2023 Governor General’s Literary Awards Finalists
October 26th, 2023
The 2023 George Woodcock Award winner, Susan Musgrave (at right), has racked up more honors, including being shortlisted in this year’s GG’s for her heartbreaking poetry collection, Exculpatory Lilies (McClelland & Stewart, Penguin Random House Canada, 2022).
“The lilies, smacking of humility, devotion, had been for me — your way of saying sorry, I can stop, I will lose the needle and spoon today but I was finished, I was through, said sorry had been your default setting since the day we vowed I do. I think, now, I was cruel,” Musgrave writes. Known for her bracing honesty, this collection explores life, marriage, addiction, death and heart-wrenching grief with a sharp, desolate yet compassionate and sensible gaze. Musgrave has been the recipient of many prestigious literary awards for her past poetry, fiction, non-fiction and children’s books. Exculpatory Lilies was also shortlisted for the Derek Walcott Prize and the Griffin Poetry Prize.
Robert Bringhurst’s latest volume of poetry, The Ridge (Harbour Publishing, 2023), delves into the interplay between sound and imagery, emphasizing the significance of monosyllabic words in connecting typography and text. These poems explore themes of language, meaning and existence, all set against the backdrop of a changing natural environment, symbolized by the ridge. Bringhurst’s verses dance between various languages and musical influences, ultimately echoing the complex relationship between humanity and the natural world. He is a recipient of the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence and former Guggenheim Fellow in poetry. He is also an officer of the Order of Canada and the recipient of two honorary doctorates.
The play adaptation of Mark Sakomoto’s memoir, Forgiveness (Playwrights Canada Press, 2023), spans two continents and 30 years, presenting the intertwined stories of two grandparents during World War II, one a Canadian soldier in a Japanese camp and the other a Japanese Canadian interned by the Canadian government. Japanese-Canadian actor and playwright Hiro Kanagawa took on the challenge of translating this epic tale and reframing the book for the stage. The adaptation of Mark Sakomoto’s acclaimed memoir highlights the enduring importance of forgiveness and the resilience of the characters in the face of hatred and bigotry, making it especially relevant in today’s divisive and xenophobic climate. It was shortlisted for the GG’s Award for Drama.
“’But you didn’t want to leave me,’ said Trinika. ‘You liked it right where you were. You turned to the side and you held on for dear life. You were a breech baby; did you know that? You’d have stayed in there sideways forever. They didn’t notice right away, and when they did, they didn’t tell me anything,’ she said. ‘I laboured for a whole day, and then, out of nowhere, I felt a prick. I guess the doctor decided on a C-section. But nobody thought to inform me. I woke up and you were gone. They cut you out while I was sleeping,’” writes Harrison Mooney, about meeting his birth mother for the first time in 20 years in his memoir, Invisible Boy: A Memoir of Self-Discovery (HarperCollins, 2022). This memoir delves into Mooney’s experience as a transracially adopted Black child raised in a white evangelical family. The narrative explores the controversial practice of transracial adoption, revealing the challenges faced by children and families as they navigate issues of culture and identity. Mooney was shortlisted for the GG’s Award for Non-fiction.
Unbroken (Greystone, 2023) is a powerful memoir and investigative journalism piece by Angela Sterritt, a Gitxsan journalist who survived life on the streets. Angela’s journey from homelessness to acclaimed journalism highlights the struggles faced by Indigenous women and girls. She intertwines her personal story with an exploration of the missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada, shedding light on the impacts of colonialism and racism. Her own experiences in places like Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and Northern BC’s Highway of Tears inform her empathetic investigations into these cases. Ultimately, she advocates for accountability, exposes racism and celebrates the strength and resilience of Indigenous women. Sterritt was shortlisted for the GG’s Award for Non-fiction.
In Fire on Headless Mountain (Margaret Ferguson Books, 2022) for children between the ages of nine to twelve years, author Iain Lawrence writes about the story of 11-year-old Virgil who becomes stranded in a forest fire after a van breakdown during a trip to scatter his late mother’s ashes. Faced with encroaching flames, Virgil leans on his mother’s wilderness teachings and ecological knowledge to navigate the perilous situation. Separated from his brother and sister, he discovers that survival requires overcoming fear and taking action. This gripping adventure story emphasizes the awe-inspiring yet formidable aspects of nature and the importance of memory during challenging emotional and physical trials. Iain Lawrence has authored fifteen books for young readers and is the recipient of many accolades, including the Governor General’s Award for Gemini Summer (Gallup Press, 2006) and the California Young Reader Medal. Lawrence was shortlisted for the GG’s Award for Young People’s Literature – Text.
