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Good wins award for first novel

May 28th, 2021

Michelle Good has won the 2021 Amazon Canada First Novel Award for Five Little Indians (Harper Collins, 2020).

The prize, worth $60,000 is for the best first novel in English published by a citizen or resident of Canada in the previous year.

Five Little Indians chronicles the lives of five residential school classmates (Kenny, Lucy, Clara, Howie, Maisie) after all have been forced to attend an unidentified Mission School. As soon as they can, the five leave and gravitate towards Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Kenny (looked upon as a hero because he escaped) is a drifter and an addict. Clara is radicalized by the American Indian Movement. Howie is imprisoned. Maisie chronically flirts with danger. Lucy pines for Kenny and has a secret compulsive disorder. The novel does not concentrate on details or the degradation endured at the residential school, rather Good sympathetically outlines five decades of attempted recovery.

By Good’s count, nine literary prizes have listed Five Little Indians as a finalist, including the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Atwood Gibson Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction.

“I am amazed, overwhelmed, and overjoyed that my book and the love that’s in this book reached out and touched the jurors in such a way that they named it the winner of this very important prize,” Good said in a statement after her win.

“I say this is a very important prize because not every voice that should be heard is in a position to be heard, and I’m certainly one of those voices.”

Good is Nehiyaw (Plains Cree) from Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. Raised in Kitimat, Good spent time in the summers at the Red Pheasant Reserve, southeast of North Battleford, and gradually learned about her mother Martha (Eliza) Soonias’ residential school experiences. Most notably, her mother once refused to eat bread soaked in cat urine. Sent to the principal’s office, at age 12, she was told she was “nothing but an Indian slut and she would never be anything but an Indian slut.” With a scholarship, her mother eventually became a nanny for a wealthy Toronto family, travelled the world and trained as a midwife and nurse in New Zealand.

Good is a Kamloops-based lawyer who received her law degree at age 43. She has since specialized in advocating for residential school survivors. She earned a Masters in Writing in 2014 from UBC where she chiefly wrote the novel. She was also the recipient of the HarperCollins/UBC Prize for Best New Fiction in 2018.

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