Books by five York authors shortlisted for GG awards

Five books by authors with York connections have been shortlisted for the 2007 Governor General’s Literary Awards.

Two are finalists in the non-fiction category – I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land: A Lost Tale of the Underground Railroad by Karolyn Smardz Frost, contract faculty member in Atkinson’s School of Arts & Letters; and Silence of the Songbirds: How We Are Losing the World’s Songbirds and What We Can Do to Save Them by biologist Bridget Stutchbury.

Three are vying for the fiction prize: Soucoyant by David Chariandy (PhD ’02); Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje, a Glendon English professor; The Assassin’s Song, by 2005 honorary-degree recipient M.G. Vassanji. 

The Canada Council for the Arts announced the names of the finalists Oct. 16 and will name the winners Nov. 27. The awards have increased to $25,000 each this year from $15,000 to mark the Canada Council’s 50th anniversary.

In I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land, Smardz Frost weaves prodigious archaeological and historical research into a rich, historically revealing tapestry of the era of the Underground Railroad, says the Canada Council blurb. The saga of Thornton Blackburn and his wife, from slavery in Kentucky to freedom in Ontario, is social history at its finest.

Stutchbury’s book is a beautifully written, learned and passionate cri de coeur about the fate of nature’s enchanting songsters, says the Canada Council. But it offers hope: the author prescribes ways to save our feathered neighbours from oblivion. (To read an excerpt, visit the Oct. 2007 issue of YorkU magazine.)

Historians and writers Michael Bliss, Afua Cooper and Maggie Siggins make up the jury in the English-language non-fiction category. Stutchbury’s book has some fierce competition from a

biography of Pierre Trudeau, a history of gun culture and stories of AIDS in Africa.

In the fiction category, David Chariandy’s Soucouyant tells of enormous loss and beautiful memory, says the Canada Council. A son rediscovers the heritage he has rejected, as his aging mother’s mind disintegrates. The re-creation of the mother’s Caribbean past within the circle of her son’s growing love enfolds the reader in a magnificent story.

Ondaatje’s and Vassanji’s novels are not only shortlisted for the GG’s English language fiction prize, they are finalists for this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize, to be announced Nov. 6. (See YFile Oct. 12)

The Canada Council says this about Ondaatje’s latest novel: "The seductive, luminous characters populating Divisadero are pulled from the bleakness of their lives by Ondaatje’s astonishing lyricism and whimsical yet meticulous detail. His bold evocation of violence and obsession, regret and tenderness traces the heart with compassion and grace."

Here is what the Canada Council says of The Assassin’s Song: "M.G. Vassanji is accustomed to taking us down crowded, culturally congested city streets strewn with the richness of people and flowers, people and animals, people and colour. And when we have the power of his narrative, natural as the landscape he describes, we are bestowed with wonder and love and passion."

Novelists Austin Clarke, Eden Robinson and Rudy Wiebe make up the jury in the fiction category. The other contenders Barbara Gowdy’s Helpless and Heather O’Neill’s Lullabies for Little Criminals

A total of 1,417 books were nominated for this year’s GG literary awards. The Canada Council for the Arts funds, administers and promotes the Governor General’s Literary Awards. Each winner will also receive a specially crafted copy of the winning book. The publisher of each winning book will receive $3,000 to support promotional activities. Non-winning finalists will each receive $1,000 in recognition of their selection as finalists, bringing the total value of the awards to approximately $450,000.

BMO Financial Group has been the sponsor of the Governor General’s Literary Awards since 1988.

For more information about the 2007 GGs, visit the Canada Council Web site.