It wasn’t long ago that the Writers’ Trust Nonfiction Prize was in jeopardy – longtime sponsor Nereus Financial dropped out in 2008 – but in May the Writers’ Trust announced a new partnership with former lieutenant-governor of Ontario Hilary Weston. The non-fiction has been renamed to reflect its new sponsor, and the first finalists for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Nonfiction Prize were announced in Toronto on Tuesday. In the lead up to October 25th, when the winner will be announced, we’ll post a Q&A with each of the five finalists on Chirograph.
When Weston’s sponsorship was announced in the spring, more changed than the prize’s name: the purse more than doubled. Each of the five finalists this year will receive $5,000 (up from $2,500) and the winner receives an additional $55,000, for a total prize of $60,000 (up from $25,000), making it the richest prize in Canadian literature.
“I wanted to reward the authors for the time they take in painstaking research, often with no guarantee of financial reward,” said Weston in her introductory speech.
Each of the finalists was presented by a different CBC Radio host, who read an excerpt before revealing the book in question, which was followed by a short Skype Q&A with the author. Without further ado, the finalists for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Nonfiction Prize are:
~ Charles Foran for Mordecai: The Life and Times (Knopf Canada), which also won the 2011 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction. In his Skype session with Eleanor Wachtel, Foran said he didn’t encounter Mordecai Richler’s work until Grade 10, when he read The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, a novel that seemed purposefully rough-edged compared to the others on the reading list.
~ Charlotte Gill for Eating Dirt: Deep Forests, Big Timber, and Life with the Tree-Planting Tribe (Greystone Books/David Suzuki Foundation). Gill is a veteran tree-planter who planted over a million trees in 17 seasons. Her short story collection Ladykiller was nominated for the 2005 Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction and won the Danuta Gleed Award in 2006.
• Richard Gwyn for Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times (Random House Canada), which is the second volume of Gwyn’s biography of Canada’s first prime minister. The first volume, John A: The Many Who Made Us was published in 2007 and won the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction.
• Grant Lawrence for Adventures in Solitude: What Not to Wear to a Nude Potluck and Other Stories from Desolation Sound (Harbour Publishing), which was also a finalist for the 2011 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction. Lawrence is the lead singer in the Vancouver band The Smugglers and hosts several shows on CBC Radio 3.
~ Ray Robertson for Why Not? Fifteen Reasons to Live (Biblioasis), is the product of Robertson’s struggle with serious depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. He is the author of six other books including, What Happened Later, which was nominated for the Trillium Award in 2008.
The five finalists were chosen from over 80 submissions by jurors Brian Brett, a BC-based author whose memoir Trauma Farm: A Rebel History of Rural Life won the 2009 Writers’ Trust Nonfiction Prize; Devyani Saltzman, a Toronto-based writer and the curator for literary programming at Luminato; and Russell Wangersky, an award-winning author of both fiction and nonfiction and the editorial page editor for The Telegram in St. John’s.
The winner will be announced at a gala ceremony in Toronto on Oct. 25.