David A. Robertson wins the 2021 Freedom to Read Award

Robertson is a Winnipeg-based author and graphic novelist. The award annually recognizes creators whose work supports free expression.
David A. Robertson is a Swampy Cree graphic novelist and writer based in Manitoba. (Amber Green)

David A. Robertson has won the 2021 Freedom to Read Award.

Robertson is a Swampy Cree author and graphic novelist based in Winnipeg. He has published more than 20 books across a variety of genres including novels, children's books and memoir. He also hosts the CBC Manitoba podcast Kiwew.

The award is given in recognition of work that is passionately supportive of the freedom to read. 

His titles include the graphic novels Will I See? and Sugar Falls, the picture book When We Were Alonewhich was illustrated by Julie Flett, and the YA book Strangers

In 2020, Robertson published three books: the memoir Black Water, the graphic novel Breakdown and the middle-grade novel The Barren Grounds.

"I am moved today to nominate [David A. Robertson] because I think he is an excellent role model for freedom of expression for all of us. Robertson writes for audiences of all ages. He delves into his own life, his own truths, and with rigour, gentleness and bravery, he creates literature to show what he's discovering," the writer who nominated Robertson said in a press statement.

The writer who nominated Robertson was not publicly named.

"I want these books to do well because it's my job. But more importantly, I want to see that these books are helping to make some kind of a difference in this country. That's something that I feel is a big focus in my work," Robertson told CBC Books in 2020. 

"It's about reaching kids and adults — and doing the work to help make some kind of a difference as we move forward together as a community."

"It's very humbling, and it's a really nice honour," Robertson told Laurie Hoogstraten on CBC Radio's Up to Speed after winning the prize

Robertson said he's gained more confidence to speak out about issues that are important to him as his career evolved.

"I am getting into advocacy in my writing but also in my public speaking: looking at own voices stories and building communities and working toward reconciliation and healing and shifting stories away from trauma-based stories to stories of resilience and hope and accurate representation of Indigenous people in literature," he said. 

"I have found that the more I write, the platform I have — however small or big it is — has enabled me to stand up when I need to and to speak out."

The Freedom to Read Award is presented annually by The Writers' Union of Canada during Freedom to Read Week.

Filmmaker, author and storyteller Ivan Coyote won the 2020 award. 

Other past winners include Jael Richardson, Gary Geddes, Deborah Campbell, Mohamed Fahmy and Lawrence Hill.

Freedom to Read Week runs Feb. 21-27, 2021.

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