Books

Miriam Toews & Katherena Vermette among five finalists for $60K Atwood Gibson Prize for Canada's top fiction

The award annually honours the best novel or short story collection published in Canada. The winner will be announced on Nov. 3.

The prize is named after Canadian literary icons Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson

Miriam Toews and Katherena Vermette are two of the finalists on the 2021 Atwood Gibson Writers’ Trust Prize for Fiction. (Scotiabank Giller Prize)

Miriam Toews and Katherena Vermette are two of the finalists on the 2021 Atwood Gibson Writers' Trust Prize for Fiction.

The $60,000 award annually honours the best novel or short story collection published in Canada.

Toews is a finalist for her novel Fight Night, while Vermette is nominated for her novel The Strangers. Both books are also on the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist.

The other three finalists are Rivka Galchen for the novel Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch, Alix Ohlin for the short story collection We Want What We Want and Guy Vanderhaeghe for the novel August into Winter.

This year's five finalists are selected by the jury from 130 titles submitted by 60 publishers. The jury is composed of Canadian fiction writers Rebecca Fisseha, Michelle Good and Steven Price.

Each finalist will receive $5,000.

Recently renamed, the fiction prize honours Canadian literary icons Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson, two of the five co-founders of Writers' Trust of Canada.

The 2021 prize is funded by businessman and philanthropist Jim Balsillie, who has committed $3 million to support Canadian literature. Balsillie is the former co-CEO of Research in Motion.

The winner will be announced on Wednesday, Nov. 3.

The Writers' Trust of Canada has awarded an annual fiction prize since 1997.

Gil Adamson won last year for her novel RidgerunnerOther past recipients include Austin Clarke, Alice Munro, Lawrence Hill and André Alexis.

The Writers' Trust of Canada is 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 shortlist for the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction was announced earlier in September.

The Writers' Trust of Canada was founded in 1976 by the prize's new namesakes, Atwood and Gibson, alongside Pierre Berton, Margaret Laurence and David Young.

Get to know the five finalists for the 2021 Atwood Gibson Writers' Trust Fiction Prize below.

Fight Night by Miriam Toews

Miriam Toews is the author of Fight Night. (Knopf Canada)

The story of Fight Night is told in the voice of Swiv, a nine-year-old living in Toronto with her pregnant mother, who is raising Swiv while caring for her own elderly, frail, yet lively mother. It explores the pain, love, laughter and will to live a good life across three generations of women in a close-knit family. 

"A careful balance of wit, irony, dark humour and philosophical musings makes for a thoughtful and thoroughly enjoyable read about women and girls navigating the world together," the jury commented in a statement.

Toews is the author from Toronto. Her novel A Complicated Kindness won the Governor General's Literary Award for English-language fiction in 2004 and Canada Reads in 2006. She is also the author of the novel All My Puny Sorrows, Women Talking and memoir Swing Low.

Bestselling Canadian author Miriam Toews sat down with Tom Power to discuss her highly anticipated new novel, Fight Night, and what it says about family, resiliency and the fight for mental health. Fight Night is out now.

The Strangers by Katherena Vermette

Katherena Vermette is the author of The Strangers. (Hamish Hamilton Canada)

The novel brings readers into the dynamic world of the Stranger family, where Cedar has nearly forgotten what her family looks like; Phoenix has nearly forgotten what freedom feels like; and Elsie has nearly given up hope. The Strangers is an exploration of race, class, inherited trauma and matrilineal bonds that, despite everything, refuse to be broken. 

"A beautiful, raw testament to those living on the margins," said the jury in a statement. "Cathartic and disturbing, The Strangers offers vital insight into the colonial brutality that still haunts the lives of the Métis."

Vermette is a Métis writer living in Winnipeg. Her other books include her debut novel The Break, the poetry collections North End Love Songs and river woman. She also wrote the story of Annie of Red River for This Place: 150 Years Retold.

Katherena Vermette talks to Shelagh Rogers about her latest novel, The Strangers.

Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch by Rivka Galchen

Rivka Galchen is the author of Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch. (Sandy Tait, Harper Perennial)

The story is set in 1618 in the German duchy of Württemberg. Plague is spreading throughout the Holy Roman Empire — so is fear. Amidst the war and chaos, Katharina Kepler is accused of being a witch. Galchen draws on real historical documents but infuses them with imagination and humour. Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch tells the story of how a community becomes implicated in collective aggression and hysterical fear. 

"A powerful indictment of misogyny, gossip and the casual cruelty of crowds," the jury said in a statement. "Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch shines with empathy and understanding, using the past to dissect and examine one of the essential crises of our time: the conflict between science and superstition."

Galchen is a Canadian American writer. She is also the author of the novel Atmospheric Disturbances. She lives in New York City.

The Canadian-born American novelist talks about magic and science and her new book about the real-life witch trial of the mother of 17th century astronomer Johannes Kepler.

We Want What We Want by Alix Ohlin

Alix Ohlin is the author of We Want What We Want. (House of Anansi Press)

We Want What We Want is a short story collection that involves bad parents, burned potential and inescapable old flames. Vanessa comes back home to her father engaged to her childhood best friend; Amanda drives to Upstate New York to rescue her cousin from a cult, but ends up discovering well-dressed men living together in a beautiful abode — each story conveys humour, pain and beauty.

"These stories bring us into the company of people who want what we all want: to connect, to matter, to heal, and to cross into unfamiliar territory, hoping that the risk will be worthwhile," the jury commented in a statement. 

Ohlin is a writer from Vancouver and the current chair of the creative writing program at the University of British Columbia. Her books include the novels Inside and Dual Citizens, both which were finalists for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Alix Ohlin isn't quite a household name, but she's already been nominated for Canada's most prestigious fiction award as many times as Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood and Miriam Toews. Ohlin received her second nomination for the Scotiabank Giller Prize for her new book, Dual Citizens, in which she explores the intensity and messiness of relationships – familial and otherwise.

August into Winter by Guy Vanderhaeghe

Guy Vanderhaeghe is the author of August into Winter. (McClelland & Stewart)

August into Winter takes place in 1939 in a world on the brink of global war. After Constable Hotchkiss confronts the spoiled, narcissistic Ernie Sickert about the disturbing pranks in their small prairie town, Ernie commits an act of unspeakable violence. What follows is a course of events that will change many lives forever. 

"August into Winter is equal parts mature love story, tension-packed manhunt, and nuanced exploration of the pursuit of personal and societal ideals," said the jury in a statement.

Born in Esterhazy, Sask. in 1951, Vanderhaeghe is the author of fiction including Man Descending, The Englishman's Boy, Daddy Lenin and Other Stories, among other. He is a three-timer winner of the Governor General's Awards and has received the Order of Canada.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now