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Miriam Toews takes the 2014 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize

Award recipients Joan Thomas, Cary Fagan, Miriam Toews, Ken Babstock, Susan Musgrave, and Tyler Keevil at the Writers' Trust Awards for Fiction

Award recipients Joan Thomas, Cary Fagan, Miriam Toews, Ken Babstock, Susan Musgrave, and Tyler Keevil at the 2014 Writers’ Trust Awards (photo: Tom Sandler)

Miriam Toews has won the 2014 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for All My Puny Sorrows (Knopf Canada), her critically lauded sixth novel. The Manitoba-born author was awarded $25,000 at Toronto’s Glenn Gould Studio Tuesday evening.

All My Puny Sorrows tells the story of two sisters, one a beguiling mess, the other a world-renowned pianist who is set on ending her life. In her heartfelt acceptance speech, Toews thanked her late sister Marge, who took her own life. “She’s fought a lot of battles for me in the past, and I hope that this book fights for her,” Toews said.

“It’s been intense,” Toews said afterward about the process of promoting her deeply personal book. “I told myself even before the book went to the presses that it would be intense, and I really wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to talk about some of the subjects that I explore in the book … If some kind of dialogue can start around these subjects of mental illness, suicide, assisted suicide, end-of-life issues – then I’ll feel that I’ve done something useful.”

Toews previously won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize in 2008 for The Flying Troutmans and received the 2004 Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction for her novel A Complicated Kindness. In 2010 she received the Writers’ Trust Engel/Findley Award, given to a writer in mid-career.

“The money makes a difference for a writer, it absolutely does,” Toews said. “It will give me the opportunity to not have to hustle as hard. I can stay at home for a good long time, and work. And that’s huge. And the Writers’ Trust has been really, really significant in helping so many writers.”

Toews was shortlisted for the prize alongside André Alexis for Pastoral (Coach House Books), Steven Galloway for The Confabulist (Knopf Canada), Carrie Snyder for Girl Runner (House of Anansi Press), and K.D. Miller for her story collection All Saints (Biblioasis). Each shortlisted author was awarded $2,500.

The inaugural Latner Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize was presented to Ken Babstock, whose latest collection, On Malice, was published by Coach House Books this year. The $2,500 prize is open to Canadian poets in mid-career who have published at least three collections “that demonstrate outstanding mastery in the art of poetry.”

Two awards for career achievement were presented to British Columbia poet Susan Musgrave and Manitoba novelist Joan Thomas. Thomas is the recipient of the $25,000 Writers’ Trust Engel/Findley Award. Thomas, whose 2008 novel Reading by Lightning won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Novel, was praised by the jury for her “profound understanding of the human condition.”

Musgrave, the author of 17 poetry collections and several novels, non-fiction works, and children’s books, was presented with the $20,000 Matt Cohen Award, which recognizes a writer whose life has been dedicated to writing as a primary pursuit. Juror Patsy Aldana said of Musgrave that “at 14, she ran away from high school and ended up briefly in a mental institution. [Musgrave] says of this period, ‘While assigned to a psychiatric ward … I met most of the University of Victoria English department,’ one of whom, Robert Skelton, told her, ‘You’re not mad, you’re a poet.’”

Cary Fagan took the $20,000 Vicky Metcalf Award for Literature for Young People in recognition of his contribution to children’s literature. Fagan has written books for children, and last year was shortlisted for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for A Bird’s Eye View (Cormorant Books).

The $10,000 Writers’ Trust/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize went to newcomer Tyler Keevil, a B.C.-born writer who lives in Wales and teaches creative writing at the University of Gloucestershire. Keevil’s story, “Sealskin,” originally appeared in the Nelson, B.C., journal The New Orphic Review. Following the presentation, he told Q&Q, “The very notion of the Journey Prize is something that all Canadian authors know. Several of the past finalists are writers who have been a big influence on me, people like Steven Heighton and Murray Logan, who was a teacher of mine at UBC. And I never imagined, and never dared dream that I would be in that company.”