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Desmond Cole will donate half his Toronto Book Award prize winnings as he calls for TPL, city of Toronto “to do better”

Desmond Cole (Kate Yang-Nikodym)

Desmond Cole called for “our institutions to do better” as he accepted the Toronto Book Award on Nov. 30. Cole won the award, presented for “books of literary or artistic merit that are evocative of Toronto,” for his bestseller The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power, which considers anti-Black racism and systemic racial injustice through the lens of a year in Toronto.

Cole pledged to donate half of the $10,000 award to two causes directly affected by the award’s two programmers: the city of Toronto and the Toronto Public Library. Cole will donate $2,500 to a “mutual-aid fund” in support of Black trans women and girls to counterbalance the Toronto Public Library’s decision to allow feminist speaker Meghan Murphy, who advocates against trans rights, to host an event at a public library branch last year. Cole will donate another $2,500 to the Encampment Support Network, a group that supports the Toronto street community.

“I want to use this opportunity to push our institutions to do better, to do better for trans, queer, gender non-conforming, non-binary, Two-Spirit people, to do better for the homeless and the houseless and those left behind in this city,” he said. “Because we’re not doing enough.”

Cole noted in his acceptance speech that he has not participated in events with the Toronto Public Library this year because of his disappointment with the library system’s policy decision. “Many of us have made an outcry about that, led by trans people, many trans writers, individuals that have to live with this discrimination every day,” he said. “We tried to push our library system to be better.”

The jury for the 2020 prize consisted of writers Kate Cayley, Michael Fraser, and Liz Howard. The other shortlisted books were Zalika Reid-Benta’s short-story collection Frying Plantain, Vivian Chong’s graphic memoir (co-written with Georgia Webbe) Dancing after TEN, Katie Daubs’s true-crime investigation The Missing Millionaire, and Jean Marc Ah-Sen’s short-story collection In the Beggarly Style of Imitation. The shortlisted authors each receive $1,000.