The shortlist for the inaugural Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for non-fiction includes two books from 2010, a weighty biography of a former prime minister, and a small-press book from out West. The five nominated books are:
- Mordecai: The Life and Times, Charles Foran (Knopf Canada)
- Eating Dirt: Deep Forests, Big Timber, and Life with the Tree-planting Tribe, Charlotte Gill (Greystone Books)
- Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times, Volume Two: 1867“1891, Richard Gwyn (Random House Canada)
- Adventures in Solitude: What Not to Wear to a Nude Potluck and Other Stories from Desolation Sound, Grant Lawrence (Harbour Publishing)
- Why Not? Fifteen Reasons to Live, Ray Robertson (Biblioasis)
Two of the nominees have ties to the rival Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-fiction: Foran’s biography of Mordecai Richler, originally published in hardcover in fall 2010, won the Charles Taylor Prize last January, and the first volume of Gwyn’s biography of our national founding father, John A.: The Man Who Made Us, took home the prize in 2007. Random House of Canada, which publishes both Foran and Gwyn, is the only multinational publisher represented on this shortlist; it is vying with Vancouver-based Greystone (an imprint of D&M Publishers) and small presses from Emeryville, Ontario, (Biblioasis) and Madeira Park, B.C. (Harbour).
One surprising omission from the list is Andrew Westoll’s well-received memoir The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary; other big non-fiction books that got passed over include Conrad Black’s prison memoir A Matter of Principle; James Loney’s memoir of being held prisoner in Iraq, Captivity; and Mellissa Fung’s memoir of her time held captive in Afghanistan, Under an Afghan Sky. (To be eligible for the prize, a book had to be published in Canada between Oct. 1, 2010, and Sept. 30, 2011.)
The finalists are a diverse group, indicating a willingness on the part of the jury “ made up of writers Brian Brett, Devyani Saltzman, and Russell Wangersky “ to apply a broad definition to the term “literary non-fiction.” Gwyn’s detailed and exhaustive biography sits alongside Gill’s memoir of 20 years spent tree planting in B.C., Robertson’s meditation on the things that give life value, and Lawrence’s humorous travels through a neglected part of the B.C. coastline.
The winner, who will receive $60,000, will be announced at a gala to be held at Toronto’s Koerner Hall at the Telus Centre for Performance and Learning on Oct. 25. Each of the other finalists will receive $5,000.