The Red Word, a novel about campus sexual assault, wins fiction Governor General’s prize

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Sarah Henstra has won the 2018 Governor General’s Literary Award for fiction for her novel The Red Worda murky and twisted story about sexual assault on a college campus that the jury called “an utterly effing good read.”

The Governor General’s Literary Awards, one of Canada’s oldest and most prestigious prizes, annually acknowledge seven English-language and seven French-language books across several categories. Each winner receives $25,000. 

In addition to The Red Wordthe English-language winners of the 2018 Governor General’s Literary Awards are:

Visit Radio-Canada to find out the French-language winners.

On Nov. 29, 2018, the winners will gather in Ottawa to perform readings and sign their books for the public.

Each year, in partnership with the Canada Council for the Arts, CBC Books publishes a commissioned series featuring original writing from winners of the Governor General’s Literary Awards. This year’s series will reflect on the theme Borders: lines that, when crossed or tampered with, mark a change. A companion radio episode will air on CBC Radio’s Ideas in December.

Last year’s series was Chaos & Control and featured original writing from Joel Thomas Hynes, Cherie Dimaline, Richard Harrison, David A. Robertson and other winners.

Keep reading to learn more about each of the 2018 English-language winners.

The Red Word is Sarah Henstra’s first work of adult fiction. (Grove Press/ECW Press)

Sarah Henstra‘s novel The Red Word follows Karen, a college sophomore whose closest friends and roommates — a group of strong-willed intellectual feminists — are at odds with her fraternity brother boyfriend. Karen loves the cerebral debates she has at home with her roommates, as well as the raucous parties at her boyfriend’s fraternity house. Caught up in both worlds, Karen inadvertently becomes part of her roommates’s elaborate plan to expose rape culture at the fraternity and is haunted by the outcome.

“Groundbreaking and provocative, this is an astonishing evisceration of the clichés of sexual politics as they exist not only on our college campuses, but also within broader present-day society. Alternately heartbreaking, funny, and critical, no one gets off easily. The Red Word plumbs the depths of literature, mythology, history, philosophy, and a host of contemporary issues — an utterly effing good read,” said jurors Andrea MacPherson, Shani Mootoo and Craig Francis Power in a press release.

Darrel McLeod is the author of Mamaskatch. (Ilja Herb/Douglas and McIntyre)

Darrel McLeod‘s Mamaskatch is a memoir of his chaotic childhood and coming-of-age, mostly spent in the care of his fierce Cree mother, Bertha. McLeod describes vivid memories of moose stew and wild peppermint tea, surrounded by siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. Though he experienced racism and abuse from non-Indigenous teachers, students and caregivers, McLeod learned from his mother, a residential school survivor, to be proud of his heritage.

Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age dares to immerse readers in provocative contemporary issues including gender fluidity, familial violence, and transcultural hybridity. A fast-moving, intimate memoir of dreams and nightmares — lyrical and gritty, raw and vulnerable, told without pity, but with phoenix-like strength,” said the jury members, Ted Bishop, Leslie Shimotakahara and Merrily Weisbord, in a press release.

Cecily Nicholson is an award-winning poet from Vancouver, B.C. (Liam Britten/CBC/Talonbooks)

Cecily Nicholson takes a researched look at the landscape of the African diaspora in this poetic account of economy travel on Canadian and U.S. roadways. Crossing bridges and passing through tunnels in the Great Lakes region and beyond, Nicholson explores how migration, trauma and her own family history were shaped by transportation infrastructure and geography.

“In this hypnotic suite of long poems, Cecily Nicholson makes room, offering glimpses and echoes of the Canadian landscape as she explores ideas of borders, identity, industry and travel. She offers a catalogue of impressions, a collage of the ephemeral, held together by image and the pulsing phrase that stays with you long after the journey’s over,” said the jury, Garry Gottfriedson, Sachiko Murakami and Patrick Warner, in a press release.

