‘Fantastic Prairie writer’ earns prestigious award


Advertise with us

Winnipeg’s Di Brandt has written verses on a countless number of themes during her 40 years as a poet and writer, but never on winning an award.

Read this article for free:


Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe:

Monthly Digital Subscription

$4.75 per week*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles

*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.

Winnipeg’s Di Brandt has written verses on a countless number of themes during her 40 years as a poet and writer, but never on winning an award.

She’ll have a good reason to consider the subject today after being named the 2023 winner of the Manitoba Arts Council’s Award of Distinction.

“Well, there’s an interesting idea. I’ll have to give it a shot,” Brandt says. “It would be an ode to the community that’s giving the recognition and the wonderful support it’s offering to poets and to artists.

“I’m proud and also grateful to have had the opportunity for so many decades and to have such a diverse supporting community here in Winnipeg and across the country and internationally that gave me just a really exciting adventure.”

Maurice Mierau, the founding editor of literary publisher Enfield & Wizenty and the online magazine The Winnipeg Review, nominated Brandt for the award, saying she was the first woman from southern Manitoba’s farming villages to become a professional writer and public intellectual, and had become a leader in the “new Mennonite writing” of North America.

“Her voice is really rooted in musicality. She’s very stylistically innovative and she reflects the Prairies in her writing. She’s a fantastic Prairie writer,” says Randy Joynt, arts council’s executive director. “It’s almost a sensuous imagery.”

Brandt, 71, grew up reciting poetry on special occasions at their farm in Reinland, a village about 130 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg where Mennonite families settled.

“We had to memorize long, long poems in German and recite them to our grandmother at Christmas and Easter and on her birthday. All the other cousins did as well and we had to start doing that at age two,” she remembers. “It was highly competitive scene, because our family honour was at stake and everyone was always comparing the children. You better not stumble on Verse 17.”

Little did that youngster know that those verses would lead to a 40-year career as an author and professor.

There were many obstacles, among them living in a traditional Mennonite culture that discouraged and often prevented women from speaking in public, which Manitoba author Miriam Toews’ described in her novel Women Talking and which was depicted in the Oscar-winning 2022 film of the same name, directed by Sarah Polley.

“Learning to be a modern poet, a book poet, was really a big stretch. It involved learning how to speak in public as a woman, so I was lucky I came to that challenge during the height of the women’s movement,” Brandt says.

Her first book of poetry, 1987’s Questions I Asked My Mother, published by Winnipeg’s Turnstone Press, won the Gerard Lampert Memorial Award, which is presented annually for the best volume of poetry by a first-time poet.

She has since followed up with the McNally Robinson Manitoba Book of the Year in 1990 for Agnes in the Sky, the Canadian Authors’ Associations National Poetry Prize in 1995 and the Gold National Magazine Award for Poetry in 2020.

Brandt also shared the 2020 Gabrielle-Roy Prize for literary criticism with Barbara Godard for their book Wider Boundaries of Daring: The Modernist Impulse in Canadian Women’s Poetry.

In 2021, Brandt was granted a honorary doctorate by MacEwan University in Edmonton.

While the award focuses largely on Brandt’s career as an author, it also recognizes her time as a professor and community leader.


Di Brandt has won the Manitoba Arts Council’s Award of Distinction.

She has been poetry editor for Prairie Fire, the Canadian magazine for new writing, was Winnipeg’s first poet laureate, from 2018 to 2020, and held research and teaching appointments at several universities, including Brandon University and the University of Winnipeg, where she still teaches part-time.

She also helped organize literary events, such as a 2018 World Poetry Day event that featured 16 authors, artists and dancers presenting poetry in their own languages.

“She’s devoted a lot of her career in lifting others up,” Joynt says. “She’s been this really special community builder.”

Brandt’s latest work, 2022’s The Sweetest Dance on Earth, also published by Turnstone, includes poems from throughout her 40-year career and focuses on subjects such as gender, the environment and even sonnets that reveal her undying love for Winnipeg winters that she wrote while she was the city’s poet laureate.

“The first few drafts, winter came out sounding like a creepy, horrible, dirty old man lurking behind the bushes,” she says. “Before we all became complainers, we used to be proud of this hardy climate that we are able to live in.”

The arts council award also celebrates Brandt’s career, which she says has been like living in two worlds.

“Being a writer is a very strange profession,” she says. “There’s a part of it that’s lonely and nobody can help you with it. You have to figure it out by yourself.

“Then there’s this other part that’s very social, where you get to meet the readers and other writers and there’s nothing like it.”


Twitter: @AlanDSmall

If you value coverage of Manitoba’s arts scene, help us do more.
Your contribution of $10, $25 or more will allow the Free Press to deepen our reporting on theatre, dance, music and galleries while also ensuring the broadest possible audience can access our arts journalism.
BECOME AN ARTS JOURNALISM SUPPORTER Click here to learn more about the project.

Alan Small

Alan Small

Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.

Report Error Submit a Tip


Advertise With Us

Arts & Life