Patrick deWitt wins Writers' Trust fiction award

Patrick deWitt's comic western The Sisters Brothers has won the $25,000 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize.
Patrick deWitt has won the Writers Trust Award for fiction for The Sisters Brothers. (House of Anansi/Canadian Press)
Patrick deWitt's comic western The Sisters Brothers has won the $25,000 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize.

The win Tuesday night marks the first triumph on the literary awards circuit for deWitt, who was born on Vancouver Island and now lives in Portland, Ore.

His second novel pays homage to the classic western, but is an inventive romp that follows two hired assassins, the Sisters brothers, against the backdrop of the California gold rush.

Like Victoria writer Esi Edugyan’s Half-Blood Blues, The Sisters Brothers was nominated for four awards this fall – the Man Booker Prize, the Writers' Trust Award, the Giller Prize and the Governor General's Literary Award. The Canadians lost out on the Booker last month to British writer Julian Barnes.

The Writers' Trust Awards were presented in Toronto Tuesday evening at a ceremony hosted by CBC's Shelagh Rogers.

"I do want to thank the Writers Trust and the sponsors for fostering Canadian creativity in all its stages," DeWitt said in his acceptance speech. "I'm honoured to have been shortlisted with such a talented and charming group of fiction writers."

The other finalists for the fiction prize, each of whom win $2,500:

  • Clark Blaise, The Meagre Tarmac (Biblioasis).
  • Michael Christie, The Beggar’s Garden (HarperCollins Publishers).
  • Dan Vyleta, The Quiet Twin (HarperCollins Publishers).

DeWitt says he lives very quietly with his wife and son and the prize money means he can keep writing and produce his next book. The whirl of publicity around his many nominations is a bonus, because it means selling more books, he told CBC News.

"You know it's really hard to get your books into their homes. So something like this helps in such a black and white way. It's so immediate. You see it so clearly," he said. "And that's the whole point. You want to share your stories with strangers so something like this helps so much it's just, it's wonderful."

DeWitt said he's already optioned The Sisters Brothers for a film, but he cannot release details of the project.

The Writers' Trust of Canada/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize for a Canadian short story went to Miranda Hill of Hamilton, Ont. She won for Petitions to Saint Chronic, a short story about strangers keeping vigil in a hospital waiting room for a man who has miraculously survived a fall from a high-rise.

The awards gala also recognized Newfoundland-born novelist Wayne Johnston, Fredericton novelist David Adams Richards and Gulf Islands novelist Iain Lawrence for their contributions to Canadian literature. 

Their awards:

  • Wayne Johnston, the $25,000 Writers' Trust Engel/Findley Award for a writer in mid-career.
  • David Adams Richards, the $20,000 Matt Cohen Award: In Celebration of a Writing Life for a lifetime of distinguished work by a Canadian writer.
  • Iain Lawrence, the $20,000 Vicky Metcalf Award for a body of work in children's literature.

An additional award for dedication to the writing community was presented to Alma Lee, founding artistic director of the Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival and founding executive director of the Writers' Trust.