“Abby stops talking and looks at me. Her face says ‘Can I help you with something?’ even though she doesn’t speak. I smile sweetly at her. ‘What, no white friends for you to hang around today?’ she asks. Her tone is razor-sharp. I can’t believe she said that!” writes award winning author Kim Spencer in her debut novel for children between ages nine to twelve, Weird Rules to Follow (Orca, 2022). This book presents 11-year-old Mia’s narrative, who resides in Prince Rupert, BC, during the 1980s with her grandmother and mother, who grapples with alcohol issues. She shares a close bond with her non-Indigenous friend Lara, who lives in a more conventional family setup. Despite their differences, the two girls maintain their unbreakable friendship until Mia notices the disparate treatment she receives due to her Indigeneity. Weird Rules to Follow serves as a poignant tale of growing up Indigenous in a BC town, encouraging young readers to relate to Mia while fostering an understanding of Tsimshian culture. Spencer was shortlisted for the GG’s Award for Young People’s Literature – Text.
Author and illustrator Nancy Vo’s book for children between ages three to six, Boobies (Groundwood Books, 2022) delves into the concept of “boobies” with a humorous twist. While clearing the air by highlighting that only mammals have breasts, used for feeding babies with milk, the book further explores the diversity of breasts in humans, their evolution and how various animals possess different quantities. With a witty and expansive approach, she explores the connections between “boobies” and diverse subjects, including mountains, ancient art and readers themselves. Nancy Vo’s delightful creation combines clever storytelling with captivating stencil art in a retro colour scheme, making it an ideal gift for inquisitive children, older children studying their bodies and anyone ready to embrace the uniqueness of “boobies.” Vo was shortlisted for the GG’s Award for Young People’s Literature – Illustrated Books.
Still This Love Goes On (Greystone Kids, 2022) is a heartfelt tribute to Indigenous communities, beautifully brought to life through the exquisite illustrations of Cree-Métis author, illustrator and artist, Julie Flett. Inspired by the Academy Award-winning Cree icon Buffy Sainte-Marie’s iconic song, the book vividly celebrates the Indigenous experience. Julie Flett’s artwork and Sainte-Marie’s touching lyrics combine to create a work of art that will resonate for generations. This picture book is not just for reading; it also includes sheet music, allowing readers to play along with the song. Additionally, it features a special note from Sainte-Marie herself about her much-admired song. Julie Flett is a recipient of numerous awards for her books, including two Governor General’s Awards and the American Indian Library Association Award. Flett was shortlisted for the GG’s Award for Young People’s Literature – Illustrated Books.
Conor Kerr, a Métis-Ukrainian writer, presents a collection of sharp and dynamic poems that traverse diverse landscapes and time periods. Conor’s poetry is in constant motion, featuring 4Runners (Toyota SUVs) streaking through the night alongside coyotes, buses journeying through towns and memories, and friends and lovers searching for each other on Instagram and finding nothing. Nature is a constant companion, with watching matching magpies, woodpeckers and porcupines. Family ties are symbolized by the crisp wings of mallard ducks at dawn, just as it is a game of crib, a Mario Kart race and a dance party. Old Gods (Harbour, 2023) boldly challenges colonialism on the Prairies, immersing readers in the Métis perspective, where the ancient deities of the land thrive within the surrounding nature. Conor Kerr currently resides in Edmonton, Alberta. Old Gods was published by Harbour Publishing, based in BC. Kerr was shortlisted for the GG’s Award for Poetry.
ABOUT THE AWARDS
Established in 1936, the Governor General’s Literary Awards promote and celebrate literature by Canadian authors, recognizing the best English-language and French-language books in the following seven categories: Fiction, Non-fiction, Poetry, Drama, Young People’s Literature – Text, Young People’s Literature – Illustrated Books, and Translation. 14 winners will receive prizes of $25,000 and a $3,000 grant to each publisher, while each finalist will receive $1,000 per book.