Meet 13 Canadian writers who won Canada’s biggest literary awards this year

CBC Books48:31CBC Books Labour Day Special

From Canada Reads, to the Scotiabank Giller Prize — and everything in between — these are the authors that won some of Canada’s biggest literary prizes.

We’re taking a look back at some of the award-winning Canadian writing of the past year.

From Canada Reads, to the Scotiabank Giller Prize  — and everything in between — these are the authors that won some of Canada’s biggest literary prizes. 

Kate Beaton is the author of Canada Reads-winning graphic memoir Ducks. (Corey Katz, Drawn & Quarterly)

Ducks is an autobiographical graphic novel that recounts author Kate Beaton’s time spent working in the Alberta oil sands. With the goal of paying off her student loans, Kate leaves her tight-knit seaside Nova Scotia community and heads west, where she encounters harsh realities, including the everyday trauma that no one discusses.

Ducks won Canada Reads 2023, when it was championed by Jeopardy! star Mattea Roach. It also won Eisner awards for best writer/artist and best graphic memoir in 2023.

Kate Beaton is a cartoonist from Nova Scotia who launched her career by publishing the comic strip Hark! A Vagrant online. The sassy historical webcomic gained a following of 500,000 monthly visitors and was eventually turned into a bestselling book. Beaton’s success continued with the book Step Aside, Pops, which won the 2016 Eisner Award for best humour publication. Beaton has also published two children’s books, King Baby and The Princess and the Pony.

LISTEN | Kate Beaton and Mattea Roach discuss winning Canada Reads:

7:41Mattea Roach gets all their Ducks in a row at Canada Reads 2023

Canada Reads wrapped up yesterday, and Kate Beaton’s graphic memoir Ducks, championed by Mattea Roach, won it all. It’s a story about the climate crisis, but it’s also a moving portrait of the people she meets working in the Alberta oil sands. Both Kate Beaton and Mattea Roach join host Elamin Abdelmahmoud just a few hours after their win.

Close up portrait of a man with short hair wearing a plaid shirt
Will Richter is a writer living in Vancouver. (Submitted by Will Richter)

Just a Howl by Will Richter was the winner of the 2023 CBC Short Story Prize. He previously made the 2021 CBC Short Story Prize longlist for Proverbs of the Lesser and was also longlisted in 2019 for his story At a Distance.

Will Richter is a writer living in Vancouver. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in various literary magazines in Canada and the U.S., including Arts & Letters, The Fiddlehead, Fiction International, subTerrain, The Threepenny Review and Witness. He has also written and collaborated on several comic shorts for Düsseldorf, Germany-based Rogue Wave Comics.

LISTEN | Will Richter on winning the CBC Short Story Prize:

As It Happens8:09CBC Short Story Prize Winner says he drew inspiration from attack on Salman Rushdie

Author Will Richter talks to As It Happens host Nil Köksal about his story Just a Howl, which won the 2023 CBC Short Story Prize.

A portrait of a woman with dark brown hair looking over her shoulder into the camera.
Susan Cormier is a Métis writer who works in print, performance and film. She lives in Langley, B.C. (Bryant Ross)

Advice to a New Beekeeper by Susan Cormier was the winner of the 2022 CBC Nonfiction Prize. She wrote Advice to a New Beekeeper because she wanted people interested in beekeeping to be aware that honeybees require knowledgeable, dedicated and hands-on care. 

Susan Cormier is a Métis writer who works in print, performance and film. By day, she is a beekeeper and co-owner of C.R. Apiary in Langley, B.C. By night, she is the producer of Vancouver Story Slam.

LISTEN | Susan Cormier on winning the CBC Nonfiction Prize:  

Radio West12:41We meet Susan Cormier, the BC author who is the winner of the CBC Non-Fiction Prize

We meet Susan Cormier, the BC author who is the winner of the CBC Non-Fiction Prize

Close up portrait of a smiling woman with brown hair and wearing a plum coloured sweater with a blurry background
Bren Simmers is a writer from Prince Edward Island. (Mike Needham)

Spell World Backwards by Bren Simmers was the winner of the 2022 CBC Poetry Prize. The collection of poems is inspired by her mother’s experience with Alzheimer’s. 

