3 northern Ontario writers in the running for Governor General's Awards

Rebecca Salazar spent her day in disbelief when she found out she was nominated for a Governor General’s Literary Award.

Rebecca Salazar is one 3 northern Ontario writers nominated for a Governor General's Literary Award

Rebecca Salazar is nominated for the 2021 Governor General's Literary Awards in the English Poetry category. (Supplied by Rebecca Salazar)

Rebecca Salazar spent her day in disbelief when she found out she was nominated for a Governor General's Literary Award.

Her book of poetry, called sulphurtongue, was nominated in the English Poetry category.

"I look up to so many of the poets that are on the list with me that I kind of feel like I'm staring up to very tall people, while I am very small," said Salazar, who grew up in Sudbury but now lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

She said she has been overwhelmed by the support she has received since she got the news she was nominated for the prestigious prize.

Sudbury connections

While she no longer lives in northern Ontario, Salazar said her life in Sudbury has left a permanent impression on her identity and her work.

Her book's title alludes to the taste and smell she remembers from her childhood, when it was not uncommon for sulphur dioxide to coat the city's air.

"Even growing up, I just remember that smell," she said. 

"Any time you turned on the taps, the water had a bit of a sulphur smell. And there are nights where it still comes down. As much as there's been work to make it much safer than it was in the 80s and 70s, the traces of it are still there."

Her poems deal with themes of gender, queerness, race, religion, illness, and trauma. The latter half, she said, alludes to her hometown. 

"So a lot of those poems, especially in the last section of the book, are kind of trying to figure out how you can love a place that's been damaged, and that's damaging you back," Salazar said.

Finding identity 

When asked what she hopes readers will gain from her poetry, Salazar said she writes for a younger version of herself, who was trying to navigate her own identity.

"I felt like I had to pick and choose, and cut pieces of myself out among different company, because otherwise I would be too much," she said. 

"I kind of feel like this book, in a lot of ways, was trying to connect with those young people now, who are trying to find that language for who they are, are trying to find language for how they relate to others, and are trying to find some kind of kinship for whatever they are going through."

Northern Ontario nominees

Salazar is one of three writers from northern Ontario nominated for the Governor General's Literary Awards this year.

Sudbury's Chloé LaDuchesse is a finalist in the French Language category in poetry for her collection Exosquelette. And Liselle Sambury, from Timmins, is a finalist in the Young People's Literature category for her book Blood Like Magic.

Both said they were pleasantly surprised by their nominations.

"I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed to be honest," LaDuchesse said . It was quite the surprise this morning to discover the missed calls and emails and congratulations messages."

Her book of poetry explores issues of identity and themes of women's liberty.

"It's a book that is a little bit like a self-portrait, interrogating myself on where I belong, who are my communities and how I can give back to them."

Sambury is originally from Toronto, but moved to Timmins recently. 

Blood Like Magic is about a family of Black witches that live in a near-future Toronto. She said it was important for her to write a book that represented people of colour in a fantasy setting. 

"When I put this book out, I really just wanted a fun book that added to urban fantasy canon, but also brought in some of the representation that I really wish was around when I was a teen," she said.

Each winner of the Governor General's Literary Award receives a medallion and a cash prize of $25,000.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?