Plum Johnson is the first woman in 11 years to take home the $25,000 RBC Taylor Prize, which celebrates excellence in Canadian non-fiction. The award was presented at a ceremony this afternoon in Toronto.
“I feel like I’m going to faint,” said Johnson as she accepted the award. The author was clearly surprised by the win for her family memoir, They Left Us Everything (Penguin Canada), which recalls the conflicted emotions she experienced while cleaning out the contents of her deceased parents’ 23-room house.
After the reception, Penguin Canada publishing director Diane Turbide recalled to Q&Q how, after acquiring the manuscript, she travelled with Johnson and her agent, Samantha Haywood, to the family home in Oakville, Ontario.
“I had selected the date, and Plum told me later that it was the anniversary of her mother’s death,” said Turbide. “And even though the house had been completely redone, it was still very much a powerful place to be. The way she drew that house, it was a character as much as the characters in it.”
They Left Us Everything was selected from 128 submissions by a jury comprising retired National Ballet of Canada executive director Kevin Garland, former Globe & Mail books editor Martin Levin, and author and academic Andrew Preston.
The other finalists were David O’Keefe for One Day in August: the Untold Story Behind Canada’s Tragedy at Dieppe (Random House Canada); Barbara Taylor for The Last Asylum: A Memoir of Madness in our Times (Hamish Hamilton Canada); M.G. Vassanji for And Home Was Kariakoo: A Memoir of East Africa (Doubleday Canada); and Kathleen Winter for Boundless: Tracing Land and Dream in a Northwest Passage (House of Anansi Press).
Later this month, Johnson will announce her selection for the RBC Taylor Emerging Author Award. The recipient will receive $10,000 and mentorship by Johnson.