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Independent Publishers Win Big at the 2018 Governor General's Literary Awards


It was a great year for independent presses at the 2018 Governor General's Literary Awards. The seven English language awards (along with their French counterparts) were announced yesterday, with six of the seven prizes going to independently operated publishers across Canada. 

The venerable prizes, originally established in 1936 and under the umbrella of the Canada Council for the Arts since 1959, honour literary achievement in fiction, poetry, drama, non-fiction, writing for young people (both text and illustration), and translation. 

$25,000 is awarded to the writers, illustrators and translators of the winning books, with an additional $3,000 to the winners' publishers and a $1,000 honorarium to each finalists. 

Below are the 2018 winners, with the juries' citations below to give a taste of what each book offers that differentiated it from the 800+ submissions from publishers across the country. 

Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction:

The Red Word by Sarah Henstra (ECW Press)

"Groundbreaking and provocative, this is an astonishing evisceration of the clichés of sexual politics as they exist not only on our college campuses, but also within broader present-day society. Alternately heartbreaking, funny, and critical, no one gets off easily. The Red Word plumbs the depths of literature, mythology, history, philosophy, and a host of contemporary issues—an utterly effing good read."

Governor General's Literary Award for Poetry:

Wayside Sang by Cecily Nicholson (Talonbooks)

"In this hypnotic suite of long poems, Cecily Nicholson makes room, offering glimpses and echoes of the Canadian landscape as she explores ideas of borders, identity, industry and travel. She offers a catalogue of impressions, a collage of the ephemeral, held together by image and the pulsing phrase that stays with you long after the journey’s over."

Governor General's Literary Award for Drama:

Botticelli in the Fire & Sunday in Sodom by Jordan Tannahill (Playwrights Canada Press)

"Jordan Tannahill’s two-play volume explores the fragility of social consensus in a world made uneasy by the forces of social division. Both plays are poetic, irreverent and funny, offering the pleasure of entertainment while displaying masterful literary ability. Tannahill possesses a powerful artistic voice that reflects where we come from, who we are and who we may become."

Governor General's Literary Award for Non-fiction:

Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age by Darrel J. McLeod (Douglas & McIntyre)

"Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age dares to immerse readers in provocative contemporary issues including gender fluidity, familial violence, and transcultural hybridity. A fast-moving, intimate memoir of dreams and nightmares—lyrical and gritty, raw and vulnerable, told without pity, but with phoenix-like strength."

Governor General's Literary Award for Young People's Literature – Text:

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and her Monster by Jonathan Auxier (Puffin Canada/Penguin Random House Canada Young Readers)

"A tender story of what makes us human, Sweep doesn’t shy away from the risks of love and monstrousness of indifference. With an impeccable narrative, Sweep shows how love can breathe life into darkness and how hope can spark change. Auxier weaves a multi-layered masterpiece with endearing characters and gut-wrenching twists that are certain to instill readers with a sense of wonder and discovery for the miracle of storytelling."

Governor General's Literary Award for Young People's Literature – Illustrated Books:

They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki (Groundwood Books)

"They Say Blue is a wonderful blend of words and art, a sweeping, joyous book from cover to cover. Its lively and dynamic compositions are sure to captivate both children and those who love to read to children. Wonderfully uplifting and imaginative, it spans an entire range of emotions and colours and makes one’s heart sing."

Governor General's Literary Award for Translation (from French to English):

Descent into Night, translated by Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott (Mawenzi House Publishers); translation of Explication de la nuit by Edem Awumey, Les Éditions du Boréal

"Descent into Night, translated by Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott, is a beautifully assured rendering of a text offering many translation challenges. The translators agilely follow the text as it shifts between an ailing Quebec writer’s regrets about his life, and his long-ago involvement in a failed West African revolution, which haunts him into the present. This translation skillfully captures the lyricism of the French text."


Congratulations to all the winners! For more information about the Governor General's Literary Awards, including the list of French language winners, please visit the GGBooks website.