Simmers is the author of four books, including the wilderness memoir Pivot Point and Hastings-Sunrise, which was a finalist for the Vancouver Book Award. Her most recent collection of poetry is If, When. She was previously longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2013 for I Blame MASH For My Addiction To MLS and in 2012 for Science Lessons.

LISTEN | Bren Simmers on winning the CBC Poetry Prize:  

On The Coast6:14The 2022 CBC Poetry Prize winner has been announced

Today the CBC Poetry Prize winner for 2022 was announced. Bren Simmers from P.E.I. won with her book “Spell World Backwards,” a collection of poems which tells the story of her mother’s experience with Alzheimer’s. She is the author of four books—-including the wilderness memoir Pivot Point and Hastings-Sunrise—-which was a finalist for the 2015 City of Vancouver Book Award. Bren joins us on the show for more.

Sheila Heti is the author of Pure Colour.
Sheila Heti is the author of Pure Colour. (Margaux Williamson, Knopf Random Vintage Canada)

Pure Colour by Sheila Heti was the winner of the 2022 Governor General’s Literary Award for fiction.

Pure Colour follows a woman named Mira, who leaves home for school and meets a person named Annie. Annie has this power over Mira and opens her chest like a portal. Many years later when Mira is older, her father dies and his spirit passes into her. Together, they become a leaf on a tree. But when photosynthesis gets boring, Mira must choose whether or not to return to Annie and the human world she has left behind. Pure Colour is a funny exploration of the wonderful and terrible aspects of being alive.

Sheila Heti is a Canadian playwright and author whose work has been translated in over a dozen languages. Her novel Motherhood was on the shortlist for the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize. She is also the author of the novels Ticknor and How Should a Person Be? and the self-help book The Chairs Are Where the People Go.

LISTEN | Sheila Heti discusses Pure Colour:

The Sunday Magazine16:43In Pure Colour, writer Sheila Heti uses humour to tackle the challenges of modern life

In her new novel Pure Colour, Canadian author Sheila Heti explores the idea that the world is an unfinished work of art, whose creator is getting ready to scrap and start over… because the first draft just didn’t cut it. David Common speaks with Heti about the book’s themes of grief, climate change and the human condition, along with the personal loss that shaped its narrative.

A smiling man looking straight at the camera and the book cover of fossilized rocks with the book title written in front of it
Aki-Wayn-Zih is a book by Eli Baxter. (Eli Baxter, McGill Queen’s University Press)

Residential school survivor Eli Baxter is among the last fluent speakers of Anishinaabaymowin, an Anishinaabay language. In Aki-Wayn-Zih, Baxter looks at the history of the Anishinaabayg and their relationship with the land since the beginning of their life on Turtle Island. He brings together thousands of years of history with his personal story, growing up on the land, trapping and fishing, and his experience being forced to attend residential school. Aki-Wayn-Zih is about the importance of spirituality, language, history and of sharing stories.

Aki-Wayn-Zih won the 2022 Governor General’s Literary Award for nonfiction.

Baxter is a residential school survivor and certified Ontario teacher. Aki-wayn-zih is his first book.

LISTEN | Eli Baxter discusses Aki-wayn-zih:

London Morning6:22Winner of the Governor General’s literary award for non-fiction

Author Eli Baxter tells London Morning about his book, Aki-wayn-zih which just won the Governor General’s literary award for non-fiction.

The pink book cover feature huge block letters across the cover. The block letters are a fragment of the book title and author's name.
Shadow Blight is a book by Annick MacAskill. (Nolan Natasha, Gaspereau Press)

Drawing on ancient mythology, Shadow Blight explores the grief and loneliness of pregnancy loss. Interweaving contemporary experience with mythological stories, Annick MacAskill gives new language to often unspeakable pain. 

Shadow Blight won the 2022 Governor General’s Literary Award for poetry.

