Tamas Dobozy’s Siege 13, a collection of linked short stories about the Second World War siege of Budapest and its legacy for survivors, has won the $25,000 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize.

Dobozy was one of five Canadian writers honoured Wednesday evening by the Writers’ Trust. Others included children’s authors Jean Little and Paul Yee and another short story writer, Alex Pugsley.

It was unusual to see a major Canadian fiction award go to a short story collection ahead of four novels. However, Alice Munro won the same prize in 2004 with short story collection Runaway. 

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Tamaz Dobozy won the $25,000 Writers' Trust Fiction Prize for his short story collection, Siege 13. (CBC)

The jury hailed Dobozy's stories for their "psychological nuance" and attention to detail.

"From the dark cityscapes of besieged Hungary to the émigré cafés of contemporary North America, Siege 13 spans continents and decades, and in doing so illustrates once again that old maxim: the short story can be both as broad and as deep as a novel," the jury said in its citation.

Nanaimo, B.C.-born Dobozy is now an associate professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. His short story The Restoration of the Villa Where Tibor Kalman Once Lived, from Siege 13, won The O. Henry Award in 2011.

Dobozy said his book is " about what it means to cope with trauma." He said his win is a validation of his decision to stick with the short story form.

"First of all the tight logic of the short story I find for some reason liberating rather than confining," he told CBC News after the ceremony.

"It pushed back against me in just the right kind of way so that it actually generates material. I find that writing a novel, there's almost too much liberty. I just get lost in it. And the other thing is that I have four kids, so I cannot keep a novel in my head long enough to write it out." 

Dobozy added that Seige 13 "should be a message to all the publishers out there that the short story is still a vital form but more importantly to readers  that this is really the medium that they all need to be reading."

Other contenders for the $25,000 fiction award were:

  • Tim Bowling, The Tinsmith (Brindle & Glass Publishing).
  • Rawi Hage, Carnival (House of Anansi Press).
  • Alix Ohlin, Inside (House of Anansi Press).
  • Linda Spalding, The Purchase (McClelland & Stewart).

Jean Little of Guelph, Ont., a beloved children’s author who wrote more than 40 children’s books from learn-to-reads like Emma’s Yucky Brother to works for young readers like Birdie for Now, was awarded the $20,000 Matt Cohen Award in celebration of a writing life. 

Little's first children's book, Mine for Keeps, about a child with cerebral palsy, was published in 1962. She is now 80.

"Jean was a pioneer Canadian author, standing almost alone as a major, internationally recognized Canadian children’s author," the jury said in recognizing her contribution to Canadian writing.

Little, nearly blind at birth, often withdrew into a world of imagination to escape bullying as a child, according to her biography Little by Little. She said the characters she creates in her books have always come alive for her.

"They're very real to me and I love them very much. I get very lonely when I send the manuscript away. It's very hard —- they don't ever  turn around and say 'Thanks, Jean' or anything. They just go, right?" she told CBC News.

"But I write for that. I'm 80 and I'm deaf and I'm blind. And all kinds of things. But when I'm writing I'm 10 or 11."

The $20,000 Vicky Metcalf Award for Children’s Literature went to Yee, the Vancouver based writer of Tales from Gold Mountain and Teach Me to Fly, Skyfighter. A third generation Chinese-Canadian he has contributed powerfully to children’s literature with his depiction of the many experiences of immigration to Canada, the jury said.

Other prizes presented Wednesday evening:

  • $25,000 Writers’ Trust Engel/Findley Award for a writer in mid-career: Nino Ricci of Montreal.
  • The $10,000 Journey Prize for a short story: Nova Scotia-born Alex Pugsley for Crisis on Earth-X, published in The Dalhousie Review.