TORONTO -- The late poet and artist P.K. Page didn't want anyone to write her biography. But she changed her mind in December 1996, when her author-friend Sandra Djwa agreed to tell the story.
"People generally don't really think about mortality until they get into their 80s, and P.K. was 80, she had just published her collected poems, she was gathering together her fiction," the Vancouver-based Djwa recalls in a telephone interview.
"I think she had thoughts of mortality and so she was more willing to entertain the thought of a biography, even though she is such a very private person."
It seems the decision was worth it.
On Wednesday, Djwa's book Journey with No Maps: A Life of P.K. Page (McGill-Queen's University Press) was heralded as a "compelling and necessary biography" as it made the short list for the $25,000 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction.
The other four finalists include Warlords: Borden, Mackenzie King, and Canada's World Wars (Allen Lane) by Ottawa historian Tim Cook, who won the prize in 2009 for Shock Troops.
Also on this year's short list is Saskatchewan-born Ross King for Leonardo and The Last Supper (Bond Street Books), which won a Governor General's Literary Award in November.
Ontario native Andrew Preston is a contender for Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy (Knopf Canada) and Carol Bishop-Gwyn of Toronto is a finalist for The Pursuit of Perfection: A Life of Celia Franca (Cormorant Books), about the late founder of the National Ballet of Canada.
This year's finalists were chosen from a field of 129 books submitted by 43 publishers from around the world.
The winner -- decided by jurors Susanne Boyce, Richard Gwyn and Joseph Kertes -- will be announced on March 4 in Toronto.
-- The Canadian Press