MacAskill lives in Halifax, where she teaches French language and literature at Saint Mary’s University. Her poetry collections include Murmurations and No Meeting Without Body, which was nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and shortlisted for the J.M. Abraham Award. MacAskill was the Arc Poetry Magazine’s poet-in-residence for 2021–22.

LISTEN | Annick MacAskill discusses her poetry:

Information Morning – NS8:33Celebrating Halifax poet Annick MacAskill’s prize-winning book

The winner of this year’s Governor General Literary Award for poetry is Annick MacAskill, a poet who teaches French language and literature at Saint Mary’s University. She tells us about her new, award winning book of poetry called Shadow Blight, which tackles the topic of pregnancy loss.

A composite image featuring a books cover and the portraits of its two authors.
The Sour Cherry Tree is a picture book by Naseem Hrab, illustrated by Nahid Kazemi. (Owlkids)

The Sour Cherry Tree is a look at the loss of a loved one through the eyes of a child. Based on author Naseem Hrab’s own memories, this picture book looks at grief, love and culture to explore death and dying.

The Sour Cherry Tree was the winner of the 2022 Governor General’s Literary Award for young people’s literature — illustrated books.

Hrab is a Toronto-based writer and storyteller. She is also the author of Ira Crumb Makes a Pretty Good Friend and Ira Crumb Feels the Feelings. Her picture book Weekend Dad was a finalist for the 2020 Governor General’s Literary Prize for young people’s literature — illustrated books.

Nahid Kazemi is an artist, illustrator, graphic designer and author from Montreal. Her other books include I’m Glad That You’re Happy, The Orange House and Over the Rooftops, Under the Moon by JonArno Lawson.

LISTEN | Naseem Hrab discusses The Sour Cherry Tree:

Fresh Air10:22How children’s book the Sour Cherry Tree tackles an unlikely topic for children: the passing of a loved one

Naseem Hrab, author of The Sour Cherry Tree, talks about her book, what it means to win the Governor General’s prize for Young People’s Literature and the collaborative nature of an illustrated story.

Illustrated book cover of Indigenous girl in green shirt siiting in front of blue background with yellow sun. Woman with buzzcut, black glasses and red lipstick.
The Summer of Bitter and Sweet is a book by Jen Ferguson. (Heartdrum, Mel Shea)

The Summer of Bitter and Sweet is a YA novel about a young Métis girl living on the Canadian prairies. Lou is spending the summer working at her family’s failing frozen treats business with her newly ex-boyfriend. When an old friend unexpectedly comes back to town after three years away — and her biological father sends her a letter wanting to reconnect — Lou is suddenly faced with more challenges than she might be able to handle. 

Jen Ferguson is a Los Angeles-based author, activist and academic of Michif/Métis and Canadian settler heritage based in Los Angeles. Ferguson has a PhD in English and creative writing. Her work includes the 2016 novel Border Markers and her essay Off Balance was featured in Best Canadian Essays 2020. The Summer of Bitter and Sweet is her debut YA novel. 

LISTEN | Jen Ferguson on healing:

Ideas53:59Award-winning writers on finding ways to heal

How do you heal emotional wounds? Novelist Jen Ferguson recommends anger and “a good scream.” Playwright Dorothy Dittrich suggests art and conversation can draw a person out of grief. Artist Nahid Kazemi agrees with the poet Rumi: “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” The three are winners of 2022 Governor General’s Literary Awards.

A composite image of a woman with glasses smiling into hte camera and a book cover featuring a woman sitting at a piano bench with her arms crossed.
The Piano Teacher: A Healing Key is a play by Dorothy Dittrich. (Chris Allan, Talonbooks)

The Piano Teacher: A Healing Key is a play about a classic pianist named Erin who, after an unexpected and tremendous loss, struggles to make music. When she encounters a new piano teacher, she learns to reconnect with her creativity, deal with her grief and give herself compassion and love. 

The Piano Teacher: A Healing Key won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama.

Dorothy Dittrich is a playwright, sound designer and composer who currently lives in Vancouver. Her other plays include The DissociatesLesser DemonsTwo Part Invention and If the Moon Fall. She also created the musical When We Were Singing.

