November 04th, 2016
Nightwood Editions’ author Gregory Scofield has won the $25,000 Latner Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize for a poet in mid-career in recognition of an outstanding body of work produced and in expectation of future contributions.
The award was presented at the 2016 Writers’ Trust Awards on November 2nd at the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto. “This award means a great deal to me not only as a poet” said Scofield, “but as an Indigenous writer in this country. I hope, too, this most humbling honour will serve as inspiration to young Indigenous poets whose stories and words are needed now more than ever.”
Currently Scofield is Assistant Professor in English at Laurentian University, teaching Creative Writing. Scofield won the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize in 1994 for his debut collection, The Gathering: Stones for the Medicine Wheel, and has since published further volumes of poetry as well as a memoir, Thunder Through My Veins (1999). His new poetry collection this year is Witness, I am (Nightwood $18.95). 978-0-88971-323-9
Born in Maple Ridge, B.C., into a Métis family of Cree, Scottish, English and French descent, Sudbury-based Gregory Scofield never knew his father–who later turned out to be Jewish. His maternal ancestry can be traced back to the fur trade and to the Métis community of Kinosota, Manitoba, established in 1828 by the Hudson’s Bay Company.
“My parents were married in Whonnock, B.C. (a little town close to Maple Ridge), in 1964 under an alias name and spent the next two years in hiding, moving from province to province every couple of months,” Scofield has recalled.
“Mom was surprised to find out that my father was already married and had a young daughter. In spite of this she stayed with him, and in 1965, while dodging the police in Port Alberni, B.C., she became pregnant with me. Not wanting to raise a baby on the run, she finally convinced him to turn himself over to the authorities. They returned to Maple Ridge where he turned himself in. Ironically, he ended up having a heart attack on the stand and beating most of the charges. I was born in July of 1966, the very day my father stood trial.”
Scofield was separated from his mother at age five and sent to live with strangers. He grew up in northern Manitoba, northern Saskatchewan and the Yukon, struggling with substance abuse, poverty, racism and sexuality. A sense of loss, poverty, alienation and self-hatred led to a profound sense of loneliness that he traced, through his maternal ancestry, to the Red River settlement as well as Kinesota, Manitoba in a memoir called Thunder Through My Veins (1998). Some of this material is revisited for his poetry collection Singing Home the Bones (2005).
His first collection of poetry, The Gathering (1994), provides insights into Canada’s Métis and received the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. Scofield later received the Air Canada Award in 1996 given annually to a promising Canadian writer under age 30. In his book I Knew Two Métis Women (1999) he recalls his mother Dorothy Scofield and his aunt Georgina Houle Young. He is also the author of Native Canadiana: Songs from the Urban Rez (1996) and Love Medicine and One Song (1997).
Scofield has worked with street youth in Vancouver and been involved in the Louis Riel Métis Council. He returned to live in Maple Ridge in 2009 but has been taking writing and teaching jobs throughout Canada since then. In Calgary he taught Identity Narratives at the Alberta College of Art & Design, having previously taught First Nations and Métis poetry at Brandon University in Manitoba. Scofield has also served as writer-in-residence at the University of Manitoba, University of Winnipeg and Memorial University.
Gregory Scofield is the subject of a documentary film, Singing Home the Bones: A Poet Becomes Himself (The Maystreet Group, 2007).
The Gathering: Stones for the Medicine Wheel (Polestar 1994)
Native Canadiana: Songs from the Urban Rez (Polestar 1996)
Love Medicine and One Song (Polestar 1997; Kegedonce Press, 2009)
I Knew Two Métis Women (Polestar 1999; Nightwood 2010 along with a CD)
Thunder Through My Veins (HarperFlamingo 1998).
Singing Home the Bones (Polestar, 2005).
Kipocihkan: Poems New and Selected (Harbour, 2009)
Kipochihkan: Poems News & Selected (Nightwoood 2010)
Louis: The Heretic Poems (Nightwood 2011).
Witness, I am (Nightwood 2016) $18.95 978-0-88971-323-9
WRITERS TRUST AWARDS
Yasuko Thanh of Victoria received the $25,000 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for her debut novel, Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains (Hamish Hamilton.)
Deborah Campbell of Vancouver received the $60,000 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction for her memoir, A Disappearance in Damascus: A Story of Friendship and Survival in the Shadow of War (Knopf Canada).
Two other B.C.-based authors were honoured at the ceremony. Brian Brett won the $20,000 Matt Cohen Award: In Celebration of a Writing Life honour and Eden Robinson took home the $25,000 Writers’ Trust Engel/Findley Award.
Five of the seven awards presented went to writers primarily associated with B.C.. Most literary awards organized and presented in Ontario are invariably slanted in favour of books published in Ontario. Robinson, Thanh and Campbell are published in Ontario but Scofield and Brett are primarily published from B.C.