Professor wins prestigious prize for nonfiction

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Last week, York University Professor Christina Sharpe was awarded the 2023 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction for her book Ordinary Notes (Knopf Canada, Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Macmillan Publishers, Daunt Books, 2023). The prize, worth $75,000, is given annually for excellence in literary nonfiction, to a work that demonstrates a distinctive voice and a compelling command of language.

Christina Sharpe close-up portrait
Christina Sharpe

“I was thrilled that Ordinary Notes was recognized and received the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction,” said Sharpe. “It was an honour to be on the shortlist with the other authors and hopefully it means that the life of the work is extended and that the book will reach more people.”

It has been quite a year for Sharpe, Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Black Studies in the Humanities at York. A profile in the New York Times accompanied the launch of her book in April and dubbed her “the woman shaping a generation of Black thought.” Ordinary Notes has since received extensive praise – from the Guardian, The Yale Review, the Boston Globe, Bookforum and Publisher’s Weekly, to name a few – for its literary innovation and careful examination of questions about loss and the shapes of Black life that emerge in the wake. It was also a finalist for the 2023 National Book Award for Nonfiction.

In Sharpe’s winning book, a series of 248 notes are used to weave artifacts from the past – public ones alongside others that are personal – with present realities and possible futures, constructing an immersive portrait of everyday Black existence. The notes gather meaning as they’re read.

The Writers’ Trust Prize jury said, “With tenderness, bravery and razor-sharp poetic language, Christina Sharpe invites the reader to witness the ordinary joys and sorrows of Black lives and how they are transformed within the everyday reality of systems of racial supremacy. In doing so, she creates a new narrative space at once intimate, deeply informed and uncompromising.”

When asked about the book’s unique format, Sharpe shared that this was a carefully considered choice. “I wanted to write a book in which form does something,” she explained. “There are four books in particular that greatly informed the form and approach of my book: Adrienne Kennedy’s People Who Led to My Plays, Dionne Brand’s A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging and The Blue Clerk, and John Keene’s Annotations.”

The result is a book that the jury said, “calls upon the reader to witness and wrestle with the notes and stories that Sharpe, a scholar and poet, so generously shares with us.”

In addition to Ordinary Notes, Sharpe has authored two other books of nonfiction, Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post-Slavery Subjects and In the Wake: On Blackness and Being, the second of which was named by the Guardian and The Walrus as one of the best books of 2016 and nominated for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award.

Since 2011, the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction has been sponsored by businesswoman and writer Hilary M. Weston, the 26th lieutenant Governor of Ontario. This year, it is funded by the Hilary and Galen Weston Foundation, and the prize purse has increased from $60,000 to $75,000.

For more information about the awards, visit Awards | Writers’ Trust of Canada (