Writer, broadcaster and lecturer Thomas King has won the $25,000 RBC Taylor Prize for literary non-fiction for his book The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America.

Organizers unveiled the winner during a luncheon ceremony in Toronto on Monday.

Guelph, Ont.-based King tapped into his own background — from his study of history and teaching of native history to his experience as a native affairs activist — to write The Inconvenient Indian, which shares an overall arc of North American native history over the past few centuries.

The decision was made "unanimously," juror Coral Ann Howells told the crowd, though she added that being a juror was "the most exciting and agonizing experience of my life."

Awarded annually in celebration of Canadian non-fiction, the prize celebrates a book that "best combines a superb command of the English language, an elegance of style, and a subtlety of thought and perception."

Written for native and non-native readers

“Histories of North America’s Native Peoples abound, but few are as subversive, entertaining, well-researched, hilarious, enraging, and finally as hopeful as this very personal take on our long relationship with the “inconvenient” Indian," the Taylor Prize jury said in a statement.

"In this thoughtful, irascible account, and in characteristically tricksterish mode, King presents a provocative alternative version of Canada’s heritage narrative.”

Last month, King also won the $40,000 BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction for The Inconvenient Indian. Last fall, he and the book were also nominated for the $60,000 Hilary Weston Prize.

"With this book in particular, I’m writing for native and non-native readers. It goes without saying that many native people don’t know their history any better than non-natives do. In order to catch an audience as wide as I possibly could, I had to figure out some way to get past, in some cases, the horror of the history itself because that can put people off," King told CBC News at the time

"A little bit of humour allows the narrative to get to the reader before they realize it’s not the pleasant thing they thought it might be. It also gives you a chance to pause and take your breath. I have learned that over the years that a little bit of humour for the serious stuff is critical, especially for getting people to read and hopefully understand what’s going on."

The other Taylor Prize nominees, who receive $2,000 each, were:

  • Ottawa’s Charlotte Gray for The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master, and the Trial That Shocked a Country.
  • Kabul-based Graeme Smith for The Dogs Are Eating Them Now: Our War in Afghanistan.
  • Vancouver’s David Stouck for Arthur Erickson: An Architect's Life.
  • Vancouver’s J.B. MacKinnon for The Once and Future World: Nature As It Was, As It Is, As It Could Be.

Altogether, this year’s three-member jury of Howells, James Polk and Andrew Westoll read 124 books, which were submitted by publishers from around the globe for consideration.

Along with MacKinnon, who won in 2006 for his book Dead Man in Paradise, and juror Westoll, who triumphed last year for The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary, past winners of the Taylor Prize include Carol Shields, Charles Foran and Ian Brown.

The award, which recalls the late Canadian essayist, journalist and author Charles Taylor, was previously known as the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Nonfiction, but changed its name in December to reflect a partnership with RBC. In addition to the name change, the honour was expanded to introduce the $10,000 RBC Taylor Prize for Emerging Writers.

The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King

King drew from his own background, including his study of history and teaching of native history to his experience as a native affairs activist, to pen The Inconvenient Indian. (Writers' Trust of Canada)