globe's offices, Mr. King agreed that it is an exceptional period in native literature. "I suppose if I were a broadcaster and a clever fellow, I'd say it looks like the year of the native," he joked.

Mr. King was born in the United States, and is of Greek and Cherokee heritage. He is a novelist, most loved perhaps for Green Grass, Running Water. He is also known for his short fiction and essays, and, as a broadcaster, for creating the CBC radio program The Dead Dog Café Comedy Hour.

This year is the Taylor Prize's first in partnership with RBC. Inauguated in 2000, it was initially given every other year; it has been annual since 2004. This year's other finalists were Charlotte Gray for The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master, and the Trial That Shocked a Country ; J.B. MacKinnon for The Once and Future World: Nature As It Was, As It Is, As It Could Be; former Globe correspondent Graeme Smith for The Dogs Are Eating Them Now: Our War in Afhganistan; and David Stouck for Arthur Erickson: An Architect's Life. Jurors Coral Ann Howells, James Polk and Andrew Westoll selected the winner from 124 submissions.

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