Two alumni nominated for Governor General’s Literary Awards

When the Canada Council for the Arts announced the names of the finalists for the 2005 Governor General’s Literary Awards, works by two York alumni were among the 69 books nominated. Joseph Boyden (BA ‘91) is a finalist in the fiction category and Anne Compton (MA ‘71) is nominated for poetry.

The winners of this year’s Governor General’s Literary Awards will be announced and presented at a news conference in Montreal on Nov. 16. Here are the York contenders:

Joseph Boyden (below), Three Day Road (Viking Canada, 2005)

 Joseph BoydenAccording to the jury citation, “Three Day Road is a troubling and gripping story of cultural clash and redemption set against the horrors of the First World War. It shows with great power how we can be influenced and betrayed by our myths.” Inspired in part by real-life World War I Ojibwa hero Francis Pegahmagabow (who appears briefly in the book), the novel relates the story of Xavier Bird’s return from the battlefields of northern France and Belgium in 1919 where he and his friend Elijah Whiskeyjack became expert snipers for the Canadian Army.

Three Day RoadBoyden studied creative writing at York and received a BA in humanities and creative writing before moving to Lousiana for graduate studies and a career as a teacher at the University of New Orleans. Boyden’s father was a decorated Second World War veteran and he describes himself as part Métis, specifically Ojibwa. In a profile of him published in The Globe and Mail last May, Boyden said he grew up in Toronto, and spent summers on reserves on Georgian Bay and later taught on reserves near James Bay. Although it is part of his heritage, Boyden is quick to make clear that his own experience is not much like the majority of native Canadians.

“Writing this book, I gained an understanding of the native sacrifice in the war, especially in Canada,” Boyden told the Times Picayune (New Orleans), which described him as the “the best Canadian novelist you’ve never heard of”. His book sparked a bidding war in Canada, then American publishers jumped on the bandwagon. Boyden recently wrote a moving series of stories for Maclean’s magazine about the impact of Hurricane Katrina on his adopted city and his own life. 

Boyden told the Globe he counts among his influences Canadian authors Robertson Davies and York’s Michael Ondaatje, and Americans Jim Harrison and Louise Erdrich, but reserves his highest praise for writer Bruce Powe, a professor in the English Department of York’s Faculty of Arts since 1989.

Anne Compton (right), Processional (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2005)

Anne ComptonCompton received her master’s degree from York in 1971 and taught with Canadian poet Eli Mandel in a Canadian Studies course at Atkinson from 1974 to 1976. She is currently a professor in the Department of Humanities and Languages at the University of New Brunswick, St. John.

The jury citation for Processional says the collection “is both a still-life and a tableau, with moments of perfect stillness and of passionate arrival. This book skilfully marries history to the present, and pulls the everyday into light.”

Processional is Compton’s second book of poems, the follow-up to her widely acclaimed, award-winning debut, Opening the Island (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2003), which won an Atlantic Poetry Prize in 2003 and was short-listed for the Margaret and John Savage First Book Award.

Her latest book, her publisher says, puts Compton “at the head of a poetic procession, a guide leading readers through a house affected by both daily life and the extraordinary – stopping only to take in the change of seasons and prepare the outside yard for it. With one breath, she tells of life and death, with the next, play and metaphysics, joy and heartbreak. She is a guide like no other, accomplished and versatile, leading by example and from a distance at the same time.”

The Globe and Mail called Procession ” a rigorously intelligent work” and other reviewers have noted her stature as both a Maritime and national writer whose reputation as an integral voice in Canadian literature has been sealed.

“She is scholarly and elegant,” wrote a reviewer for the Telegraph Journal (New Brunswick), “her spine straight as an English schoolteacher’s; she slouches in her chair and orders a beer with the gusto and relief of a working man. The poetry she writes hides layer upon layer of meaning; she is open and direct, asking as many questions as she, well, evades. She is sharp, she is ruthless; she is kind and always, always, hospitable. Compton’s language is like the poet herself, spare but beautiful, inviting you to take a closer look, to see what might lie behind the simple facade.”

Compton is a native of Prince Edward Island and has been teaching at UNB Saint John since 1988. A writer and literary critic, she is also the author of A.J.M. Smith: Canadian Metaphysical and The Edge of Home: Milton Acorn from the Island.

For more information on the awards, click here.