Robertson wins GG literary award, again

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Winnipeg Swampy Cree author David A. Robertson and Vancouver illustrator Julie Flett’s picture book On the Trapline has won the 2021 Governor General’s Literary Award in the young people’s literature — illustrated books category.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/11/2021 (310 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg Swampy Cree author David A. Robertson and Vancouver illustrator Julie Flett’s picture book On the Trapline has won the 2021 Governor General’s Literary Award in the young people’s literature — illustrated books category.

The win is the second time the pair have won the $25,000 award. They first collaborated on the 2016 picture book When We Were Alone, published by HighWater Press, an imprint of Portage & Main Press. The book, which explores the painful legacy of residential schools in Canada, won the Governor General’s Literary Award in the same category in 2017.

“That first one was a shock… as a kid, I always wanted to be a writer,” Robertson said of the first book by phone shortly after the winners of the 2021 Governor General’s Literary Award were announced earlier this week. “I never expected to actually win an award like that… When We Were Alone is a story that belongs to the survivors, their families, their communities.”

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS David A. Robertson’s book On the Trapline.

The Governor General’s Literary Awards, which are administered by the Canada Council for the Arts, handed out honours across seven categories in both English and French. Founded in 1936, the Governor General’s Literary Awards give out a total of about $450,000 annually.

On the Trapline, published in May 2021 by Tundra Books, follows a grandfather and grandchild who visit the elder’s northern trapline where he worked in his formative years. It’s based loosely on Robertson’s own journey north with his father Don in 2018, which is chronicled in Robertson’s 2020 memoir Black Water. Don Robertson died in 2019.

As a result, the win for On The Trapline has been that much more emotional for Robertson. “It’s such a personal story. I wrote it to honour my dad, honour on relationship, honour the land and the beauty of living on it,” he says. “It’s the last book my dad read of mine… and Julie [Flett]’s dad died a week before mine did. And so when we heard we had won, I think we had pretty good cries. I’m very, very grateful for everybody that helped to put it out into the world.”

Robertson recently signed a six-book deal with Tundra Books for a number of texts for children and younger readers, and production rights to his ongoing epic young-adult Misewa Saga series of books were recently acquired by ABC Signature, a part of Disney Television Studios.

In the other young people’s literature category, Philippa Dowding of Toronto took the text prize for Firefly, published by DCB.

Norma Dunning, the 2021 winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for fiction, says she likes to think of her books as her “girls,” even using the pronouns “she” and “her” to refer to her works. As the winner of the fiction category, one of Dunning’s girls, Tainna: The Unseen Ones, has given the Inuk writer a whole lot to be proud of.

Dunning said she didn’t know the book of short stories had been submitted for the $25,000 prize until she opened her inbox last month to find out Tainna had been named as a finalist.

The Edmonton author, academic and grandmother said the win affords her a level of visibility that she’s often denied as an older Indigenous woman.

“For someone who’s been a lifelong writer, it’s a validation of the work that I put forward,” Dunning, 62, said by phone ahead of the awards announcement on Wednesday. “It’s just a beautiful reward at the end of it all.”

While she’s been writing since youth, Dunning said she hadn’t considered pursuing her passion at a professional level until her sons started having children of their own.

“Everything I’ve done has been late,” she said. “I started to think … I should have others reading this. It’s not just for me anymore.”

Dunning enrolled in university at age 50, focusing her scholarship on native studies and education sciences, while honing her craft in creative writing courses.

As she rose through the ranks of academia, eventually becoming an instructor at the University of Alberta, Dunning continued to balance research and fiction.

She wrote Tainna while working on her PhD dissertation in Victoria. The short story collection, published by Douglas & McIntyre, centres on the experiences of modern-day Inuit living outside their home territories.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS David A. Robertson, won a Governor General’s Literary Award (Young People’s Literature - Illustrated Book) for his book On the Trapline.

“I wrote a lot about the expectations of others when it comes to Inuit,” Dunning said, noting that the stories touch on issues such as racism and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Dunning said she hopes the Governor General’s prize introduces new readers to Tainna.

“I love her, and so therefore, I want everyone to read her,” she said. “It’s a group of stories that really make all of us think about our own perceptions of what Inuit people are or should be.”

Kingston, Ont.-based poet Sadiqa de Meijer received the non-fiction prize for alfabet/alphabet: a memoir of a first language, published by Anstruther Books, which explores her transition from speaking Dutch to English.

Tolu Oloruntoba of Surrey, B.C., prevailed in the poetry category for The Junta of Happenstance, also from Anstruther Books.

The drama award went to Halifax’s Hannah Moscovitch for Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes, published by Playwrights Canada Press.

The French-to-English translation winner was Erín Moure of Montreal for This Radiant Life, published by Book*hug Press, based on Chantal Neveu’s original work, La vie radieuse.

Each winner receives $25,000, while the publisher of each winning book receives $3,000 to support promotional activities. Finalists each receive $1,000.

There are separate French-language categories for francophone writing.

— The Canadian Press with files from Ben Sigurdson

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