Amazon Canada First Novel Award 2019
Celebrating debut Canadian novelists since 1976
Casey Plett wins $60,000 Amazon Canada First Novel Award for her book Little Fish
“Whereas last year’s crop seemed more focused on Canada’s place in the world, with an emphasis on international conflict, this year’s most evocative writers have trained their gaze inward,” says 2019 judge Dimitri Nasrallah, “exploring the nuances of identity, history, and class that have systemically defined and divided Canadians.”
From 2019 judge Diane Schoemperlen: “With so many great books to choose from, I have come away from the judging process feeling more confident than ever before that the future of the Canadian novel will continue to be vibrant, passionate, and always illuminating.”
“Our most difficult job was to shortlist just six books out of dozens of contenders,” says Doretta Lau, also a 2019 judge. “These books show us the power that story has to bring our communities together and how literature enriches our hearts, minds, and spirits.”
Congratulations to our 2019 Youth Author Award winner, fifteen-year-old Jenniffer Meng, who won $5000 and a mentorship lunch with editors of The Walrus for her winning short story, “Where Do All the Birds Go??”.
“I feel lucky to have had the chance to read this range of stories by young writers,” says Alix Hawley, 2019’s Youth Short Story Category judge, “many of them were extremely good, some outstanding, and all had the writer's heart in them. The breadth of subjects, genres, and voices gave a beautiful variety of reading experiences, from dystopian fantasy to comic adventure to astute psychological observation, set in this world or others. It was an honour to be allowed to share in them.”
Jenniffer Meng is a high school student from Ontario. She likes drinking orange juice, watching Studio Ghibli movies, and painting in her free time.
The Amazon Canada First Novel Award recognizes the outstanding achievement of a Canadian first-time novelist. Since 1976, the First Novel Award has launched the careers of some of Canada’s most beloved novelists, including Michael Ondaatje, Joan Barfoot, Joy Kogawa, W. P. Kinsella, Nino Ricci, Rohinton Mistry, Anne Michaels, André Alexis, Michael Redhill, Mary Lawson, Colin McAdam, Joan Thomas, and David Bezmozgis.
Liz Harmer, The Amateurs
In a time and place only slightly removed from now, PINA, the world’s largest tech company, has introduced society to a new product: Port. This irresistible device lets users travel through space and time and is mysteriously powered by nostalgia and longing. Step inside a Port, and find yourself transported any place your heart desires, real or imagined. Earth’s population plummets when many who pass through the Port don’t come back—either because they’re unwilling or unable to return.
In The Amateurs, Liz Harmer has crafted a subtle, many-faceted debut novel about rapture and romance—and the strange, dark, powerful alchemy that happens when technology meets desire.
Tyler Hellard, Searching for Terry Punchout
*Casey Plett, Little Fish
her life is frozen in place. When her Oma (grandmother) passes away Wendy receives an unexpected call from a distant family friend who tells her a startling secret: Wendy's Opa (grandfather) —a devout Mennonite farmer—might have been transgender himself. At first, she dismisses this revelation, but as Wendy’s life grows increasingly volatile, she finds herself aching for the lost pieces of her Opa’s truth. Can Wendy unravel the mystery of her grandfather’s world and reckon with the culture that both shaped and rejected her? She’s determined to try. Alternately warm hearted and dark spirited, desperate and mirthful, Little Fish explores the winter of discontent in the life of one transgender woman as her past and future become irrevocably entwined.
Tanya Tagaq, Split Tooth
Veering back and forth between the grittiest features of a small Arctic town, the electrifying proximity of the world of animals and ravishing world of myth, Tanya Tagaq explores a world where the distinctions between good and evil, animal and human, victim and transgressor, real and imagined lose their meaning—but the guiding power of love remains.
experimental recording artist who won the 2014 Polaris Music Prize for her album Animism, a work that disrupted the music world in Canada and beyond with its powerfully original vision. While the Polaris Prize signaled an awakening to Tanya Tagaq’s art and messages, she has been touring and collaborating with an elite international circle of artists for over a decade. Tagaq’s improvisational approach lends itself to collaboration across genres, and recent projects have pulled her in vastly different directions, from contributing guest vocals to a F**ked Up song (a hardcore punk band from Toronto) to premiering a composition made for Kronos Quartet’s Fifty for the Future collection and composing a piece for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Tanya’s most recent album, Retribution, was released in fall 2016.
Joshua Whitehead, Jonny Appleseed
Ian Williams, Reproduction
Some years later, Felicia and Army are living in the basement of a home owned by Oliver, a divorced man of Portuguese descent who has two kids—the teenage Heather and the odd little Hendrix. They form an unconventional family. Then Army’s fascination with his absent father—and his absent father’s money—begins to grow, as odd gifts from Edgar begin to show up. A brutal assault, a mortal disease, a death and a birth reshuffle this group of people again to form another version of the family.
