York alum earns Governor General’s Literary Award

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Award-winning author and York alum Kyo Maclear is the 2023 recipient of the Governor General’s Literary Award for non-fiction for her memoir Unearthing: A Story of Tangled Love and Family Secrets.

Kyo Maclear (image by David Wall)
Kyo Maclear (image by David Wall)

The book recounts the story of a family secret revealed by a DNA test, the lessons learned in its aftermath, and the indelible power of love, according to publisher Penguin Random House Canada.

Maclear is a scholar, essayist, novelist and children’s author. A few of her well-known and well-loved books are Bloom (2018), Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation (2017), The Liszts (2016), The Wish Tree (2016), Virginia Wolf (2012) and Spork (2010).

Maclear’s works boast a global reach, with translations in 18 languages and availability in over 25 countries, often accompanied by illustrations from notable artists like Isabelle Arsenault. These literary creations have garnered nominations across a spectrum of esteemed awards, including the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction and the Trillium Book Award, among others, showcasing her work’s diverse appeal and recognition.

The peer assessment committee of the Governor General’s Literary Awards commended Unearthing for its “recursive, often incantatory prose,” highlighting how it blurs the distinction between memoir and philosophy. It acknowledged Maclear’s use of this distinct prose to delve into the “porous grounds of self, culture and belonging.”

Established in 1936, the Governor General’s Literary Awards aim to honour Canada’s finest literary works, acknowledging outstanding contributions in seven categories across both official languages. These prestigious awards are overseen by the Canada Council for the Arts.

Maclear holds a doctorate in education (language, culture and teaching) from York University. An editor-at-large with Tundra Books/Penguin Random House Canada, she has taught creative writing with the Humber School for Writers and the Banff Centre for the Arts, and is currently an instructor with the University of Guelph’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program.

In 2018, she won the prestigious Trillium Book Award in the English-language prose category for her non-fiction memoir Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation.

Winners of the Governor General’s Literary Award receive $25,000 each, as well as a $3,000 grant to their publisher to help promote the book. Recipients from 2020 to 2023 will be honoured at a gathering in Ottawa next spring.