Jesse Thistle's memoir From the Ashes wins $10K Kobo Emerging Writer Prize for nonfiction

The prizes, which are given in three categories, recognize the best books written by debut Canadian authors in three categories.
Jesse Thistle is the author of From the Ashes. (CBC)

Jesse Thistle is among the winners for the Kobo Emerging Writer Prizes. He won the nonfiction category for his memoir From the Ashes.

The prizes, which are given in three categories, recognize the best books written by debut Canadian authors in three categories. Each of the shortlists were selected by Kobo's booksellers, who read each book, while considering customer ratings and reviews. A different judge selected the winner in each category.

Each winner receives $10,000.

In From the Ashes, Thistle combines poetry and memoir to chronicle his intimate journey of overcoming addiction and homelessness to become a decorated Indigenous academic.

From the Ashes will be defended by George Canyon on Canada Reads 2020.

The nonfiction category was judged by Timothy Caufield.

"Jesse Thistle's writing is straightforward, uncluttered, engaging and, at all the right moments, powerfully poetic. Both heartbreaking and inspiring, this is a book that everyone needs to read," the jury said in a statement. 

Toronto writer Zalika Reid-Benta won the fiction category for her linked short story collection Frying Plantain.

Frying Plantain focuses on a young Black woman named Kara Davis living in Toronto, as she navigates and reconciles her Canadian nationality and Jamaican heritage.

The fiction category was judged by Marissa Stapley.

"There is genuine beauty in the honest simplicity of this story, and, make no mistake: this is not a simple, nor a straightforward, story. Reid-Benta's writing is both relatable and illuminating, and that is a special kind of alchemy," the jury said in a statement.

J.R. McConvey won the speculative fiction category for his linked short story collection Different Beasts.

Different Beasts explores the beastly side of humanity and the human side of monsters. The characters are both otherworldly and earth-bound, ranging from mutant angels and insectoid demon-gods to politicians and parents.

McConvey was longlisted for the 2016 CBC Poetry Prize.

The speculative fiction category was judged by Andrew Pyper.

"The twelve stories of J.R. McConvey's Different Beasts are, indeed, different and frequently beastly... McConvey's imagination is curious and ready for travel, which lends suspense to even the collection's quieter tales," the jury said in a statement.

The 2019 winners were How Far We Go and How Fast by Nora Decter, Lands of Lost Borders by Kate Harris and Steeped in Love by Julie Evelyn Joyce.

The Kobo Emerging Writer Prizes have been given out since 2015. Other past winners include Robyn Doolittle, Wab Kinew, Teva Harrison and Omar el Akkad.

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