Books

Mark Bourrie wins $30K RBC Taylor Prize for biography of Hudson Bay Company founder Pierre-Esprit Radisson

The annual literary prize recognizes the best in Canadian nonfiction. 2020 will be the final year for the prize.

2020 will be the final year for the prize

Bush Runner is a nonfiction book by Mark Bourrie. (Douglas & McIntyre, Biblioasis)

Bush Runner by historian and journalist Mark Bourrie has won the 2020 RBC Taylor Prize.

The $30,000 prize annually recognizes the best in Canadian literary nonfiction.

Bush Runner is the story of explorer and Hudson Bay Company founder Pierre-Esprit Radisson. 

Radisson's life is remarkable: he was kidnapped by Mohawk warriors, witnessed London's great plague and great fire, survived a shipwreck, was marooned with pirates and proved to be a shrewd adventurer, trader and businessperson. 

Bourrie has written several books about history.

His other books include The Killing Game, a book about ISIS, Fighting Words, about Canadian war reporting, and The Fog of War, about media censorship during the Second World War.

"There's an emotional roller coaster that you feel when writing a book. Writing the book is the easy part. Getting the book out to the world is what's hard. But I didn't expect to win this," Bourrie told CBC Books after his win. "All the books here are all so good. If I was to have placed a side bet, it would have been on someone else. Every one of these books belong on a shelf in your house. This win is absolutely validation for all the work I put into writing it."

At a time when most Europeans died within a day's journey from where they were born, Pierre-Esprit Radisson criss-crossed the Atlantic 10 times, was adopted into an Iroquois family and was kidnapped by pirates. Historian Mark Bourrie documents the explorer's adventure-filled life and counters stereotypes about the entire colonial epoch - especially Iroquois society - in his book, Bush Runner: The Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson. 53:59

Bourrie will also choose the winner of the RBC Taylor Emerging Writer Award, a $10,000 prize given to a published Canadian author who is early in their career and working on a new manuscript.

The RBC Taylor Prize winner mentors the Emerging Writer Award recipient.

The jury, comprised of 2019 Booker Prize co-winner Margaret Atwood, British professor Coral Ann Howells and American translator Peter Theroux, selected the winner from 155 submitted titles.

Mark Bourrie is the 2020 winner of the RBC Taylor Prize. (CBC)

The other finalists were Had It Coming by Robyn DoolittleHighway of Tears by Jessica McDiarmidThe Reality Bubble by Ziya Tong and The Mosquito by Timothy C. Winegard.

It was announced in November that 2020 will be the last year for the prize, which has been given out since 2000.

Founder Noreen Taylor explained in a press release that "it became clear last year that we had achieved every goal."

Taylor created the prize in memory of her husband, Charles Taylor, a journalist and author of the books Six Journeys and Radical Tories. He died in 1997.

Last year's winner was Kate Harris for her travel memoir Lands of Lost Borders.

Pierre-Esprit Radisson played a vital role in the creation of the Hudson Bay Company but according to author Mark Bourrie, the 17th century explorer was more hustler than hero. 27:58

The inaugural Taylor Prize winner was Wayne Johnston for Baltimore's Mansion. Other former award winners include Carol Shields for Jane AustenCharles Foran for Mordecai: The Life & TimesAndrew Westoll for The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary, Thomas King for The Inconvenient IndianRosemary Sullivan for Stalin's Daughter and Tanya Talaga for Seven Fallen Feathers.

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