Heather O'Neill awarded $50K Writers' Trust Fellowship for being a 'leading light among Canadian writers'

The Montreal novelist, short story writer and essayist received the 2019 fellowship for her body of work.
Heather O'Neill is a award-winning writer from Montreal. (J Artacho)

Montreal writer Heather O'Neill has been awarded the 2019 Writers' Trust Fellowship, a $50,000 award that goes to a mid-career Canadian writer for their outstanding body of work and promise of work to come.

The fellowship is administered by the Writers' Trust of Canada.

"In those imperceptible spaces between magic and reality, fairy-tale and modernity, innocence and experience lies the world of Heather O'Neill," said the Writers' Trust in a press release.

"O'Neill's narratives are the closest modern Canadian fiction comes to books of spells, entrancing readers and transporting them into the lives of girls and women who always seem to exist on the cusp of love, of desire, of doom."

O'Neill made her debut in 2006 with Lullabies for Little Criminalsthe story of a 13-year-old named Baby who is drawn into the seedy Montreal underworld of a local pimp. The novel nabbed a spot on the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction shortlist and won Canada Reads 2007, when it was defended by John K. Samson.

She later became the Scotiabank Giller Prize's first back-to-back finalist. In 2014, she was a finalist for the novel The Girl Who Was Saturday Night and 2015 she was nominated for the short story collection Daydreams of Angels

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night follows a pair of inseparable twins, Noushcka and Nicolas Tremblay, who cope with their wildly dysfunctional family with humour, charm and promiscuity.

Giller Prize: Heather O'Neill on The Girl Who Was Saturday Night 1:43

Daydreams of Angels, which was O'Neill's first short story collection, is a book of unique, neglected characters as they contend with classicism and create their own small magic.

Her most recent books are the novel The Lonely Hearts Hotelthe story of two orphan artists who start a circus, and the essay collection Wisdom in Nonsense, which is about the lessons she learned from her eccentric father.

Heather O'Neill shares some of her father's offbeat advice that helped shape her as a writer. 7:56

"It's a romantic notion to think of the writer suffering in a garret in dirty clothes, eating mouldy bread and confessing their sins to a pet rat named Melancholy. But in truth, financial support means so much to writers and allows them to create the arduous and time-consuming works of fiction they do," said O'Neill in a press release. 

"I can think of any number of brilliant writers the 2019 Writers' Trust Fellowship could be given to in Canada and that they chose to bestow it on me makes me feel both humbled and honoured. It also has filled my heart with inexplicable glee. So much so that I will rename my pet rat Delight."

O'Neill and her daughter Arizona O'Neill make regular recommendations on their book column for CBC's Homerun.

The fellowship has been awarded annually since 2015. Charles Foran received the fellowship in 2018. The other past recipients are Michael Crummey, Miriam Toews and Eden Robinson.


The award-winning Canadian writer Heather O'Neill's new novel, "The Lonely Hearts Hotel," is set in 1930s Montreal, where cheap hotel rooms are home to heroin addicts and prostitutes with wild ambitions and vivid imaginations. 26:00


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