News and Interviews

Writers' Trust Announces $100,000 of Career Literary Prizes, including Matt Cohen Award for CanLit Icon Dennis Lee

WT career awards

Rounding out a spectacular prize season, the Writers’ Trust of Canada announced today the winners of their four final literary awards of the year.

The four $25,000 prizes spotlight exceptional literary talent in the genres of fiction, poetry, and literature for young readers. Unlike the typical literary award honouring a single book, these four awards take into account a writer's entire career to date and support their future works. The awards are unique in Canada in this regard. 

Writers' Trust Executive Director Charlie Foran noted the importance of recognizing writers for the whole of their bodies of work. "The economics of the writing life are immensely difficult... career-based awards carry a special message to writers helping to boost their confidence, elevate their standing in the literary community, and fund the creation of their next great work."

Video and audio interviews with each of the prizewinners will be shared throughout the day by @writerstrust on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. 

Matt Cohen Award: In Celebration of a Writing Life ($25,000)

Winner: Dennis Lee

Awarded to a senior writer working in poetry or prose. Sponsored by Lorraine Greey.

Matt Cohen Award Committee: Patsy Aldana, Anita Rau Badami, and Wayne Grady 

author_Dennis Lee

“Dennis Lee is synonymous with Canadian literature,” said the selection committee. “He was one of the first Canadian poets to lament our increasing separation from nature, and the dominance of American values in Canadian culture. Poet, editor, and essayist, Lee defines and honours every genre he enters.”

Dennis Lee published his first book, Kingdom of Absence, in 1967, the same year he co-founded House of Anasi Press. Civil Elegies and Other Poems won a Governor General’s Literary Award in 1972, and he has since publshed 15 books of poems. He was Toronto’s first poet laureate and received the City of Tornoto’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995. Lee has also written 28 books of children’s poetry, including Alligator Pie. He received the Vicky Metcalf Award in 1986. Lee lives in Toronto. 

Writers’ Trust Engel Findley Award ($25,000)

Winner: Kerri Sakamoto

Awarded to a writer of fiction in mid-career. Sponsored by Diamond Schmitt Architects. 

Jury: Timothy Taylor, Souvankham Thammavongsa, and Kathleen Winter

author_Kerri Sakamoto

“In each of the novelistic worlds that Kerri Sakamoto has created, she brings to bear both an elegant lyricism and an unwavering gaze,” said the jury. “These are meticulous excavations of the human heart and of dilemmas of personal history. We’re lucky to have this writer in Canada.”

Kerri Sakamoto was born in Toronto to a Japanese Canadian family. Her first novel, The Electrical Field, was a finalist for a slew of awards, including a Governor General’s Literary Award, and won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book. She has since published two additional novels: One Hundred Million Hearts and The Floating City, which won the Canada-Japan Literary Award and was a finalist for the Toronto Book Awards in 2018. Sakamoto lives in Toronto. 

Latner Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize ($25,000)

Winner: Armand Garnet Ruffo

Awarded to a writer of poetry in mid-career. Sponsored by the Latner Family Foundation. 

Jury: Marilyn Dumont, Susan Glickman, and Kaie Kellough

author_Armand Garnet Ruffo

“Armand Garnet Ruffo’s work has animated larger-than-life figures such as Geronimo, Grey Owl, and Norval Morrisseau while, at the same time, engaging profoundly with the daily life of Indigenous people,” said the jury. “His poetry aspires to ‘cut out a place for himself in the world’ and with each successive book, he has demonstrated increasing range, expertise, and grace, consolidating his claim to that place.”

Armand Garnett Ruffo was born in Chapleau, Ontario, and draws upon his Ojibwe heritage for much of his writing. He published his first book of poetry, Opening in the Sky, in 1994. Four other poetry collections have followed including Treaty #, which was a finalist for a Governor General’s Literary Award in 2019. A multi-genre writer, Ruffo is also a filmmaker and playwright, and is recognized as a major contributor to Indigenous literary scholarship in Canada. He received a lifetime membership award from the League of Canadian Poets in 2016. A professor at Queen’s University, Ruffo lives in Kingston, Ontario. 

Vicky Metcalf Award for Literature for Young People ($25,000)

Winner: Marianne Dubuc

Awarded to a writer of children’s literature. Sponsored by Metcalf Foundation. 

Jury: Caroline Adderson, Kyo Maclear, and Susan Perren

author_Marianne Dubuc

“Marianne Dubuc has created an unforgettable and enchanting oeuvre of stories,” said the jury. “Funny and intimate, her books orbit the deepest of subjects, casting questions of friendship, loneliness, change, and loss, with the lightest of lines and quietest grace. She knows, as children know, that a story is often what happens between words.”

Marianne Dubuc is an author and illustrator who has published more than a dozen picture books. She works in French and her books have been published in more than 25 languages. Her first book, The Sea (Le mer), appeared in 2006. Other works include The Bird and the Lion (Le lion et l’oiseau), which received a 2014 Governor General’s Literary Award; Mr. Postmouse’s Rounds (Le tournée de Facteur Souris), which won the 2016 Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Award for Children’s Picture Books; and Up the Mountain Path (Le chemin de la montagne), which won a 2018 TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award. Dubuc lives in Montreal.