Tanya Talaga wins $30K 2018 RBC Taylor Prize for Seven Fallen Feathers

Seven Fallen Feathers shines a spotlight on the lives of seven Indigenous high school students who died between 2000 and 2011 in Thunder Bay, Ont.
Tanya Talaga highlights the lives of seven Indigenous students in Seven Fallen Feathers. (CBC)

Tanya Talaga has won the 2018 RBC Taylor Prize for Seven Fallen Feathers. The $30,000 annual award recognizes the best in Canadian literary nonfiction.

Seven Fallen Feathers shines a spotlight on the lives of seven Indigenous high school students who died between 2000 and 2011 in Thunder Bay, Ont. Talaga writes about what these young people endured while separated from their families and communities. 

In accepting her award, Talaga remarked, "I'm probably one of the only people to win this beautiful award to say I wish I did not have to write this book. But I did. I had to. It was something I felt I must do for many reasons. But those reasons I'm going to tell you right now, there are seven of them: Jethro Anderson, Curran Strang, Paul Panacheese, Robyn Harper, Kyle Morrisseau, Jordan Wabasse, Reggie Bushie. All of you. The seven fallen feathers."

The jury, made up of Christine Elliott, Anne Giardini and James Polk, said it was "impossible to read this book and come away unchanged."

"Talaga has written Canada's J'Accuse, an open letter to the rest of us about the many ways we contribute — through action or inaction — to suicides and damaged existences in Indigenous communities," said the jury.

"Tanya Talaga's account of teen lives and deaths in and near Thunder Bay is detailed, balanced and heart-rending. Talaga describes gaps in the system large enough for beloved children and adults to fall through, endemic indifference, casual racism and a persistent lack of resources."

The remaining finalists each take home $5,000. They are Stephen R. Bown, author of Island of the Blue Foxes, Daniel Coleman, author of Yardwork, James Maskalyk author of Life on the Ground Floor and Max Wallace, author of In the Name of Humanity.

This year's jury evaluated 153 books submitted by 110 different publishers.

Other past winners of the prize include Carol Shields for her biography Jane Austen: A Life, Ian Brown for The Boy in the Moon and Thomas King for The Inconvenient Indian.

Earlier this year, the RBC Taylor Prize launched the RBC Taylor Prize Emerging Writers Mentorship Program. Five aspiring writers between the ages of 18 and 35 were chosen to participate. Each participant will be mentored by one of the five 2018 RBC Taylor Prize finalists. 

Christopher Brown will be mentored by Stephen Bown, Michael Downing will be mentored by Max Wallace, Gena Ellett will be mentored by James Maskalyk, Stepanie Harrington will be mentored by Tanya Talaga and Martha Roberts will be mentored by Daniel Coleman. 

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