The short list for the $50,000 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize has been announced, and for Montreal author Rawi Hage, the happy news of his inclusion likely brings a sense of déjà vu.
Hage has been here before. He has never not been here, in fact. Unique in the prize’s 22-year history, Hage has been nominated for four consecutive novels: a career sweep.
Hage is nominated this year for Beirut Hellfire Society, a comic and macabre return to the war-torn Beirut of his breakout 2006 debut, De Niro’s Game, which tells the story of Pavlov, the son of an undertaker, who is drawn into a bizarre and mysterious sect to cremate the bodies of misfits and outcasts.
Esi Edugyan is making a repeat appearance on the Writers’ Trust list too. A finalist in 2011 for Half-Blood Blues, she is nominated this year for Washington Black, a sweeping and magical coming-of-age story about a field slave who is spirited away from the island of his birth to become a freeman, an artist and a man of science.
This is not the first such news this month for these two writers. Last week both were named to the 12-strong long list for Canada’s Scotiabank Giller Prize, and Edugyan made the short list for Britain’s prestigious Man Booker Prize.
With major announcements coming almost daily, literary-award season has shifted into high gear. While fiction traditionally draws the biggest interest, for the Writers’ Trust of Canada (for which, full disclosure, I used to be an employee) the marquee fiction prize is but one in a suite of awards that recognizes Canadian writers working in multiple genres and at all stages of their careers.
At an awards evening on Nov. 7, in Toronto, the Writers’ Trust will present seven national literary awards to writers working in fiction, non-fiction, poetry and young-people’s literature, for work ranging from a short story or single book to a life of letters. More than $260,000 in prize money will be presented, making it one of the richest prize-giving nights in Canada. It’s also, as noted by Writers’ Trust executive director Mary Osborne, “a love fest, with hundreds of mostly writers, editors and publishers in a room madly cheering one another on.”
Here’s a look at the rest of those in contention on Nov. 7:
On a fiction short list that features well-known names alongside new, Hage and Edugyan are joined by Craig Davidson, nominated for his Stranger Things-esque coming-of-age tale set in 1980s Niagara Falls, The Saturday Night Ghost Club; Jen Neale, for her debut novel, Land Mammals and Sea Creatures, a magical-realist exploration of grief and the environment in which animals have been driven to suicide; and Kathy Page, who links personal and historical events across the 20th century to tell the story of a 70-year marriage in Dear Evelyn.
Personal stories dominate the short list for the $60,000 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction. Will Aiken is nominated for Antigone Undone: Juliette Binoche, Anne Carson, Ivo Van Hove, and the Art of Resistance, a personal testament to art, creativity, friendship and theatre; Elizabeth Hay (a two-time fiction-prize nominee) writes about taking on the role of caregiver to her parents in All Things Consoled: A Daughter’s Memoir; Terese Marie Mailhot deals with generational trauma and finds personal healing through words in her debut memoir, Heart Berries; and Lindsay Wong shares a darkly comic story of her own dysfunctional family in The Woo-Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug Raids, Demons, and My Crazy Chinese Family.
Investigative journalist Judi Rever completes the list with her groundbreaking work about the Rwandan genocide, In Praise of Blood: The Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, in which she challenges the accepted narrative and presents evidence that the slaughter was bidirectional.
Three emerging writers are vying for the $10,000 Writers’ Trust McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize, which recognizes the best short story published in a Canadian literary journal in the previous year. The prize has a track record of identifying future Canadian literary stars (2017 winner Sharon Bala – a juror for this year’s prize – went on to become a finalist for the Amazon First Novel Award and Canada Reads for her debut novel, The Boat People, for example). This year’s nominees are Shashi Bhat, Greg Brown and Liz Harmer.
Alongside the winners of these three prizes for a single work, four awards will also be presented in recognition of career achievement; the Matt Cohen Award: In Celebration of a Writing Life, the Writers’ Trust Engel/Findley Award for a writer in mid-career, the Latner Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize and the Vicky Metcalf Award for Literature for Young People.
“Being reminded through those career prizes of what some of our most exceptional writers have accomplished, book after book after book, is a striking and remarkable and exciting thing,” Ms. Osborne says.
No short lists are announced for the career-achievement awards, as writers can remain eligible year after year. With a perfect career score of Writers’ Trust nominations under his belt, however, Rawi Hage must surely be in contention for one of those too.