Kathy Page has won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for her historical novel Dear Evelyn (Biblioasis). It is the first time that the Vancouver author has received a major literary prize in her 32-year writing career. Page was previously shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award (Alphabet, 2005) and twice longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize (Paradise and Elsewhere, 2014, The Two of Us, 2016).
“I am completely unprepared for this,” Page confessed upon accepting the $50,000 prize at the Glenn Gould Studio at the CBC building in Toronto. “The word that comes to mind comes from my obvious British origins, and it is ‘gobsmacked.’”
Dear Evelyn was as much inspired by the love letters her father sent to her mother during the Second World War as it was by the tumultuous marriage that followed. “This is an unusual book for me in the level in which it was rooted in personal things,” she said on stage. “I want to thank the dead: my parents. And my sisters. And my husband who of course encourages me and often comes up second in terms of his creative projects. I think I’m actually going to stop there because I might embarrass us all by flooding with tears.” She added a quick thank you to the Writers’ Trust, the sponsors, and the jurors.
Dear Evelyn won over Craig Davidson’s The Saturday Night Ghost Club (Knopf Canada), Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black (Patrick Crean Editions), Rawi Hage’s Beirut Hellfire Society (Knopf Canada), and Jen Neale’s Land Mammals and Sea Creatures (ECW Press).
Later, as she was swarmed by well-wishers and cameras, Page humbly underplayed her own expectations of winning such a prize. “I felt that I was ‘Mrs. List’,” she said, alluding to her history of appearing on a prize’s shortlist. “Of course buried in their I wanted it to happen. But I’d convinced myself very thoroughly [otherwise].”
Elizabeth Hay was named the winner of the $60,000 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction for her memoir All Things Consoled: A Daughter’s Memoir (McClelland & Stewart), about caring for her aging parents. The Ottawa-based writer won the Writers’ Trust Engel/Findley Award in 2002 for her body of work and received the Giller Prize in 2007 for her novel Late Nights On Air.
Hay thanked her editor Martha Kanya-Forstner. “It was Martha who saw the shape of the book and raised my parents into the light,” Hay said. She also thanked her “date,” her daughter Sochi Fried, “who held my clammy hand in her nice warm one.”
“It was rewarding to have my parents live on in a book,” Hay said following the ceremony. “I think [my grandparents] would be so proud if they were still alive,” Fried said, adding that she was “thrilled and delighted” by her mother’s win.
The other books included on the shortlist were Will Aitken’s Antigone Undone: Juliette Binoche, Anne Carson, Ivo Van Hove, and the Art of Resistance (University of Regina Press), Terese Marie Mailhot’s Heart Berries: A Memoir (Doubleday Canada), Judi Rever’s In Praise of Blood: The Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (Random House Canada), and Lindsay Wong’s The Woo-Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug Raids, Demons, and My Crazy Chinese Family (Arsenal Pulp Press).
The $10,000 Writers’ Trust/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize went to Vancouver-based writer Shahsi Bhat for her story “Mute,” published in the Dalhousie Review. The Latner Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize, a $25,000 prize presented to a mid-career poet, was awarded to Vancouver writer Jordan Scott.
The $25,000 Matt Cohen award in recognition of a lifetime of distinguished work was presented to Winnipeg’s David Bergen. The $25,000 Vicky Metcalf Award for Literature for Young People was presented to Windsor, Ontario, writer Christopher Paul Curtis. The $25,000 Writers’ Trust Engel/Findley Award for mid-career fiction writing was awarded to Toronto’s Alissa York.
In total, the Writers’ Trust of Canada presented more than $260,000 to seven writers. The awards were presented in a ceremony emceed by novelist Zoe Whittall.