Lorna Crozier & Tessa McWatt among finalists for $60K Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction

The annual prize recognizes the best in Canadian nonfiction. It is the largest prize for nonfiction in Canada.
Lorna Crozier (left) and Tessa McWatt are two of the five writers nominated for the 2020 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction. (Lorna Crozier, Christine Mofardin)

Lorna Crozier and Tessa McWatt are among the five writers shortlisted for the 2020 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction.

The $60,000 prize is awarded annually to the best in Canadian nonfiction. It is the largest prize for nonfiction in Canada.

Crozier, who is a Governor General's Literary Award-winning poet, is nominated for her memoir Through the Garden. McWatt, who is primarily a fiction writer, is nominated for her first work of nonfiction, the memoir Shame on Me.

The other three nominated titles are Reaching Mithymna by Steven Heighton, Two Trees Make a Forest by Jessica J. Lee and The Way Home by David A. Neel.

The shortlist and eventual winner were chosen by a jury comprised of Helen Knott, Sandra Martin and Ronald Wright. 107 titles were submitted for consideration.

The winner will be announced on Nov. 18, 2020.

The four remaining finalists will each receive $5,000.

"This year's nonfiction finalists reveal the depth and richness of writing in this country and demonstrate an awe-inspiring degree of range, ambition, and eloquence," the prize's sponsor, Hilary Weston, said in a press statement. 

"In a year that has brought Canadians such uncertainty and tremendous challenges, it remains an honour to continue to recognize and reward terrific storytellers who try to make sense of their experiences and our shared world."

Last year's winner was Jenny Heijun Wills for her memoir Older Sister. Not Necessarily Related. 

Other past winners include Elizabeth Hay, Rosemary Sullivan, Naomi Klein and Charles Foran.

The prize is coordinated by the Writers' Trust of Canada, 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 Writers' Trust of Canada was founded in 1976 by Margaret Atwood, Pierre Berton, Graeme Gibson, Margaret Laurence and David Young.

Get to know the five finalists for the 2020 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction below.

Through the Garden by Lorna Crozier

Lorna Crozier is the author of Through the Garden. (Lorna Crozier, McClelland & Stewart)

Lorna Crozier is one of Canada's most beloved and accomplished poets, as was her long-time partner, Patrick Lane. They met in 1976 and built a life together, publishing more than 40 books between them along the way. But in 2017, Lane became ill and their life changed forever, and eventually Lane died in 2019. Crozier writes about their relationship, their personal and creative partnership, and comes to terms with her grief, in the memoir Through the Garden.

Crozier is a Governor General's Literary Award-winning poet who has written more than 15 books. Her poetry collections include The House the Spirit BuildsGod of Shadows and What the Soul Doesn't Want.

Poets Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane joined us online from Victoria. They share a part of a poem they will jointly deliver Monday June 1st when they receive an Honorary Doctorate of Literature from McGill University. 17:37

Reaching Mithymna by Steven Heighton

Reaching Mithymna is a book by Steven Heighton. (Mary Huggard, Biblioasis)

In 2015, writer Steven Heighton made a sudden decision: he would travel to Greece and volunteer at the frontlines of the Syrian refugee crisis. Once there, he found himself working in a transit camp offering support to refugees who recently made the harrowing journey across the sea from Turkey, and alongside the refugees and the aid workers stationed there, finds himself overwhelmed. Heighton shares this story in the memoir Reaching Mithymna.

Heighton is a novelist, short story writer and poet from Toronto. His other books include the poetry collection The Waking Comes Latewhich won the 2016 Governor General's Literary Award for poetry, and the novel The Nightingale Won't Let You Sleep.

Steven Heighton answers the Proust Questionnaire. His most recent novel is "The Nightingale Won't Let You Sleep ". 4:38

Two Trees Make a Forest by Jessica J. Lee 

Two Trees Make a Forest is a book by Jessica J. Lee. (Hamish Hamilton, Ricardo A. Rivas)

Two Trees Make a Forest is an exploration of how geographical forces are interlaced with our family stories. A chance discovery of letters written by her immigrant grandfather leads Jessica J. Lee to her ancestral homeland, Taiwan. There, she traces his story while growing closer to the land he knew. Throughout her adventures, Lee uncovers surprising parallels between nature and human stories that shaped her family and their beloved island. In the memoir, she also turns a critical eye onto colonialist explorers who mapped the land and named plants, and both relied on and often erased the labor and knowledge of local communities.

Lee is a British-Canadian-Taiwanese author, environmental historian, and winner of the RBC Taylor Prize Emerging Author Award. Her first book, Turning, was longlisted for the Frank Hegyi Award for Emerging Authors.

In her memoir Two Trees Make a Forest, Canadian writer and environmental historian Jessica J. Lee returns to her mother's homeland of Taiwan to understand the landscape that shaped her family - and in turn, shapes her. The book intertwines her grandparents' histories, the political history of Taiwan and the island's geological history. She speaks with Chattopadhyay about home, multiplicity and belonging. For more, visit: 27:16

Shame on Me by Tessa McWatt

Tessa McWatt is a Guyanese-born Canadian writer based in London. (Christine Mofardin, Random House Canada)

Tessa McWatt was born in Guyana and came to Canada when she was three years old. She grew up in Toronto and spent years living in Montreal, Paris, Ottawa and London. Her heritage is Scottish, English, French, Portuguese, Indian, Amerindian, African and Chinese. Shame on Me is a memoir about identity, race and belonging by someone who spent a lot of time trying to find an answer to the question, "Who are you?" and who has endured decades of racism and bigotry while trying to figure out who she is and where she belongs.

McWatt is the author of several works of fiction. Her novels include Dragons CryVital Signs and Higher Ed. She is also the co-editor of the anthology Luminous Ink: Writers on Writing in Canada. Shame on Me is her first work of nonfiction.

The novelist Tessa McWatt on her award-winning memoir Shame on Me: An Anatomy of Race and Belonging 21:03

The Way Home by David A. Neel

The Way Home is a book by David A. Neel. (UBC Press)

David A. Neel is from a family of traditional Kwakwa̱ka̱'wakw artists. But his father died when he was a baby and he was separated from his family, and grew up away from his culture and traditions. Twenty-five years later, when he saw a mask made by his great-great-grandfather in a museum, he decided it was time to reconnect with his culture and follow in his father's footsteps and become an artist himself. He also worked on coming to terms with the trauma and abuse he suffered in his childhood. Neel shares his story in the memoir The Way Home.

Neel is a carver, jeweler, painter, printmaker, writer and photographer who is a member of the Kwakwaka'wakw First Nation in British Columbia. The Way Home is his first book.

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