The shortlist for the second annual Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Non-fiction was announced this morning at the Loblaws flagship store in Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens. Jurors Marni Jackson and James Bartleman were on hand to present the nominees, and juror Charlotte Gill was present via Apple Facetime from Kingston, Ontario.
Author JJ Lee added to his Governor General’s Literary Award and Charles Taylor Prize nominations for his memoir The Measure of a Man: The Story of a Father, a Son, and a Suit (McClelland & Stewart). Joining Lee on the shortlist are Montreal author Taras Grescoe for his urban-transit travelogue, Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile (HarperCollins Canada); Candace Savage for her meditation on the history of the Eastend and Cypress Hills region of Saskatchewan, A Geography of Blood: Unearthing Meaning from a Prairie Landscape (Greystone Books); Kamal Al-Solaylee for his personal story of family and identity, Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes; and Modris Eksteins for his book about Van Gogh and the nature of authenticity, Solar Dance: Genius, Forgery and the Crisis of Truth in the Modern Age (Knopf Canada).
This year’s jury read 104 titles from 51 publishers to come up with the shortlist. Jackson praised the range of books the jury read, saying, “The most impressive thing was how many different approaches non-fiction authors were taking. It’s not just biography and memoir.”
For his part, Grescoe lauded the support that Canadian writers receive from awards such as the Weston Prize. “The great thing about Canada is that we do reward our writers,” he said. “There is a critical relationship between the money you have available to you and the relative ambition of a writing project…. I don’t know if I’d have been able to do this without that support.”
Savage, who was “ridiculously happy” with her nomination, concurred, and also expressed enthusiasm about the increased audience for her book “ “Success for any writer means having readers,” she said.
Certainly Savage has reason to be optimistic. This year, for the first time, all five nominated books will be featured in special displays set up in more than 200 Loblaws stores across the country. “We’re eager to re-profile the idea of non-fiction,” said Hilary Weston.
The appearance of the shortlisted titles in the chain’s stores is not the only way the prize is attempting to “re-profile” itself. This year’s jury is also being augmented by two additional members who will help decide on the winner. The two new jurors, announced this morning, are broadcast journalist Seamus O’Regan and journalist and Maclean’s columnist Barbara Amiel Black.
The call to participate in this year’s jury came “out of the blue,” said Black, who also praised the “tremendous range of topics” in the five nominees. “There are no generic or stylistic boundaries” for non-fiction practitioners, she said. “That says something about Canadian writers.”
The $60,000 prize will be given out in Toronto on Nov. 12. Each of the shortlisted writers receives $5,000.