R.I.P. Alice Munro (1931 – 2024)

“Compared to Anton Chekhov for her peerless short stories for which she won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013, Alice Munro (left) has died.FULL STORY


Ryga award shortlist – 2024

April 18th, 2024

Six authors have been shortlisted this year for the George Ryga Award, an annual literary prize for a B.C. writer who has achieved an outstanding degree of social awareness in a new book published in the preceding calendar year.

They are (in no particular order):

-Naomi Klein for Doppelganger: A Trip into the Mirror World (Knopf Canada)

-Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas for JAJ: A Haida Manga (Douglas & McIntyre)

-John Vaillant for Fire Weather: The Making of a Beast (Knopf Canada)

-Rueben George with Michael Simpson for It Stops Here: Standing Up for Our Lands, Our Waters and Our People (Allen Lane/Penguin Canada)

-Wayne McCrory for The Wild Horses of the Chilcotin (Harbour Publishing)

-Helen Knott for Becoming a Matriarch (Knopf Canada)

The winner will be announced May 1 and the award will be presented at an event at the Vancouver Public Library’s main branch at a date in June, TBA. The award comes with a $2500 purse and publicity in BC BookWorld newspaper and BCBookLook.com.

Sponsors for the award are: Yosef Wosk, The Writers Trust of Canada, BC BookWorld and the Vancouver Library.


George Ryga was born in Deep Creek, Alberta in 1931. He was raised by poor immigrant Ukrainian parents as a Catholic on a farm in northern Alberta.

After seven years in a one-room country school, he left to work at a variety of occupations. In 1949, his writings for various competitions earned him a scholarship to Banff. He studied with Dr. E.P. Conklin of the University of Texas, Jerome Lawrence and Burton James. His first play broadcast on television, Indian (1961), was based on his experiences working with Cree people on his father’s farm during a period when Ryga was recovering from a bout of pneumonia. He understood how the Crees could view white man’s society as a prison. “Indian emerged out of the soil and wind of a situation in which I was painfully involved,” he later wrote.

George Ryga credited the intervention of Daryl Duke for the successful launching of Indian and, with it, his professional career. Plays for television that followed included The Storm (1962), Bitter Grass (1963), For Want of Something Better To Do (1963), The Tulip Garden (1963), Two Soldiers (1963), The Pear Tree (1963) and Man Alive (1965). At the same time he was writing 12 short stories for radio and stage plays that included A Touch of Cruelty (1961), Half-Caste (1962), Masks & Shadows (1963), Bread Route (1963), Departures (1963), Ballad for Bill (1963), Indian (1964) and an adaptation of Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel (1965).

Ryga was proud to think of himself as a commercial writer. In 1977, for example, he wrote a script for the American TV show The Bionic Woman entitled Garden of the Ice Palace–and it was bought and produced after several rewrites. But money was always scarce. George Ryga persevered from the Okanagan with scores of radio and television plays, plus a series of hard-edged and increasingly political novels published by Talonbooks.

The turning point for Ryga–and for Canadian drama–was his lyric documentary play about a young First Nations woman named Rita Joe who comes to the city only to die on Skid Row. Commissioned as a work for Canada’s Centennial celebrations, The Ecstasy of Rita Joe is easily one of the most moving plays that Canada has ever produced.

With its circular structure and Brechtian use of a singer outside of the action, The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, for Ryga, was more than a reflection of a local case of racial prejudice. It was his attempt to express his universal disdain and intolerance for injustice. “This issue is the burning issue of our time,” he said. “It is what the Congo, Bolivia, Vietnam are about. People who are forgotten are not forgetting. To overlook them is a dangerous delusion.”

George Ryga died of cancer on November 18, 1987 at age 55.

In 2003, John Lent of Okanagan College and Alan Twigg of BC BookWorld conceived an annual George Ryga Award for the best book by a BC author that exemplifies George Ryga’s passion for social issues.


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