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Writers’ Trust shortlist trumpets unsung Canadian talent

Emphasizing accessibility and innovation over past literary laurels, the jury for this year’s Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize has put the spotlight on a mostly younger generation of authors who aren’t quite household names “ at least not yet.

Two novels on the five-title shortlist have already been singled out by international prize juries: Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers (House of Anansi Press) and Esi Edugyan’s Half-Blood Blues (Thomas Allen Publishers) are both shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and appear on the 17-title longlist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. In fact, four out of five shortlisted authors have also received Giller nods “ all except Dan Vyleta, who was nominated for his second novel, The Quiet Twin (HarperCollins Canada), a noirish tale of Nazi-occupied Vienna.

The Writers’ Trust shortlist is rounded out by a pair of story collections from a newcomer and a veteran author. First-time author Michael Christie is nominated for The Beggar’s Garden (HarperCollins Canada), a collection of stories set in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Clark Blaise, the only nominated author with a lengthy publishing history (but who lives in the U.S. and hasn’t published a book in Canada for a decade), got the nod for The Meagre Tarmac (Biblioasis).

Absent from the list are some of the big names of CanLit, including Michael Ondaatje, Guy Vanderhaeghe, Elizabeth Hay, and Miriam Toews. Juror Rabindranath Maharaj told Q&Q that the jury, which also comprised Emma Donoghue (who won the 2010 Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for Room) and author Margaret Sweatman, approached each work without preconceptions.

“Four out of five people on this list aren’t recognizable names in Canadian literature. I don’t know why that is so this year, if it is a coincidence or what,” he said.

“I believe what these writers have done and what they’re doing is they’re very quietly innovative without drawing attention to their innovation. And they’re innovative in the sense that their books are more accessible “ it’s more reader-friendly in many ways…. The elements of good storytelling are still there.”

The finalists for the $10,000 Writers’ Trust of Canada/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize, given to the author of a short story published in a Canadian literary journal, were also announced. They are Seyward Goodhand for “The Fur Trader’s Daughter” (appearing in PRISM International), Miranda Hill for “Petitions to Saint Chronic” (The Dalhousie Review), and Ross Klatte for “First-Calf Heifer” (The New Orphic Review).

The Journey Prize jury comprises Alexander MacLeod, Alison Pick, and Sarah Selecky, who whittled down the list of three finalists from 10 authors appearing in this year’s Journey Prize anthology, published by M&S.

With two story collections appearing on the fiction shortlist, the short-story form appears to be alive and well in Canada. “I know readers tend to look at short stories as the lesser cousin of the novel, and we wondered why that is so,” Maharaj said. “Short stories are still kind of left behind. We tried to not do that with this jury.”