Chanel M. Sutherland of Montreal has captured the 2021 CBC Nonfiction Prize for her tense and compelling piece "Umbrella", which explores racial microaggressions in a complicated friendship between Sutherland's teenage self and a white classmate.
"The story comes from a lifetime of uncomfortable moments where I was reminded ― whether with direct intentions or not ― of my 'otherness.' As a Black woman, racial microaggression is nothing new to me, but somehow I am always shocked when it occurs," said Sutherland, describing the origins of the piece. "I tend to step around these errant comments or behaviours and seethe in silence. A silence born from being told too many times that 'they didn't mean it that way' or 'it's just a harmless joke.'"
As the grand-prize winner, Sutherland will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and her story has been published on CBC Books, where you can read it for free. She will also receive a two-week writing residency at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.
Her winning entry was chosen from more than 2,000 submissions from across the country. Jurors Jenny Heijun Wills, M.G. Vassanji, and Tim Cook praised the piece, saying it is written with "a restraint that characterizes its speaker in masterful ways. Here is a story about Black girlhood that bespeaks the ironic ways desire, belonging, and acquiescence are, at times, inextricable. The result is a compelling, lively, and informative piece that offers insight as it deploys literary skill from beginning to end."
Sutherland reacted to her win saying "I still cannot believe [it], especially with so many talented writers on the longlist. I set out with one goal for 2021, and it was to write a story that I was proud of and send it out into the world. Writing Umbrella was a challenging experience because I had to restrain myself. There were so many emotions that I felt and connected to during the process... This whole experience is like walking in a dream!"
Four runners-up for the 2021 CBC Nonfiction Prize will each receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts: Alison Hughes of Edmonton for Funhouse Mirrors; Barbara Mackenzie of Yellowknife for Northern Spring; Lee Thomas of Fredericton for My Summer Body; and Sarah Van Goethem of Bothwell, Ont. for A Borrowed Husband.
For more information on the CBC Literary Prizes, please visit CBCBooks.ca