Corner Brook author Shelly Kawaja wins $12K Winterset Award for debut novel
Award recognizes the best book by a writer from Newfoundland and Labrador
Corner Brook author Shelly Kawaja won the BMO Winterset Award, which celebrates literature from Newfoundland and Labrador, for her debut novel, The Raw Light of Morning.
The Winterset Award is the province's most lucrative literary prize, with the winner receiving $12,500.
"I didn't expect to win, so I was pretty speechless," said Kawaja during Thursday afternoon's award ceremony at Government House. "I was a bit stunned by it."
Kawaja was one of three finalists for the prize, alongside authors Lisa Moore for her novel This is How We Love and Meghan Greeley for her play Hunger. The two other finalists receive $3,000 each.
"I was happy to just be longlisted, so I was shocked when I was shortlisted," said Greeley, a playwright, author and performer who's also from Corner Brook. "I'm a little starstruck by the short list, so it's an honour to stand beside both of them."
The award, which honours St. John's social historian and author Sandra Fraser Gwyn, annually recognizes the best book in any genre by a writer from the province.
Forty entries were considered for the prize, which were judged by a jury made up of Newfoundland author Douglas Walbourne-Gough, 2021 Winterset award winner Carmella Gray, and former Toronto Star managing editor Mary-Deanne Shears.
"I think there's something powerful in the storytelling that comes from this place," said Moore, a St. John's author whose books have won awards like CBC's Canada Reads.
She said the Winterset Award "creates community and it brings people together to celebrate literature."
Money goes a long way
Kawaja says writing is a solitary activity, and one that's not always financially lucrative. Winning an award that not only celebrates the province's literary scene but also provides authors with money to help them continue to create, she said, is an indescribable feeling.
"It's just motivating. It makes you want to keep going, it makes you want to keep writing and write more," said Kawaja.
"It stands for something. It just says what you're doing is important and your vision matters and your voice matters and people are listening. And I think attaching money to that just cements it."
The author also says she never would have imagined she'd win such a prestigious award for her very first novel. The Raw Light of Morning, which is about a young girl grappling with a violent past, took her about five years to write, she said.
Although it was daunting at times, said Kawaja, writing her first book was a phenomenal journey, one that allowed her to meet other authors and mentors who would guide and help her on her path to success.
"I think we have a very solid literary community in Newfoundland," said Kawaja.
"It's one that's growing and it's one that's supported and respected, and I think the writers here are respectful of each other, which is a really beautiful thing."