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Charles Foran's biography of Mordecai Richler, seen in 1983, has won the Charles Taylor Prize for literary non-fiction. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Mordecai: The Life and Times, Charles Foran's engaging biography of Mordecai Richler, has won the $25,000 Charles Taylor Prize for literary non-fiction.

Foran triumphed on Monday at a luncheon gala in Toronto.

The 700-page biography of the provocative and beloved Richler "meets the immense challenge of writing about one of Canada's most talented and controversial authors," the three-member jury panel, comprising literature professor Eva-Marie Kroller and writers David Macfarlane and Neil Bissoondath, said in a citation.

"Charles Foran has created a rich and compelling portrait of the man and his times."

Kroller, Macfarlane and Bissoondath, who served as the inaugural Charles Taylor Prize jury in 2000, reunited to judge this year's competition.

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Charles Foran talks to Radio-Canada's Kevin Sweet about his Charles Taylor Prize-winning novel, Mordecai.

Accepting the prize on Monday, Foran told an audience of organizers, fellow authors, publishing industry representatives and media that his intention was to write a book "filled with Mordecai Richler's character, with his life, with the characters in his books and in his personal life."

For the final product, he expressed his gratitude to Richler's widow, Florence, who "made this book not once, not twice, but three times as good as it would have been otherwise."

The Peterborough, Ont.-based novelist, journalist and former Montreal resident also toasted his subject.

"People have been too kind to state the obvious for the last four and a half years, and that is I have been standing on the shoulder of a giant in writing this book," he said. 

"I hope you'll join me in raising a glass to the memory of Mordecai Richler: a great Canadian writer and a great Canadian."

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The 700-page book is 'a rich and compelling portrait of the man and his times,' the jury said in a citation.

Richler revival

Mordecai emerged in October 2010 amid revived interest in recent years in the famed author of  The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and Barney's Version. 

Richler, who died in 2001 at age 70, has a prized place in the Canadian literary canon, but Foran is the second writer to tackle a biography of late. In 2009, M.G. Vassanji published a book-length examination of Richler for Penguin Canada's Extraordinary Canadians series.

Canadian movie mogul Robert Lantos also saw his long-held dream of releasing a film adaptation of Richler's final novel, Barney's Version, realized in 2010. The prominent producer had toiled on the project for more than 12 years.

On Monday, Foran's book overcame strong competition from four other finalists:

  • On the Farm: Robert William Pickton and the Tragic Story of Vancouver's Missing Women by Stevie Cameron.
  • Defiant Spirits: The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven by Ross King.
  • The Geography of Arrival by George Sipos.
  • The Love Queen of Malabar: Memoir of a Friendship with Kamala Das by Merrily Weisbord.

Foran joins past Charles Taylor winners such as Carol Shields, J.B. MacKinnon and Ian Brown.

Established in memory of writer and former Globe and Mail correspondent Charles Taylor, the annual prize celebrates the Canadian author of a book that "demonstrates a superb command of the English language, an elegance of style and a subtlety of thought and perception."