5 Canadian writers shortlisted for $25K Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing

Celina Caesar-Chavannes, Desmond Cole, Ronald J. Deibert, Alex Marland and Karin Wells are all vying for the political writing prize. The winner will be announced on Sept. 22, 2021.
From left: Celina Caesar-Chavannes, Desmond Cole, Ronald J. Deibert, Alex Marland and Karin Wells. (Submitted by the Writers' Trust of Canada)

Celina Caesar-Chavannes, Desmond Cole, Ronald J. Deibert, Alex Marland and Karin Wells are the five finalists for this year's Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing.

The $25,000 prize is awarded annually for a book of literary nonfiction that captures a political subject of relevance to Canadian readers and has the potential to shape or influence thinking on Canadian political life. 

Caesar-Chavannes is shortlisted for Can You Hear Me Now? How I Found My Voice and Learned to Live with Passion and Purpose

Both a memoir and leadership book, Can You Hear Me Now? is a look at how failing badly is truly more powerful lessons in how to conduct a life than extraordinary success.

Caesar-Chavannes is an equity and inclusion advocate and leadership consultant from Whitby, Ont. She is a former member of Parliament. She was named one of the Global 100 Under 40 Most Influential People of African Descent in 2017, and one of Chatelaine magazine's Women of the Year in 2019. 

"Celina Caesar‐Chavannes' memoir is like no other in the history of Canadian politics," the jury said in a statement. "Along the way, she exposes deep‐seated racism and sexism in Canadian society and on Parliament Hill and reminds us that our politicians are real people."

Toronto journalist Desmond Cole talks about his bestselling debut nonfiction book, The Skin We're In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power.

Cole is nominated for The Skin We're In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power.

In The Skin We're In, Cole chronicles a year of being Black in Canada. He looks at the practice of carding, the treatment of Black refugees and Cole's own activism in regards to the Toronto police and their treatment of Black citizens.

Cole is a journalist, radio host and activist based in Toronto. His writing has appeared in the Toronto Star, Toronto Life, Now Magazine and the Walrus. The Skin We're In won the 2020 Toronto Book Award.

"This is a story of confrontation and resistance, but also of deep listening and bearing witness. Cole challenges his home and native land to dispense with magical thinking and reckon with uncomfortable truths," said the jury in a statement.

Last week's historic vote to overturn Ireland’s ban on abortion grabbed attention around the world. And it reminded us of a gem in our documentary vault. Almost 50 years ago, a group of Canadian women set out on a cross-country trek to Ottawa in what became known as the abortion caravan. They took Parliament by a storm, literally. We’ll taste of Karin Wells's 2010 documentary "The women are coming".

Deibert is shortlisted for his Massey Lectures, Reset: Reclaiming the Internet for Civil Society.

In Reset, Deibert draws from his research of the Citizen Lab and exposes the impacts of this communications ecosystem on civil society. He tracks a mostly unregulated surveillance industry, innovations in technologies of remote control, superpower policing practices, dark PR firms and highly profitable hack-for-hire services feeding off poorly secured personal data. 

Deibert is the founder and director of Citizen Lab, a research centre based at the University of Toronto, which studies technology, surveillance and censorship. Reset was also nominated for the 2021 Donner Prize for best Canadian public policy book

"With trailblazing originality, he explains why it's time to reset the Internet to thwart cybercriminals, safeguard political activists, rein in environmental costs and restrain the mayhem of social media," the jury said in a statement.

Marland is nominated for Whipped: Party Discipline in Canada.

Whipped examines the hidden ways that political parties exert control over elected members of Canadian legislatures. Drawing on extensive interviews with politicians and staffers across the country, Marland explains why Members of Parliament and provincial legislators toe the party line, and shows how party discipline has expanded into message discipline.

Marland is a professor of political science at Memorial University of Newfoundland. He is the author of Brand Command, which won the 2016 Donner Prize and an Atlantic Book Award for Scholarly Writing.

"Pulling riveting material from over one hundred interviews he conducted through unrivalled access, Alex Marland illuminates the culture of secrecy and perpetual quest for electoral victory that often stifles dissent and the democratic process," said the jury in a statement.

The Abortion Caravan: When Women Shut Down Government in the Battle for the Right to Choose by Wells is also a finalist for the prize. 

In the spring of 1970, 17 women set out from Vancouver in a big yellow convertible, a Volkswagen bus, and a pickup truck. It was called the Abortion Caravan. 5,000 kilometres later, they led a rally of 500 women on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, "occupied" the Prime Minister's front lawn, chained themselves to their chairs in the visitors' galleries, and shut down parliament — the first and only time this was accomplished.

Wells is a lawyer, a CBC Radio documentary maker and a three‐time recipient of the Canadian Association of Journalists' documentary award. She has reported from more than 50 countries. The Abortion Caravan is her first book.

"The Abortion Caravan is a vibrant tale of a seminal but forgotten time in Canadian feminist history, when a handful of activist women and working moms came together with aspiration and conviction for safer access to abortion," the jury said in a statement. "Karin Wells uses deep, original research and energetic writing to expose the ideological and practical ups and downs of the early struggle for reproductive rights in this country."

The finalists were selected by a jury composed of author Peter Dauvergne, CBC News Ottawa anchor Adrian Harewood and Toronto Star Ottawa bureau chief Heather Scoffield from 41 titles. 

The Shaughnessy Cohen Prize was established in honour of the outspoken and popular Member of Parliament from Windsor, Ontario.

The 2021 winner will be announced on Sept. 22, 2021.

Last year's winner was former Canadian Supreme Court chief justice Beverley McLachlin for her memoir Truth Be Told.

The prize has been given out annually since 2000.

Other past winners include Kamal Al Solaylee, Jane Jacobs and Roméo Dallaire.

The Writers' Trust of Canada is an organization that supports Canadian writers through 11 annual national literary awards, fellowships, financial grants, mentorships and more. 

The organization gave out more than $970,000 to support Canadian writers in 2020.

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