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Priscila Uppal, Thomas King make Weston Prize shortlist

The shortlist for the third annual Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Non-fiction was announced this morning at the Loblaws flagship store in Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens.

Penguin Random House Canada imprints dominate the shortlist with three titles: The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King (Doubleday Canada); The Once and Future World: Nature As It Was, As It Is, As It Could Be by ecological writer J.B. MacKinnon (Random House Canada); and The Dogs Are Eating Them Now: Our War in Afghanistan by former foreign correspondent Graeme Smith (Knopf Canada).

Two small-press titles also appear on the list. Biblioasis author Andrew Steinmetz was shortlisted for This Great Escape: The Case of Michael Paryla, which reconstructs the life of a man who appeared briefly in the 1963 classic film. Dundurn Press received its first-ever Weston Prize nomination for Priscila Uppal’s Projection, a personal memoir about the poet’s complex relationship with her estranged, film-obsessed mother.

This year’s jury comprises Hal Niedzviecki, co-founder of the literary magazine Broken Pencil; Andreas Schroeder, a creative writing teacher and Rogers Communications Chair in creative non-fiction at the University of British Columbia; and Candace Savage, who won the prize last year for A Geography of Blood: Unearthing Memory from a Prairie Landscape (Greystone Books).

Niedzviecki says jurying was a challenging process because of the diversity of the submitted titles. “The hardest part about it is the fact that you get a memoir, you get an investigative report, you get a historical book,” he says. “It can be really hard to balance the objectives of the authors with our search for literary merit, which I think partly is defined by longevity, by the idea that a hundred years from now someone might pull this book out and it still has something to say to them.”

Two celebrity jurors were also announced this morning. War Child Canada founder Samantha Nutt and CBC Television journalist Evan Solomon will help determine the winner. Niedzviecki says he expects “a very long, heartfelt debate, with everyone being remarkably restrained and respectful. Somebody on the jury is going to end up somewhat disappointed because there has to be a winner and I’m not sure we’re all going to agree on that winner.”

The $60,000 prize will be presented at the Art Gallery of Ontario on Oct. 21. Each of the shortlisted writers receives $5,000.