The CBC Books Writers to Watch list: 24 Canadian writers on the rise in 2020

It's time for the CBC Books annual writers to watch list! Here are 24 writers on the rise — the writers to watch class of 2020.
24 writers made CBC Books annual Writers to Watch list (See individual photos below for credit)

It's time for the CBC Books annual writers to watch list! Here are 24 writers on the rise — the CBC Books class of 2020.

Sarah Louise Butler

Sarah Louise Butler is the author of the novel The Wild Heavens. (Bobbi Barbarich)

Sarah Louise Butler is a writer from Nelson, B.C. Her work has appeared in Room. Her first novel, The Wild Heavens, came out in spring 2020.

The Wild Heavens is a novel about the magic and mystery of nature — and our relationship to it. Over the course of one cold winter day, a young mother, Sandy Langley, reflects on her grandfather, who was obsessed with a mysterious creature in the woods, their relationship, motherhood and more, while finally coming to terms with the mysteries and tragedies that shaped her life and made her who she is.

Jillian Christmas

Jillian Christmas is an educator, activist, community organizer and spoken word poet. (K. Ho)

Jillian Christmas is a Vancouver-based educator, activist, community organizer and spoken word poet who focuses on increasing anti-oppression initiatives in spoken word. She is the former artistic director of Vancouver's Verses Festival of Words. The Gospel of Breaking is her debut poetry collection.

The Gospel of Breaking draws on Christmas's politics, family history and queer lineage, telling stories of love, friendship and community. 

Desmond Cole

Desmond Cole is the author of the nonfiction book The Skin We're In. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Desmond Cole is a journalist, radio host and activist based in Toronto. His writing has appeared in the Toronto Star, Toronto Life, Now Magazine and the Walrus. The Skin We're In is his first book.

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The Skin We're In looks at one year, 2017, and chronicles Cole's personal journalism, activism and experiences alongside stories that made the headlines across the country, including refugees crossing the Canada-U.S. border in the middle of winter and the death of Somali-Canadian Abdirahman Abdi at the hands of the Ottawa police.

Michelle Good on her debut novel Five Little Indians, which follows five characters after they leave residential school.

Megan Gail Coles

Megan Gail Coles is the author of the novel Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Megan Gail Coles is a playwright from Savage Cove on the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland. She has published the short story collection Eating Habits of the Chronically Lonesome and the novel Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club. Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club was a finalist for the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize and was defended on Canada Reads 2020 by Alayna Fender.

Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club revolves around a cast of flawed characters all connected to a trendy St. John's restaurant. Over the course of a snowy February day, they are implicated in each other's hopes, dreams and pains as they try to survive harsh economic times in the province. 

Activist Gemma Hickey on their memoir Almost Feral, about an epic walk across Newfoundland that was life-changing.

Eva Crocker

Eva Crocker is a novelist and short story writer. (Steve Crocker)

Eva Crocker is a novelist and short story writer from Newfoundland. She is the author of the short story collection Barrelling Forward and the novel All I Ask. All I Ask will be available in August 2020. 

In All I Ask, Stacey wakes up one morning to the police pounding on her door. They claim they are looking for "illegal digital material" and seize her phone and computer. Worried for her safety, Stacey bands together with her friends to seek a way to an authentic, unencumbered way of life. 

Chantal Gibson

Chantal Gibson is an artist, educator and poet. (Marianne Meadahl)

Chantal Gibson is an artist, poet and educator from Vancouver. With ancestral roots in Nova Scotia, Gibson's literary approach is dedicated to challenging imperialist ideas by way of a close look at Canadian literature, history, art, media and pop culture. She is the author of the poetry collection How She Read.

How She Read is a collection of genre-blurring poems about the representation of Black women in Canada from a cultural perspective. It was a finalist for the 2019 Griffin Poetry Prize.

In My Own Moccasins: A Memoir of Resilience tells the story of how Helen Knott overcame addiction and trauma, and how writing became instrumental to her healing.

