A Silk Road bicycle journey, a cellist’s melodious memoir, a daughter’s secret-sharing disclosure, a bittersweet boat ride across the Salish Sea and a Cree recounting of trauma and reconciliation are the stories told by the five shortlisted authors for the 2019 RBC Taylor Prize. The nominated writers vying for the annual $25,000 award were announced Wednesday at a Toronto news conference.
Contending authors include British Columbia-based Darrel J. McLeod, an Indigenous Albertan whose Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age (published by Douglas & MacIntyre) was the recipient of the 2018 Governor General’s Literary Award for Nonfiction. Only once before has a book – Mordecai: The Life and Times, by Charles Foran – achieved the elusive Taylor-GG double-dip.
Others up for the Taylor trophy include Bill Gaston, a novelist whose meditative memoir Just Let Me Look at You: On Fatherhood (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin Canada) involves alcohol, a fishing boat and a father-son relationship explored. Gaston’s previous work of non-fiction was 2006′s Midnight Hockey: All about Beer, the Boys and the Real Canadian Game.
Another nominated novelist writing about family is Elizabeth Hay. Her All Things Consoled: A Daughter’s Memoir (McClelland & Stewart) describes a woman’s care for her aging parents in their last days. Hay’s 2007 novel Late Nights on Air won the Giller Prize. All Things Consoled took the 2018 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction.
An intriguing outsider is Ian Hampton, a working cellist. His publisher, The Porcupine’s Quill, bills Jan in 35 Pieces: A Memoir in Music as an “extravaganza of music history" that offers glimpses into the world of a professional musician.
Rounding out the short list is Kate Harris, a highly-educated travel writer and well-respected wanderer who lives off-grid in a log cabin on the border of the Yukon and British Columbia. Published by Knopf Canada, the nominated Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road traces a Marco Polo journey in thoughtful, two-wheeled ways. It is her first book.
The five works were selected by a jury consisting of novelist Camilla Gibb, former chief justice Beverley McLachlin and Roy MacGregor, the author and Globe and Mail feature writer. The tired-eyed trio, charged with reading and evaluating more than 115 books submitted by Canadian and international publishers, initially arrived at a long list of 10 titles. Those not making the cut for the short list were Mark Critch (for Son of a Critch), Terese Marie Mailhot (Heart Berries), David Johnston (Trust), Allan Levine (Seeking the Fabled City) and Robert Lewis (Power, Prime Ministers and the Press).
The 2018 Taylor Prize winner was Tanya Talaga, for Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City.
The winner of the Taylor Prize, created in 1998 by the Charles Taylor Foundation, will be announced on March 4. Each of the finalists vying for the $25,000 grand prize are already assured of $5,000.
Public events confirmed for this year’s finalists include a free round-table discussion with the shortlisted authors at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre (Feb. 28) and a ticketed brunch at Toronto’s Omni King Edward Hotel (March 3).