After winning two major literary prizes in less than a month and seeing Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda win CBC’s Canada Reads, author Thomas King is calling 2014 “the year of the native.”
The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America (Doubleday Canada) was awarded the RBC Taylor Prize (formerly the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-fiction) at a ceremony in Toronto today. The $25,000 prize comes just weeks after King was awarded the $40,000 B.C. National Award for Canadian Non-fiction.
“I couldn’t [write this book] as a normal historian; I couldn’t be that distant third person voice as though I’m impartial. I wasn’t,” King told Q&Q after accepting the award. “I was angry at points, happy at points, I laughed at points, I was really pissed off at points.”
King said that while the government has been slow to address native issues, Canadian readers are having serious conversations thanks to authors such as Boyden and the Idle No More movement.
“As a native person, that’s all I really want ““ for that serious conversation to begin and continue,” he says. “I hope that, because of this, there’s a kind of charisma or energy that goes out to all the reserves across the land.”
A jury comprising literary critic Coral Ann Howells, editor and author James Polk, and 2012 Taylor Prize champ Andrew Westoll selected the winner.
As this year’s winner, King will select one writer under 35 to receive the inaugural RBC Taylor Prize Emerging Writer’s Award. The winner, to be announced March 17, will receive $10,000 and be mentored by King.
Westoll, who was 34 when he won in 2012 for The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary, says this is his favourite innovation in book prizes.
“It just makes everyone aware of how long it can take to learn how to write a book,” he says. “There are so many people in their twenties in this country who are potentially doing great work, so this prize will bring one of them to prominence.”
Howells noted King’s ability to take on “a really serious history through satire with a very intimate conversation and tone.”
“It struck us as a bricolage, a new definition of fine writing,” she said.
The other shortlisted authors, who each received $2,000, were:
- The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master and the Trial that Shocked a Country, Charlotte Gray (HarperCollins Canada)
- The Once and Future World: Nature As It Was, As It Is, As It Could Be, J.B. MacKinnon (Random House Canada)
- The Dogs Are Eating Them Now: Our War in Afghanistan, Graeme Smith (Knopf Canada)
- Arthur Erickson: An Architect’s Life, David Stouck (Douglas & MacIntyre)