Michelle Good

Michelle Good is the author of Five Little Indians. (Kent Wong)

Michelle Good is a Cree writer and lawyer, as well as a member of Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. She published her first novel, Five Little Indians, in spring 2020.

In Five Little Indians, Kenny, Lucy, Clara, Howie and Maisie were taken from their families and sent to a residential school when they were very small. Barely out of childhood, they are released and left to contend with the seedy world of eastside Vancouver. Fuelled by the trauma of their childhood, the five friends cross paths over the decades and struggle with the weight of their shared past. 

Stephane Larue had the least glamourous job at a restaurant: a dishwasher. But it gave him an inside look at the hard-living characters working in frenetic, stress-filled kitchens. He turned those experiences into a novel, The Dishwasher, that takes the reader into the demi-monde of restaurant kitchens. It became a sensation and a big award-winner in Quebec and has just been translated into English.

Gemma Hickey

Gemma Hickey is the author of the memoir Almost Feral. (Paula Gale/CBC)

Gemma Hickey is an LGBTQ activist and writer from Newfoundland. They became the first person in Canada to receive a gender neutral birth certificate and passport. Their first book, Almost Feral, came out in 2019.

A few years ago, Hickey did a 908-kilometre walk across the island of Newfoundland. They did it to raise awareness and money for survivors of institutional religious abuse. Their memoir, Almost Feral, describes that journey and the equally hard road of coming to terms with their identity throughout the journey — digging into the good and bad in their past along the way with an eye on motivating others to accept themselves and what they stand for. 

Shelagh Rogers talks to Karen McBride about her novel, Crow Winter

Jasmin Kaur

Jasmin Kaur's debut collection of poetry is called When You Ask Me Where I'm Going. (Tajinder Kaur)

Jasmin Kaur is a poet who's been embraced by pop culture. She's a Sikh illustrator and spoken word artist living in Vancouver whose work has shown up everywhere, from Reese Witherspoon's social media to Jennifer Lopez's performance at the 2018 American Music Awards. Her first poetry collection is called When You Ask Me Where I'm Going

When You Ask Me Where I'm Going is a mix of poetry, prose and artwork. The book aims to spark debate around themes of mental health, feminism, immigration and personal empowerment. It's a look at what it means to be alive and willing to fight for rights in the world. 

Cole Pauls and his Indigenous punk comics

5 years ago
Duration 4:14
Tahltan comic artist Cole Pauls has been inspired by punk music, pizza and carrying the legacy of Southern Tutchone language through his comic art. Filmmaker: Camille Vernet

Adnan Khan

Adnan Khan is a journalist and magazine writer. His debut novel There Has to Be a Knife is set in Toronto. (Magida El-Kassis)

Adnan Khan is a journalist and magazine writer from Toronto. He was the recipient of the 2016 RBC Taylor Prize for Emerging Writers and was a reader for the CBC Nonfiction Prize in 2017. He published his first book, There Has to Be a Knife, in 2019.

There Has to Be a Knife is about a chef who unravels after the death of his ex-girlfriend. When Omar Ali is informed his ex-girlfriend Anna has died, he resolves to retrieve her suicide note from her parents. Filled with grief and unable to cope, the 27-year-old line cook spirals out of control, participating in break-ins and online terrorism.

Helen Knott

Helen Knott is the author of the memoir In My Own Moccasins. (Submitted/Kourteny Newbery)

Helen Knott is a social worker, 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. It is also a story of hope and redemption, celebrating the resilience and history of her family.

In My Own Moccasins, was on the 2020 RBC Taylor Prize longlist. In 2020, she launched a literary prize for single parents.

Jesse Thistle talks to Shelagh Rogers about his best selling memoir, From the Ashes: My Story of Being Métis, Homeless, and Finding My Way.

Stéphane Larue

Stéphane Larue has worked in the restaurant industry for the past 15 years. The Dishwasher is his first book. (Audrey Beauchemin/Radio-Canada)

Stéphane Larue is a novelist from Quebec. He's spent 15 years in the restaurant industry, where he started as a dishwasher. This became the inspiration for his first novel, The Dishwasher. 

