Books

Canada Reads winner Joshua Whitehead among finalists for $60K Weston Prize for top Canadian nonfiction

The prize is the richest annual literary award for Canadian nonfiction. The winner will be announced on Nov. 2.

The prize is the richest annual literary award for Canadian nonfiction

Making Love with the Land is a book by Joshua Whitehead. (Knopf Canada)

Oji-nêhiyaw writer Joshua Whitehead, whose novel Jonny Appleseed won Canada Reads 2021, is garnering more acclaim. This time, his nonfiction work Making Love with the Land is one of five books shortlisted for the 2022 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction.

The $60,000 prize annually recognizes the best nonfiction book in Canada. It's the biggest prize for nonfiction in the country.

Making Love with the Land is a collection of essays exploring Indigeneity, queerness and the relationships between body, language and land.

Making Love with the Land is one of two Indigenous titles on the shortlist. The other is Nothing Will Be Different, a memoir by Mi'kmaw artist and writer Tara McGowan-Ross.

Rounding out the finalists are journalist Geoff Dembicki's look into the petroleum industry, The Petroleum Papers; professor Debra Thompson's look at Black culture and identity in North America, The Long Road Home; and Dan Werb's exploration of the history and future of coronavirus pandemics, The Invisible Siege.

The Weston Prize jury is comprised of Canadian writers Mark Bourrie, Cheryl Foggo and Jessica McDiarmid. They selected the finalists, and will select the eventual winner, from 103 titles submitted by publishers.

"This year's shortlist is a timely and accurate representation of topics that have likely crossed, in some cases dominated, our thoughts in past years," Charlie Foran, executive director of Writers' Trust, said in a statement. "If ever we looked for books that speak to our circumstances, both shared and unique, this shortlist gives us just that. Congratulations to all finalists."

The winner will be announced on Nov. 2, 2022, at a ceremony in Toronto.

Each remaining finalist will receive $5,000.

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

It also gives out seven prizes in recognition of the year's best in fiction, nonfiction and short story, as well as mid-career and lifetime achievement awards.

The shortlist for the 2022 Atwood Gibson Writers' Trust Fiction Prize was announced on Sept. 14, 2022.

The Writers' Trust has given out a nonfiction prize since 1997. Hilary Weston has sponsored the prize since 2011.

Last year's winner was Tomson Highway for his memoir Permanent Astonishment.

Other past winners include Brian Brett, Elizabeth Hay, Rosemary Sullivan, Naomi Klein, Jessica J. Lee and John Vaillant. 

Get to know the 2022 finalists below.

The Petroleum Papers by Geoff Dembicki

The Petroleum Papers is a nonfiction book by Geoff Dembicki. (Greystone Books, Submitted by the Writers' Trust of Canada)

In The Petroleum Papers, climate journalist Geoff Dembicki looks at the history of the petroleum industry and the oil sands in Alberta. Oil executives were told in 1959 that burning fossil fuels will cause global warming, and yet the industry grew substantially in the decades that followed. The Petroleum Papers looks at why the biggest oil companies in the world continue to grow, and shares the story of the people who are fighting back.

"Geoff Dembicki shows us how the petroleum industry has known about the risks to the climate for more than 60 years," said the jury. "Basing his arguments on grounded research and using clear, accessible prose, Dembicki explains the players and the game. The stakes are the planet itself." 

Geoff Dembicki is a climate change reporter from Alberta who now lives in New York. He is also the author of the nonfiction work Are We Screwed?, which won the 2018 Green Prize for Sustainable Literature. 

Nothing Will Be Different by Tara McGowan-Ross

Nothing Will Be Different is a book by Tara McGowan-Ross. (Dundurn Press)

Tara McGowan-Ross has a nice job, a writing career and a forgiving boyfriend. She has it pretty good. She should be happy. Yet, she can't stay sober and she's terrible at monogamy. In the autumn after she turns 27, an abnormal lump discovered in her left breast becomes the catalyst for a journey of self-questioning. She shares this story in her memoir Nothing Will Be Different.

"Tara McGowan-Ross unravels history and present in raw, unflinching prose that is at once funny, heartbreaking and lyrical," commented jurors. "A coming-of-age reflection that is searing in its honesty, energy and depth, McGowan-Ross treads difficult topics such as death, loss, addiction and grief with wryness, wit and depth."

