Accomplished Toronto poet, author, and biographer Rosemary Sullivan has won the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Non-fiction for Stalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva (HarperCollins Canada). The $60,000 award was presented Oct. 6 at a reception at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Sullivan’s sweeping biography of Alliluyeva, the only daughter of Russian dictator Joseph Stalin, was deemed an “insightful yet empathetic portrait” by the prize jury, which comprised authors Stevie Cameron, Will Ferguson, and JJ Lee.
Sullivan became interested in Alliluyeva’s story after her death in 2011. “I read in the obituaries that she was quoted as saying, ‘No matter where I go, to an island or Australia, I’ll always be the political prisoner of my father’s name.’ It wasn’t just that she was a prisoner, but this idea that she was the political prisoner,” Sullivan said in an interview after receiving the award. “That balance between wit and stamina, and then to live to 85 – what would it be like to live under the name of one of the world’s most brutal dictators and never be able to escape that? She was always under the receiving end of someone’s projections. So I couldn’t imagine a more interesting life.”
Stalin’s Daughter and the other four shortlisted titles were selected from 97 books submitted by 51 publishers. The other finalists were Tell it to the World: International Justice and the Secret Campaign to Hide Mass Murder in Kosovo, Eliott Behar (Dundurn Press); Kitten Clone: Inside Alcatel-Lucent, Douglas Coupland (Random House Canada); Empire of Deception: From Chicago to Nova Scotia – The Incredible Story of a Master Swindler Who Seduced a City and Captivated the Nation, Dean Jobb (Harper Avenue); and Cease: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Desire, Lynette Loeppky (Oolichan Books).