Writers' Trust of Canada launches Rising Star program for emerging writers

El Jones, Chelene Knight, Melissa J. Gismondi, Dana Mills and Deborah Ostrovsky are the first recipients of the new annual program, which will provide $5,000, a mentorship and a writing residency to recipients.

Five writers will receive $5,000, a writing residency and will be mentored by an established Canadian author

(From left): Melissa J. Gismondi, El Jones, Chelene Knight, Dana Mills and Deborah Ostrovsky have been chosen as Writers' Trust Rising Stars. (Writers' Trust of Canada)

El Jones, Chelene Knight, Melissa J. Gismondi, Dana Mills and Deborah Ostrovsky are the first recipients of the Writers' Trust of Canada's new Rising Stars program, which presents five emerging writers with $5,000 to support their careers. 

The five emerging writers are each selected by five influential Canadian writers, who will also serve as a mentor for the person they have selected.

The recipients will also have an opportunity to attend a two-week writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. The Banff Centre is a partner of the CBC Literary Prizes.

Jones was chosen by musician, academic and fiction writer Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, author of the short story collection This Accident of Being Lost and the nonfiction book As We Have Always Done

Jones is an acclaimed spoken word poet from Halifax and published her first book, Live from the Afrikan Resistance!, in 2014. 

"El Jones is a gifted orator with a gorgeous and moving command of the essentially Afrikan art form of spoken word, using it as a moving tool to affirm, critique and burst open liberatory sound and space," said Betasamosake Simpson in a press release.

Knight was selected by novelist and essayist David Chariandy, the author of Soucouyantthe Canada Reads 2019 finalist Brother and an extended letter to his daughter, I've Been Meaning to Tell You.

The Vancouver-based Knight is the author of two books, the poetry collection Braided Skin and memoir Dear Current Occupant.

"Chelene Knight writes with all of the high artistry that comes from caring," said Chariandy in a press release.

"She cares about overlooked places and vanished communities. She cares about the souls and laughter of the vulnerable. She cares about the nuances of narrative voice, the tangled work of cultural memory, and the limning of everyday powerful intimacies."

Gismondi was chosen by Charlotte Gray, the author of nearly a dozen bestselling nonfiction books on Canadian history, most recently The Promise of Canada.

Gismondi is a journalist who splits her time between Toronto and Virginia. She has worked on the CBC Radio shows Tapestry and Ideas, as well as the American public radio podcast BackStoryand has been published in the Washington Post, Salon and Toronto Star.

"Passionate and rigorous, Melissa J. Gismondi is a compelling interpreter of contemporary issues," said Gray in a press release.

"A sharp intelligence gleams through her carefully constructed stories, as she deftly weaves facts and observations into persuasive arguments and expresses them with literary elegance."

Mills from Annapolis Valley, N.S., was chosen by fiction writer and Canadian senator David Adams Richards, winner of the Giller Prize for the novel Mercy Among the Children.

Mills published his first collection of stories, Someone Somewhere, in 2013.

"Dana Mills is a truly exceptional writer, and his short stories, brilliant and moving, affirm this in startling and profound ways. Each story shows a grasp of his art and his understanding of humanity," said Adams Richards in a press release.

Ostrovsky was chosen by nonfiction writer Taras Grescoe, the award-winning author of the book Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood.

Ostrovsky is a Montreal-based editor and translator whose work has been published in McSweeny's, Maisonneuve and Geist magazines.

"Ostrovsky has a wicked sense of humour, a punchy style, and an eye for detail that sets her journalism and essay writing apart from the pack," said Grescoe in a press release.


  • An earlier version of this story stated that Melissa Gismondi had worked on the CBC Radio podcast Back Story. In fact, Gismondi worked on a podcast called BackStory for an American public radio show.
    Apr 25, 2019 11:52 AM ET


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