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Sheila Heti and Eli Baxter Among 2022 Governor General’s Literary Award Winners

Toronto writer Sheila Heti took home the fiction award for 'Pure Colour,' a novel the GG peer assessment committee called "a work of genius." / BY Mike Crisolago / November 16th, 2022


The 2022 Governor General’s Literary Awards, which celebrate the best in Canadian literature across seven categories — Fiction, Poetry, Drama, Non-Fiction, Young People’s Literature – Text, Young People’s Literature – Illustrated Books and Translation — were announced Wednesday morning. 

Toronto writer Sheila Heti took the fiction award for her novel Pure Colour, which imagines a woman living life in the first draft of creation, as the creator prepares to toss it out and try again. Heti was previously shortlisted for the Giller Prize for her 2018 novel Motherhood. 

The GG peer assessment read, “Pure Colour is a work of genius, juxtaposing the profound and the everyday to tell the story of Mira struggling with the death of her beloved father. In familiar yet philosophical language, Heti presents art-making, love, and solitude in a stunningly original work. Renewing our sense of the world-changing power of art, the writing is gorgeous, poetic, funny, and ‘more than here.’” 

Sheila Heti

Halifax writer Annick MacAskill won the poetry prize for her collection Shadow Blight, which, as the GG’s noted, “considers the pain and isolation of pregnancy loss through the lens of classical myth.”    

The GG peer assessment added, “MacAskill brings the mythological Niobe back from the contempt of history to play the role of emissary. It is a book about how mothers become what they love, as well as a survival story: how not to turn to stone. The stolen child haunts the lines, a deep defiance burdened by hope. This rare achievement combines formal poetic mastery with honesty and vulnerability.”

The Piano Teacher: A Healing Key by Vancouver-based writer Dorothy Dittrich won the drama award for exploring themes of loss, hope and relationships and “the healing power of music.”  

The GG peer assessment called the work, “Moving and compelling. With this gorgeously written play, Dittrich has accomplished the remarkable. She brilliantly delves into a multi-layered exploration of love, loss, isolation and friendship, reaching beyond words to reveal the healing and redemptive power of music. She holds our hand on an unexpected journey through grief towards hope.”

Eli Baxter

The award for non-fiction went to Anishinaabay elder, author and residential school survivor Eli Baxter for his book Aki-wayn-zih: A Person as Worthy as the Earth, which explores Anishinaabay history and culture throughout the millenniums, while also reflecting on his own lived experience. 

The GG peer assessment read, “Eli Baxter’s indelible memoir, Aki-wayn-zih, takes readers deep into Anishinaabay culture, language and history to reveal a rich and complex world, while showing how the link between language and land is crucial for survival and growth. At a time when he worries that the fires of Indigenous languages are going out, his simple and beautiful book, written across languages, cultures, and generations, radiates a radical kind of hope.”

Literary Awards
Photo: Courtesy of Eli Baxter

The Young People’s Literature — Text award was given to Jen Ferguson for her novel The Summer of Bitter and Sweet, described by the GG awards as a “complex and emotionally resonant novel about a Métis girl living on the Canadian prairies.”

The peer assessment agreed, calling the book, “A timely novel that flows from the author’s Métis and Canadian roots, The Summer of Bitter and Sweet features vibrant prose, real family conflict and a raw and evocative commentary on the struggles of being different in a small-town, prairie setting. Touching on subjects that speak to today’s challenges for 2SLGBTQI+ youth, the complex story delivers an emotional impact. The recipe notes about ice cream add a scoop of sweetness to level out Lou’s sometimes bitter realities.”

The Sour Cherry Tree by Naseem Hrab and Nahid Kazemi won the award for Young People’s Literature – Illustrated Books. The book follows a young girl wandering through the house of her grandfather, who recently died, and learning about him through the various objects she finds.

The peer assessment called it, “A moving reflection of love and loss through the eyes of a child, The Sour Cherry Tree is a tender story about family and culture that is portrayed with subtlety and thoughtfulness. Memories of childhood and bereavement feel tangible and are softened by Kazemi’s gentle artistry. Hrab and Kazemi’s work evokes the depth of love we share through little gestures. This beautifully crafted book will linger long after you have finished reading.”

Pierre Anctil

And History of the Jews in Quebec translated by Judith Weisz Woodsworth, a translation of Histoire des Juifs au Québec by Pierre Anctil, won the award for Translation. 

The peer assessment read, “Judith Weisz Woodsworth’s flawless translation renders Pierre Anctil’s formidable socio-historical work accessible to an English-speaking audience. It replicates the engaging style of the original with enthusiasm and rigour. Weisz Woodsworth fully captures the scholarly but compelling prose of this essential overview. Her translation of the extensive documentation is equally masterful.”

Founded in 1936, the Governor General’s Literary Awards are one of the nation’s oldest literary awards, offering $25,000 to each of the seven winners. 

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