The shortlist for the 2013 Governor General’s Literary Awards, announced Wednesday, features books written by York University alumni and faculty in both the fiction and non-fiction categories.
In the non-fiction category, York English Professor Priscila Uppal’s Projection: Encounters with My Runaway Mother is vying for the $25,000 prize. This is the second major award her memoir is in the running for. It was shortlisted for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction last month (see the Sept. 18 YFile story).
Among five the English finalists for fiction are alumnus Shyam Selvadurai (BFA Spec. Hons. ’89), who has also taught in York’s Creative Writing Program, for his book The Hungry Ghosts (Doubleday Canada) and alumnus Joseph Boyden (BA Hons. ’91) for The Orenda (Hamish Hamilton Canada). Boyden’s book was also shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize last week (see the Sept. 26 YFile story).
Austin Clarke, a recipient of an honorary literature degree from York in 2010, made the shortlist for poetry for his book, Where the Sun Shines Best (Guernica Editions).
In The Hungry Ghosts, Shivan Rassiah, who is of mixed Tamil and Sinhalese lineage, and is also – to his grandmother’s dismay – a striking gay man, is now living in Canada. Rassiah is preparing to travel back to Sri Lanka to bring his ailing grandmother to Toronto to live out her final days. But first he must grapple with unrelenting ghosts of his own creation. Selvadurai is also the author of Funny Boy and Cinnamon Gardens.
In Boyden’s The Orenda, three souls dance with each other in this visceral portrait of life at a crossroads: Snow Falls, a spirited Iroquois girl with a special gift; Bird, an elder and one of the Huron Nation’s great warriors and statesmen; and Christophe, a charismatic Jesuit missionary who brings much more than his faith to the new world. Boyden’s previous books include Three Day Road and Through Black Spruce, which won the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2008.
In Where the Sun Shines Best, three Canadian soldiers awaiting deployment to the war in Afghanistan beat a homeless man to death on the steps of their armoury after a night of heavy drinking. The poet, whose downtown Toronto home overlooks the armoury and surrounding park, describes the crime, its perpetrators, the victim and a cast of homeless witnesses that includes the woman, a prostitute, who first alerts police. A trial and reflection follows. Clarke’s published work encompasses poetry and short story collections, memoirs and novels, including The Origin of Waves, which won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize; The Question, nominated for a Governor General’s Award; and The Polished Hoe, winner of the 2002 Giller Prize.
Uppal’s Projection details a reunion with her mother two decades after she drained the family bank accounts and left. Uppal’s father had become a quadriplegic five years earlier, after drinking contaminated water in Antigua. In 2002, Uppal happened on her mother’s website, which featured a childhood photograph of her and her brother. A few weeks later, she summoned the nerve to contact the woman who’d abandoned her. Uppal’s publications include nine collections of poetry, including the Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted Ontological Necessities, and the novels To Whom It May Concern and The Divine Economy of Salvation.
The finalists for the Governor General’s Literary Awards were chosen by peer assessment committees appointed by the Canada Council out of 979 titles in the English-language categories and 624 titles in the French-language categories.
The winners will be announced at 10am on Wednesday, Nov. 13, at the Betty Oliphant Theatre at Canada’s National Ballet School, 404 Jarvis Street in Toronto.