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Acclaimed writer Sheila Heti has won this year’s Governor-General’s Literary Award for fiction.


She picked up the $25,000 prize for her novel, Pure Colour, a strange and meditative book about love and grief in a pre-apocalyptic time.

The novel, which was published by Penguin Random House Canada, was also longlisted for this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize.

But despite the prestige that comes with award nods and wins, Heti said that sort of recognition isn’t what drives her.

“I think probably a better world would be one where we didn’t give out awards for books, but if they have to give them out then I’m happy to get one,” Heti said in a phone interview.

Instead, she said, she’s more concerned with what her friends and other writers think of her work.

Pure Colour is the Toronto-based author’s 10th book.

She became a critical darling with her second novel, 2010′s How Should A Person Be?, a work of autofiction that landed her on the New York Times’s list of “the new vanguard.”

Her book, Motherhood, published in 2018, was shortlisted for the Giller.

The Governor-General’s Awards, founded in 1936, are among the country’s oldest literary honours. English and French awards are handed out in seven categories with the winners receiving $25,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, which administers the prizes.

This year’s prize for non-fiction went to Eli Baxter of London, Ont., for Aki-wayn-zih: A Person as Worthy as the Earth, published by McGill-Queen’s University Press.

The book traces the history of the Anishinaabeg and their connection to the land, up to Baxter’s experience in the residential school system and beyond.

Halifax’s Annick MacAskill won the poetry prize for Shadow Blight (Gaspereau Press), which uses classical myth to examine the unique grief that comes with pregnancy loss.

Dorothy Dittrich of Vancouver won the honour in the drama category for The Piano Teacher: A Healing Key (Talonbooks).

In the young people’s literature category, the text award went to The Summer of Bitter and Sweet (Heartdrum) by Jen Ferguson, a Canadian author now based in Iowa. Toronto’s Naseem Hrab and Montreal’s Nahid Kazemi won the illustrated book award for The Sour Cherry Tree (Owlkids Books).

The English translation prize went to Judith Weisz Woodsworth of Montreal for History of the Jews in Quebec (University of Ottawa Press), originally written in French by Pierre Anctil.

There are separate French-language categories for francophone writing.

Publishers of award winners also receive $3,000 and the finalists for each award receive $1,000.

The awards hand out a total annual prize value of $450,000.