The winners of the 2017 Governor General’s Literary Awards, the annual set of prizes recognizing the best Canadian books in English and French, have been announced.
Newfoundland author and filmmaker Joel Thomas Hynes won the English-language fiction prize for his dark, Giller-longlisted third novel, We’ll All be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night (HarperCollins), which follows a man who attempts to atone for what was a violent relationship with his girlfriend by travelling from one coast to the other to deposit her ashes on a beach after she unexpectedly dies of a drug overdose.
In the English poetry category, Calgary poet and creative-writing professor Richard Harrison – who was previously shortlisted for a GG in 1999 for Big Breath of a Wish – was recognized for On Not Losing My Father’s Ashes in the Flood; the first win (and nomination) for the collection’s publisher, Hamilton, Ontario–based Wolsak & Wynn imprint Buckrider Books. The well-praised collection centres on the great Alberta flood of 2013.
The English-language drama award goes to Vancouver-based Japanese-Canadian actor and playwright Hiro Kanagawa for Indian Arm (Playwrights Canada Press), a modern rendition of Henrik Ibsen’s 1894 play Little Eyolf in which the struggles and contradictions of a couple and their adopted special-needs son come to a boiling point in an isolated cabin on Indigenous land.
Journalist Graeme Wood was named recipient of the non-fiction award for The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State (Random House Canada), a glimpse into the radicalized Islamic State through interviews with supporters and recruiters, in the vein of the author’s Atlantic article “What ISIS Really Wants.”
The Marrow Thieves (Dancing Cat Books) won Métis writer/editor Cherie Dimaline the English-language young people’s literature prize. The YA novel takes place in a future dystopia where Indigenous peoples are harvested for their bone marrow, which allegedly helps the non-Indigenous population regain their lost capacity to dream.
In the category for young people’s literature – illustrated books, Winnipeg writer and graphic novelist David A. Robertson and illustrator Julie Flett took home the prize for When We Were Alone (HighWater Press), which has also been shortlisted for the 2017 TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award. In the picture book, a young girl learns about her culture and her grandmother’s residential school experience while gardening with the older woman.
Poet Oana Avasilichioaei won the French-to-English translation award for her work on Montreal poet laureate Bertrand Laverdure’s Readopolis (BookThug), in which a publishing-house employee turns his obsession with literature into another imagined world.
Each of the above recipients was awarded a $25,000 prize, and each of their publishers, $3,000. The finalists in each category received a $1,000 purse.