LISTEN | Dorothy Dittrich on healing:  

Ideas53:59Award-winning writers on finding ways to heal

How do you heal emotional wounds? Novelist Jen Ferguson recommends anger and “a good scream.” Playwright Dorothy Dittrich suggests art and conversation can draw a person out of grief. Artist Nahid Kazemi agrees with the poet Rumi: “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” The three are winners of 2022 Governor General’s Literary Awards.

The book cover is a drawing of a white-and-red sailboat traversing massive, rolling waves.
Some Hellish is a book by Nicholas Herring. (Norma Jean MacLean, Goose Lane Editions)

Nicholas Herring’s novel Some Hellish is about a lobster fisher named Herring who is facing the existential dread of what he feels is a boring, mundane life. That is, until one December day when he decides to cut a hole in the living room floor and alter the course of his life as he knows it. Through a myriad of absurd and confronting experiences, including his wife and children leaving him, Tibetan monks rescuing him after a near-death experience, Herring is forced to reckon with himself, his fear and what it means to be alive.

Some Hellish won the 2022 Atwood Gibson Writers’s Trust Fiction Prize. The $60,000 award recognizes the best novel or short story collection published in Canada. 

Nicholas Herring is a writer and carpenter from Murray Harbour, P.E.I. Some Hellish is his debut novel.

LISTEN | Nicholas Herring discusses Some Hellish:

The Next Chapter12:30Nicholas Herring on Some Hellish

Shelagh Rogers interviews Nicholas Herring about his award-winning debut novel, Some Hellish.

Jasmine Sealy is the author of the Island of Forgetting.
Jasmine Sealy is the author of the Island of Forgetting. (Benjamin Gardere, HarperCollins)

Vancouver author ​Jasmine Sealy’s debut novel The Island of Forgetting won the 2023 Amazon First Novel Award.

Set in Barbados, The Island of Forgetting is a coming-of-age story spanning four generations, each from the perspective of a different family member who must navigate desire, duty, identity and family secrets while running a beachfront hotel. Raw and reflective, Sealy’s novel is about the ghosts of what goes unsaid and the stories we tell ourselves to fill the absence. 

The former prose editor of PRISM International, Sealy’s short fiction has been shortlisted for several awards and longlisted for the CBC Short Story prize. She has also been published in various publications, including The New QuarterlyRoom MagazinePrairie Fire and Best Canadian Stories 2021. 

LISTEN | Jasmine Sealy discusses The Island of Forgetting: 

On The Coast8:15Author Jasmine Sealy on debut novel “The Island of Forgetting”

Author Jasmine Sealy joins us to talk about her debut novel “The Island of Forgetting,” which is a nuanced observation about tourism and the impact it has on local residents. Tomorrow, she is taking part in a panel discussion at Vancouver Writers Fest.

A book cover featuring a dapper man in a boat hat and the book's author, a woman with gray and black hair holding a glass trophy and wearing a blue blazer.
The Sleeping Car Porter is a novel by Suzette Mayr. (Coach House, Ryan Emberley)

The Sleeping Car Porter tells the story of Baxter, a Black man in 1929 who works as a sleeping car porter on a train that travels across the country. He smiles and tries to be invisible to the passengers, but what he wants is to save up and go to dentistry school. On one particular trip out west, the train is stalled and Baxter finds a naughty postcard of two gay men. The postcard reawakens his memories and longings and puts his job in jeopardy.

The Sleeping Car Porter won the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Suzette Mayr is a poet and novelist based in Calgary. She is the author of the novels Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley HallMonocerosMoon HoneyThe Widows and Venous HumMonoceros won the ReLit Award, the City of Calgary W. O. Mitchell Book Prize and made the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist.

LISTEN | Suzette Mayr discusses The Sleeping Car Porter:

The Next Chapter12:17Suzette Mayr on The Sleeping Car Porter

Ryan B. Patrick interviews Suzette Mayr on her 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize- winning novel, The Sleeping Car Porter.