Canadian writers to watch by the CBC. Williams completed his PhD in English at the University of Toronto, mentored by George Elliott Clarke, and is currently an assistant professor of poetry in the creative-writing program at the University of British Columbia. He was the 2014–2015 Canadian writer-in-residence for the University of Calgary’s Distinguished Writers Program. He has held fellowships or residencies at the Banff Centre, the Vermont Studio Center, Cave Canem, the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts and Palazzo Rinaldi in Italy. His writing has appeared in several North American journals and anthologies.
Youth Short Story Category
We asked the finalists for the 2019 Youth Short Story category how they find their voice amid the cacophony of the information age.
Sebrina Bank Jorgensen is a grade-11 student who has been writing stories since grade one and imagining alternate worlds for even longer. Since moving from Denmark to Canada in 2012, she has had poetry published in two young writers’ collections, earned one gold and two silver awards in the Commonwealth Writing Competition and made a longlist, of 800, in a literary competition that had over 150,000 submissions. When not hunched over a computer, writing, she dwells in her basement, painting.
Zanna Fong is a self-proclaimed observer and has spent her last 17 years of life watching how the world works on the busy streets of Toronto. As a full-time student, part-time writer and a dreamer around the clock, she aspires to become a writing doctor and to own a library. Apart from her room and libraries, she can most often be found composing songs on her piano or looking up strange and beautiful words (her favourite is currently sonder).
Jenniffer Meng is a high-school student from Ontario. She likes drinking orange juice, watching Studio Ghibli movies and painting in her free time.
2019 JUDGING PANEL
Adult Novel Category
Doretta Lau is the author of the short-story collection How Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank the Sun? (Nightwood Editions, 2014). The book was shortlisted for the City of Vancouver Book Award, longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, and was named by The Atlantic as one of the best books of 2014. In 2013, she was a finalist for the Writers’ Trust of Canada/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize. She has written on arts and culture for Artforum International, South China Morning Post, the Wall Street Journal Asia, ArtReview, LEAP, and The Walrus. She completed an MFA in writing at Columbia University. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Day One, Event, Grain Magazine, Prairie Fire, Prism International, Ricepaper, Room Magazine, sub-terrain, and Zen Monster. She splits her time between Vancouver and Hong Kong, where she is at work on a comedic novel about a dysfunctional workplace, called We Are Underlings.
Dimitri Nasrallah is the author of three novels, most recently The Bleeds (2018). He was born in Lebanon in 1977, during the civil war, and lived in Kuwait, Greece, and Dubai before moving to Canada in 1988. His first novel, Blackbodying (2005), won the Quebec’s McAuslan First Book Prize and was a finalist for the Grand Prix du Livre de Montréal. His second novel, Niko (2011), won the Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction, was nominated for the CBC’s Canada Reads and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and went on to become a critical and commercial success in French. A film adaptation is currently in preproduction. He lives in Montreal, where he is fiction editor for the Esplanade Books imprint at Véhicule Press. He is currently translating Éric Plamondon’s 1984 trilogy from French to English.
Diane Schoemperlen is the author of fourteen books, including This Is Not My Life: A Memoir of Love, Prison, and Other Complications which was shortlisted for the 2017 RBC Taylor Prize. Her collection Forms of Devotion: Stories and Pictures won the 1998 Governor General’s Award for English Fiction. Her most recent book, First Things First: Early and Uncollected Stories, was published in 2017. She has received two awards from the Writers’ Trust of Canada: the 2007 Marian Engel Award and the 2017 Matt Cohen Award. In 2018, she was awarded the Molson Prize in Arts by the Canada Council for the Arts “in recognition of exceptional achievement and outstanding contribution to the cultural and intellectual heritage of Canada.” Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Diane has lived in Kingston, Ontario, for over thirty years.
Youth Short Story Category
Alix Hawley studied English literature and creative writing at Oxford University, the University of East Anglia, and the University of British Columbia. Her story collection, The Old Familiar (Thistledown Press), was longlisted for the ReLit award. Several pieces have won accolades from the CBC: “Witching” won the 2017 Literary Awards Short Story Prize, while “Tentcity” and “Jumbo” were runners-up in 2012 and 2014, and “Pig (for Oma)” won the 2014 Bloodlines memoir contest. Her first novel, All True Not a Lie in It, was published by Knopf as its New Face of Fiction pick for 2015, was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and won the Amazon.ca First Novel Award and BC Book Prize for Fiction. My Name is a Knife, her second novel and one of Esi Edugyan’s picks for the year, was published in 2018. Alix lives in British Columbia.
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