Young people’s literature — text: Sweep by Jonathan Auxier

Jonathan Auxier is the author of Sweep. (Courtesy of Penguin Random House)

Set in Victorian London, Sweep revolves around a young orphan girl named Nan who sweeps chimneys for a dangerous and hardscrabble living. Nan nearly perishes in a deadly chimney fire, but is saved when a piece of charcoal comes to life as a mysterious golem-like creature. Together, the two hatch a plan to rescue young orphan chimney sweeps from losing their lives on the job for cruel masters.

“A tender story of what makes us human, Sweep doesn’t shy away from the risks of love and monstrousness of indifference. With an impeccable narrative, Sweep shows how love can breathe life into darkness and how hope can spark change. Auxier weaves a multi-layered masterpiece with endearing characters and gut-wrenching twists that are certain to instill readers with a sense of wonder and discovery for the miracle of storytelling,” said the jury, Shelley Hrdlitschka, Philip Roy and Sarah Tsiang, in a press release.

Young people’s literature — illustrated books: They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki

They Say Blue is Jillian Tamaki’s first picture book. (Groundwood/Reynard Li)

A vibrant picture book by Jillian TamakiThey Say Blue is an exploration of colour told from the perspective of a curious and inquisitive little girl. In 2014, Tamaki won a Governor General’s Literary Award for her work illustrating the graphic novel This One Summer, which was written by her cousin, Mariko Tamaki.

They Say Blue is a wonderful blend of words and art, a sweeping, joyous book from cover to cover. Its lively and dynamic compositions are sure to captivate both children and those who love to read to children. Wonderfully uplifting and imaginative, it spans an entire range of emotions and colours and makes one’s heart sing,” said the jury, Adwoa Badoe, Renata Liwska and Hugh MacDonald, in a press release.

Translated literature: Descent into Night, translated by Phyllis Aronoff & Howard Scott from the original French by Edem Awumey

Descent into Night was translated by Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott. (Talonbooks/Mawenzi)

Descent into Night follows a playwright named Ito Baraka who, in his final days, furiously documents the hardships that have shaped him. In his native land, an unnamed West African country, Baraka was imprisoned in a camp and tortured for distributing leaflets with Samuel Beckett quotes. He owes his life to his cellmate, an old wise teacher named Koli Lem, with whom he shared a love for literature. The original French edition by Edem Awumey, Explication de la nuit, received rave reviews from literary critics.

Descent into Night, translated by Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott, is a beautifully assured rendering of a text offering many translation challenges. The translators agilely follow the text as it shifts between an ailing Quebec writer’s regrets about his life, and his long-ago involvement in a failed West African revolution, which haunts him into the present. This translation skillfully captures the lyricism of the French text,” said the jury, Dawn M. Cornelio, Peter Feldstein and Kathryn Gabinet-Kroo, in a press release.

Botticelli in the Fire & Sunday in Sodom is a collection of two plays written by playwright, author and theatre director Jordan Tannahill. (Alejandro Santiago/Playwrights Canada Press)

Playwright Jordan Tannahill revisits and reframes the historic and the mythic with Botticelli in the Fire & Sunday in Sodom. The work visits famed artist Sandro Botticelli as he paints the masterpiece that is The Birth of Venus to examine the sexual and political politics that were at play. In Sunday in Sodom, Tannahill places the Biblical destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in the present day, looking at Lot’s wife and what transpired during that fateful event. Tannahill previously won the Governor General’s Literary Award in 2014 for Age of Minority: Three Solo Plays.

Jordan Tannahill‘s two-play volume explores the fragility of social consensus in a world made uneasy by the forces of social division. Both plays are poetic, irreverent and funny, offering the pleasure of entertainment while displaying masterful literary ability. Tannahill possesses a powerful artistic voice that reflects where we come from, who we are and who we may become,” said jurors, Rosa Laborde, Ian Ross and Kent Stetson, in a press release.

SOURCE: CBC.ca

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