Robyn Doolittle, Ziya Tong among 12 writers longlisted for $30K RBC Taylor Prize for nonfiction

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

2020 will be the final year for the prize

Robyn Doolittle (left) and Ziya Tong are on the longlist for the 2020 RBC Taylor Prize. (Galit Rodan, Noel Fox)

Robyn Doolittle's Had It Coming, a book about how police handle sexual assault cases, and Ziya Tong's The Reality Bubble, an exploration of what society ignores, are among the titles longlisted for the 2020 RBC Taylor Prize. 

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

The full longlist is:

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

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.

The shortlist will be revealed on Jan. 8, 2020. The winner will be revealed on March 2, 2020. 

The winner receives $30,000 and four finalists each receive $5,000.

The prize winner will select an emerging writer to receive the RBC Taylor Prize Emerging Writer Award. The prize is given to an up-and-coming Canadian writer, who will receive $10,000 and be mentored by the RBC Taylor Prize recipient. 

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

Other past 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.

Keep reading to learn more about the longlisted books and authors.

Rush to Danger by Ted Barris

Rush to Danger is a nonfiction book by Ted Barris. (Submitted by Ted Barris, HarperCollins Canada)

Military historian Ted Barris has written 20 books, including the bestsellers Juno and Dam Bustersand half of them have focused on Canadian men and women in wartime. His latest book, Rush to Danger, shows the efforts of medical personnel on the bloody battlefields of Europe. Rush to Danger was inspired by the experience of his father, Alex Barris, as a medic in the Second World War. 

Bush Runner by Mark Bourrie

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

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 is a historian, journalist and university lecturer who has written several books about history.

The Grandmaster by Brin-Jonathan Butler

The Grandmaster is a nonfiction book by Brin-Jonathan Butler. (Simon & Schuster, Troy Turi)

The Grandmaster is the story of the 2016 world chess championship, a tournament that resulted in a final match between Norway's Magnus Carlsen and Russia's Sergey Karjakin that is considered by many to be the best chess match in history. Brin-Jonathan Butler is a journalist and documentary filmmaker who attended the two-week tournament and provides a first-hand account as well as a fascinating dive into the personal histories of Carlsen and Karjakin and the geopolitical connections the match had to the wider world.

Had It Coming by Robyn Doolittle

Had It Coming is a nonfiction book by Robyn Doolittle. (Galit Rodan, Allen Lane)

Based on the years Globe and Mail reporter Robyn Doolittle spent examining how police mishandle sexual assault cases, Had It Coming is an in-depth look at how attitudes around sexual harassment and assault are changing in the #MeToo era. Doolittle's investigative series Unfounded looked into sexual assault allegations using data gathered from over 870 police forces across the country and found that many cases were deemed "baseless" and not properly investigated.

Doolittle's previous book, Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story, was published in 2014.

We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib

We Have Always Been Here is a memoir by Samra Habib. (Viking Canada, Yuula Benivolski)

Samra Habib's memoir We Have Always Been Here is an exploration of the ways we disguise and minimize ourselves for the sake of survival. As a child, Habib hid her faith from Islamic extremists in Pakistan and later, as a refugee in Canada, endured racist bullying and the threat of an arranged marriage. In travelling the world and exploring art and sexuality, Habib searches for the truth of her identity. 

We Have Always Been Here is Habib's first book. She's a journalist, photographer and activist based in Toronto.

In My Own Moccasins by Helen Knott

In My Own Moccasins is a memoir by Helen Knott. (Tenille K. Campbell/, University of Regina Press)

Helen Knott is a poet and writer of Dane Zaa, Nehiyaw and European descent. Her memoir, In My Own Moccasins, is a story of addiction, sexual violence and intergenerational trauma. It explores how colonization has affected her family over generations. But it is also a story of hope and redemption, celebrating the resilience and history of her family.

Highway of Tears by Jessica McDiarmid

Highway of Tears is a book by Jessica McDiarmid. (Doubleday Canada, Wendy Perry)

The Highway of Tears is an isolated stretch of highway in northwestern British Columbia where many Indigenous women and girls have gone missing or been murdered. In Highway of Tears, journalist Jessica McDiarmid investigates some of the tragedies that have taken place along this road and explores the larger societal and cultural issues that have led to this crisis.

The Regency Years by Robert Morrison

The Regency Years is a nonfiction book by Robert Morrison. (W.W. Norton, Bernard Clark)

The Regency Years were the period between 1811-1820, the period before the Victorian era. It was a time when artists such as Jane Austen, Lord Byron and Mary Shelley flourished. It was also the time of the Napoleon Wars and the American Civil War. Historian Robert Morrison does a deep dive into this often overlooked era and explores how it has influenced culture and politics today.

Overrun by Andrew Reeves

Overrun is a nonfiction book by Andrew Reeves. (ECW Press, Courtney Walker)

Asian Carp are a nasty invasive species, corrupting several North American ecosystems. There is a concentrated effort to keep the fish out of the Great Lakes. Environmental journalist Andrew Reeves chronicles the rise of the Asian Carp and the fight against the species in Overrun, as well as explores the political and scientific shifts required to save North American waterways in a changing world.

The Mongolian Chronicles by Allen Smutylo

The Mongolian Chronicles is a nonfiction book by Allen Smutylo. (Goose Lane Editions)

Traveller and writer Allen Smutylo spent two years studying and living with seven eagle hunters and their families in Mongolia. He chronicles this time in The Mongolian Chronicles, while exploring the history, culture and politics of the region. Mongolia is a country where the influence of Genghis Khan is still felt and the tensions between ancient customs and traditions and urbanization are strongly felt.

Smutylo is the author of several other travel books, and was a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction for the book The Memory of Water.

The Reality Bubble by Ziya Tong

The Reality Bubble is a nonfiction book by Ziya Tong. (Noel Fox/Penguin Random House Canada)

In The Reality Bubble, science journalist Ziya Tong reminds readers that the human eye pales in comparison to what animals with infrared, ultraviolet and 360-degree vision can see. She looks into 10 of humanity's biggest blind spots, including where our food and energy comes from and where our waste goes. Tong was the anchor of the Discovery Channel's science program Daily Planet.

The Mosquito by Timothy C. Winegard

The Mosquito is a nonfiction book by Timothy C. Winegard. (Rylie E. Vavra, Allen Lane)

If you had to choose humanity's greatest natural predator, would you pick sharks? Maybe lions, or bears — or even other humans? According to Timothy Winegard, it's actually that winged terror — the mosquito. In his new book, The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator, he argues that the mosquito — and the diseases it carries — has played a remarkable role in shaping our own development, from the birth of the gin and tonic, to the fall of the Roman Empire.


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