TORONTO – David Chariandy’s novel “Brother” has won the $50,000 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize.
“Brother” (McClelland & Stewart) is a coming-of-age story about two siblings, the sons of Trinidadian immigrants, who confront violence and prejudice in a Toronto housing complex.
In a video introducing the book that was shown during the ceremony, Chariandy said that while the story is fictional, he drew on his own experiences of growing up black in Toronto’s east end.
“Writing this novel might be imagined to be a way of working through the vulnerability I felt growing up, and the possibility that life would take an ugly turn,” he said.
Jury members, who selected “Brother” after reading 141 submitted novels and short story collections, praised Chariandy’s “stunning lyrical writing, pitch perfect pacing, and unexpected humour.”
In an interview after the ceremony, Chariandy said he hopes readers walk away from the book with “a greater understanding of the complexity of their cities and suburbs.”
He would like to see people “think a bit more carefully about the people they may pass in the street but they may not truly think about,” Chariandy said.
The $60,000 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction went to Toronto-based writer and doctor James Maskalyk for “Life on the Ground Floor: Letters from the Edge of Emergency Medicine” (Doubleday Canada). The book examines emergency rooms in different cultures, focusing on Maskalyk’s work in hospitals in Toronto and Addis Adaba, Ethiopia.
When Maskalyk’s phone went off during his acceptance speech, he told the crowd he hoped it wasn’t the doctor covering his night shift so he could attend the awards ceremony. It turned out the call did come from the doctor — but rather than summoning Maskalyk back to the hospital, his colleague was just checking in to see if he won.
Maskalyk said he felt invigorated by the win.
“I was tired — like, fatigued, actually fatigued, because I was working today,” he said. “But now there’s no semblance of fatigue. It has disappeared.”
The recognition is meaningful to him because writers rarely get to see how people interact with their work, he said.
“You put so much intention into your book … (but) it’s such a private process you share between you and your editor. You don’t know how people are going to receive it.”
Sharon Bala’s short story “Butter Tea at Starbucks” won the $10,000 Writers’ Trust/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize, given to an emerging writer whose work is published in a Canadian literary journal.
The other awards — each worth $25,000 — honoured authors for their careers to date, rather than for one specific work.
Saskatoon poet Louise Bernice Halfe received the Latner Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize for her four collections detailing her time in residential schools.
Thunder Bay, Ont., author Ruby Slipperjack, who has written about Anishinaabe cultural traditions, won the Vicky Metcalf Award for Literature for Young People.
Diane Schoemperlen won the Matt Cohen Award and Billie Livingston won the Trust Engel/Findley Award for their bodies of work.