McGowan-Ross is an urban Mi'kmaw artist and writer. She's the author of Girth and Scorpion Season and the host of Drawn & Quarterly's Indigenous Literatures Book Club. She's also a critic of experimental and independent Montreal theatre and an editor for Insomniac Press. 

The Long Road Home by Debra Thompson 

The Long Road Home is a nonfiction book by Debra Thompson. (Simon & Schuster, Roshayne Alannah Morrison)

The Long Road Home is a researched look at themes such as belonging and family history. The book explores Black cultural identity and activism in places such as Boston, Chicago and Shrewsbury, Ont., one of the termini of the Underground Railroad and the place where the formerly enslaved — including her grandfather's grandfather, Cornelius Thompson — found freedom.

"Through direct and evocative prose, Debra Thompson skillfully leads the reader into a rare perspective on the world of Canadian and American Black life," said jurors. "Engagingly personal and crisply political, The Long Road Home illuminates how the experience of Blackness cannot be explained by drawing a line at the 49th parallel."

Thompson is a Canadian associate professor of political science at McGill University in Montreal, and one of only five Black women academics in a political science department in the country. She is also the Canada Research Chair in Racial Inequality in Democratic Societies and a leading scholar of the comparative politics of race.

When it comes to anti-Black racism, it's easy to point to the obvious. Empires and oppressors. Slavery and segregation. But political scientist Debra Thompson says we need to make space for nuance. Especially when we talk about racism in Canada. In her new book, The Long Road Home: On Blackness and Belonging, Thompson weaves her political science scholarship with personal narrative to have an honest conversation with Chattopadhyay about how race and anti-Black racism operate in Canada and the U.S.

The Invisible Siege by Dan Werb

The Invisible Siege is a nonfiction book by Dan Werb. (Crown, Submitted by the Writers' Trust of Canada)

The Invisible Siege: The Rise of Coronaviruses and the Search for a Cure traces the surprisingly long history of the virus family and the scientists who went to war with it, as well as the lessons learned and lost during the SARS and MERS outbreaks. Journalist Dan Werb argues there is no doubt coronaviruses will strike again, and that understanding them is the best way to be prepared.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has been the most disruptive event in world history since the Second World War," said the jury. "Dan Werb tells us how we got here through an authoritative, scientific explanation of coronaviruses. The Invisible Siege is a scientific detective story that leaves the reader frightened that the villain is still on the loose and maybe in the house." 

Werb is an epidemiologist, policy analyst and writer currently based in Toronto. He is also the author of the nonfiction work City of Omens.

Canadian epidemiologist Dan Werb says humanity has a long history of underestimating coronaviruses. He joins Piya Chattopadhyay to talk about his new book The Invisible Siege: The Rise of Coronaviruses and the Search for a Cure. The book traces the surprisingly long history of the virus family and the scientists who went to war with it, as well as the lessons learned and lost during the SARS and MERS outbreaks. Werb says there is no doubt coronaviruses will strike again, and that understanding them is the best way to be prepared.

Making Love with the Land by Joshua Whitehead

Making Love with the Land is a book by Joshua Whitehead. (Knopf Canada)

Making Love with the Land is a personal work of nonfiction by Joshua Whitehead that employs a range of genres — essay, memoir, notes and confession — to explore queerness, Indigeneity and community work, as well as mental and physical health.

"Refusing the demands of categorization, Whitehead's beautiful book is equal parts arresting, inviting and challenging," said the jury. "He writes with fluid dexterity in the English language, while acknowledging the complexity of creating and living in a language that is not always enough."

Whitehead is a two-spirit, Oji-nêhiyaw Indigiqueer scholar, poet, nonfiction writer and novelist from Peguis First Nation. His debut noel Jonny Appleseed, was longlisted for the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize, shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction and the Amazon Canada First Novel Award and won a Lambda Literary Award for gay fiction. It also won Canada Reads 2021, when it was championed by actor Devery Jacobs.

When Joshua Whitehead was writing his first novel, Jonny Appleseed, he had a small, queer Indigenous audience in mind. But the book went on to become a bestseller, picking up literary prizes and winning CBC's Canada Reads. Now, Whitehead says it's time readers, journalists and academics start rethinking how we interrogate Indigenous authors about their work. In his new non-fiction collection of essays, Making Love with the Land, the two-spirit Oji-Cree storyteller from Peguis First Nation in Manitoba addresses all the uncomfortable and harmful questions he was asked in the wake of Jonny Appleseed. He joins Elamin Abdelmahmoud to argue for a more caring and respectful approach to storytelling and story sharing.

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