The French version of the book, Le Plongeur, won the Prix des libraires du Québec and the Prix Senghor and was shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Award for French-language fiction. It was translated into English by Pablo Strauss. The English version won the 2020 Amazon First Novel Award.

Jenny Heijun Wills on her award-winning memoir of reconnecting with her birth parents, Older Sister: Not Necessarily Related.

David Ly

David Ly is a poet from Vancouver. (Erin Flegg)

David Ly is a poet who lives in Vancouver. His poetry has appeared in publications like The Puritan, PRISM international and The Temz Review. His first poetry collection, Mythical Man, was published in spring 2020.

Mythical Man explores the many facets of queer love. The book builds on themes of toxic masculinity, race and identity in the 21st century.

Karen McBride

Karen McBride is the author of Crow Winter. (Justina Phippen)

Karen McBride is an Algonquin Anishinaabe writer from the Timiskaming First Nation in the territory that is now Quebec. Her first novel, Crow Winter, was published in 2019.

Crow Winter is about a young Indigenous woman named Hazel Ellis, who has the magical power to cross between the spiritual and material worlds. Following the loss of her father, Hazel returns to her reservation, Spirit Bear Point First Nation, to be with her mother and to reconcile her grief.

J.R. McConvey

J.R. McConvey is the author of the novel Different Beasts. (Goose Lane Editions, Fouad Elgindy)

J.R. McConvey is a writer from Toronto. His work has been published in the Malahat Review, Joyland and the Dalhousie Review. He was also longlisted for the 2016 CBC Poetry Prize. His first book, the fantastical short story collection, Different Beasts, was published in 2019.

Different Beasts is a short story collection that explores the beastly side of humanity and the human side of monsters. The characters are both otherworldly and earth-bound, ranging from mutant angels and insectoid demon-gods to politicians and parents. Different Beasts won the 2020 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize in the speculative fiction category.

Noor Naga

Noor Naga is a poet and winner of the 2017 RBC Bronwen Wallace Award. (Katrina Afonso)

Noor Naga is a Canadian-Egyptian writer. She won the 2017 Bronwen Wallace Award for her poem The Mistress and the Ping. She also won the Disquiet Fiction Prize in 2019. Her debut novel American Girl and Boy from Shobrakheit is forthcoming in the fall 2021. Her first book is the poetry collection Washes, Prays.

Washes, Prays follows Coocoo, a young immigrant woman living in Toronto who begins to question her faith after falling in love with Muhammad, a married father of two. Coocoo wonders how she can reconcile her faith with her actions and whether her relationship with Muhammad can really last. 

Cole Pauls

Cole Pauls is the creator of the comic Dakwäkãda Warriors. (Camille Vernet/CBC Arts)

Cole Pauls is a Tahltan comic artist. He created the comic Dakwäkãda Warriors as a language revival initiative. In 2017, it won Broken Pencil Magazine's Best Comic and Best Zine of the Year Award. It's now a full-length graphic novel, which was shortlisted for the 2020 Doug Wright Award for best book for kids. Pauls was also nominated for the for the 2020 Doug Wright Award for best emerging talent.

In Dakwäkãda Warriors, two Earth Protectors are charged with saving the planet from evil pioneers and cyborg sasquatches. The comic, which incorporates a blend of English and Southern Tutchone, serves as an allegory for colonialism.

Alex Pugsley

Alex Pugsley is the author of the novels Kay Darling and Aubrey McKee. (John Lauener, Biblioasis)

Alex Pugsley is a filmmaker and writer from Nova Scotia. He is the co-author of the novel Kay Darling. His fiction has appeared in the Dalhousie Review, Brick and McSweeney's. His latest book is the novel Aubrey McKee.

Aubrey McKee is the the first in a series of five autobiographical novels by Alex Pugsley. Aubrey McKee tells the story of a boy growing up in 1970s and 1980s Halifax. The second novel in the series will follow the narrator's arrival in Toronto as a young man.

