Edmonton-based author Gloria Sawai, who won the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction in 2001, has died at the age of 78.


Edmonton-based author Gloria Sawai's 2001 collection of nine stories, A Song for Nettie Johnson, won the Governor General's Literary Award. Sawai died Wednesday at 78. (Coteau Books)

The American-born writer, who moved to Canada as a child and grew up in Alberta, died Wednesday night of undisclosed causes.

Sawai's collection of stories, A Song for Nettie Johnson, won her the GG award, one of Canada's top prizes for literature. Most of her stories take place in the 1940s and '50s in the fictional Saskatchewan town of Stone Creek.

Although Sawai had been writing short stories for more than 30 years, A Song for Nettie Johnson was her first book, published when she was 68. It also won the Henry Kreisel Award for best first book at the Alberta Book Awards and the Danuta Gleed Award for best first collection of short fiction from the Writers' Union of Canada.

Carol Holmes, the executive director of the Writer's Guild of Alberta,  said Sawai will be remembered as a local trailblazer and was highly regarded for her contributions to the province's literary scene.

"She was a strong member of the Alberta writing community," Holmes said. "She was one of the founding members of the organization that I work for, the Writer's Guild of Alberta."

Among her best-known works is the 1975 short story entitled, The Day I Sat with Jesus on the Sundeck and a Wind Came Up and Blew My Kimono Open and He Saw My Breasts.