Yusuf Saadi

Yusuf Saadi is a poet. (Harbour Publishing)

Yusuf Saadi is a poet from Montreal. Pluviophile is his first collection. He won the Malahat Review's 2016 Far Horizons Award for Poetry for the poem The Place Words Go to Die, which is in Pluviophile.

Pluviophile is a mix of longer sonnets and shorter meditations, all of which explore humanity's relationship with divinity and how we value our bodies, our language and how we connect with each other and the greater world.

John Elizabeth Stintzi

John Elizabeth Stintzi a Canadian poet and novelist. (Melanie Pierce/John Elizabeth Stintzi)

John Elizabeth Stintzi is a novelist, poet, teacher and visual artist. They won the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for emerging writers for their work Selections From Junebat. The complete poetry collection, Junebat​​​​, was published in spring 2020. Stintzi is also the author of the novel Vanishing Monuments.

In Vanishing MonumentsAlani Baum has not seen their mother since they were 17 years old — almost 30 years ago. The non-binary photographer ran away from home with their girlfriend. When their mother's dementia worsens Alani is forced to run back to her. In the face of a debilitating illness, Alani has to contend with painful memories from the past.

Souvankham Thammavongsa

Souvankham Thammavongsa is the author of the short story collection How to Pronounce Knife. (Sarah Bodri)

Souvankham Thammavongsa is an Ontario writer and poet. Her stories have won an O. Henry Award and appeared in Harper's, Granta, The Paris Review and Noon. She has published four books of poetry, including 2019's Cluster. She published her first work of fiction, the short story collection How to Pronounce Knife, in spring 2020.

How to Pronounce Knife is a collection of idiosyncratic and diverse stories. From a young man painting nails in a salon to a housewife learning English from soap operas, How to Pronounce Knife explores the tragedy and humour in the daily lives of immigrants. 

Jesse Thistle

Jesse Thistle is the author of From the Ashes. (CBC)

Jesse Thistle is a Métis-Cree academic specializing in Indigenous homelessness, addiction and inter-generational trauma. For Thistle, these issues are more than just subjects on the page. After a difficult childhood, Thistle spent much of his early adulthood struggling with addiction while living on the streets of Toronto. Told in short chapters interspersed with poetry, his memoir From the Ashes details how his issues with abandonment and addiction led to homelessness, incarceration and his eventual redemption through higher education. 

From the Ashes is his first book. From the Ashes was defended by George Canyon on Canada Reads 2020. It won the 2020 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize for nonfiction.

Jenny Heijun Wills

Jenny Heijun Wills is an academic and author. (McClelland & Stewart)

Jenny Heijun Wills is an academic and author who currently teaches at the University of Winnipeg. She was born in Korea and adopted as an infant by a white family in southern Ontario. In her late 20s, Wills traveled to Seoul to look for her first family. She chronicles this emotional, rocky reunion in her memoir Older Sister. Not Necessarily Related.

Older Sister. Not Necessarily Related. shares this journey in a series of vignettes and letters. It also explores the impact of being raised by a family of a different ethnicity and culture. It won the $60,000 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction.

Evan Winter

Evan Winter is a fantasy author based in Markham, Ont. (Vivian Hui)

Evan Winter is a writer currently living in Markham, Ont. He was born in England to South American parents. The fantasy novel The Rage of Dragons is his first book. The Rage of Dragons was originally self-published before it was acquired by Orbit Books. It is the first book in a planned series. The second novel, The Fires of Vengeance, is set to be published in fall 2020.

InThe Rage of Dragons, a world is caught in an eternal war and protagonist Tau is his people's only hope for survival. Described as a mix of Game of Thrones and GladiatorThe Rage of Dragons follows Tau as he attempts to get revenge and become the greatest swordsman to ever live. 


  • This article originally stated that Megan Gail Coles is from St. John's. She is from Savage Cove on the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland.
    Jul 31, 2020 10:33 AM ET

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