It was a privilege to serve as a juror, along with Shauna Singh Baldwin and Barry Dempster, for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award for best first collection of short fiction in the English language, awarded via The Writers Union of Canada (TWUC). Barry noted that we may be the only three people in Canada who read all twenty-five of the first collections submitted for the award. A unique and fortunate book club, indeed, for there is a great deal of fine short fiction being written in this country.
Here follows the press release from TWUC announcing the short list and more details about the prize, as well as the shortlisted books:
The Writers’ Union of Canada is pleased to announce the short list of nominees for the nineteenth annual DANUTA GLEED LITERARY AWARD. The Award recognizes the best first collection of short fiction by a Canadian author published in 2015 in the English language. The Award consists of cash prizes for the three best first collections, with a first prize of $10,000 and two additional prizes of $500.
The jury this year comprised authors Shauna Singh Baldwin, Barry Dempster, and Dora Dueck, who determined the short list from 25 collections submitted, some by seasoned writers, others by authors being published for the first time. Those finalists are:
Gerard Beirne, In a Time of Drought and Hunger, Oberon Press
Andrew Forbes, What You Need, Invisible Publishing
Hugh Graham, Last Words, Exile Editions
Kevin Hardcastle, Debris, Biblioasis
Heather O’Neill, Daydreams of Angels, HarperCollins Publisher
The winners will be announced at the Canadian Writers’ Summit (June 15–19) at Harbourfront.
The Award was created as a celebration of the life of Danuta Gleed, a writer whose short fiction won several awards before her death in December 1996. Danuta Gleed’s first collection of short fiction, One of the Chosen, was posthumously published by BuschekBooks. The Award is made possible through a generous donation from John Gleed, in memory of his late wife, and is administered by The Writers’ Union of Canada.
Jury Comments on the Finalists for the
2015 DANUTA GLEED LITERARY AWARD
Gerard Beirne, In a Time of Drought and Hunger, (Oberon Press)
Place has a starring role in Gerard Beirne’s In a Time of Drought and Hunger, specifically a Cree community in northern Manitoba. A typical Beirne story feels like it’s been underway for ages and that you’re just catching up with it now. One character is obsessed with what kind of fur coat to buy; another meets a young woman who might be Charles Manson’s daughter. Fates collide with often unpredictable results: fools and wise men, hunters and those who are just plain doomed. What all these people have in common is that they’re so richly drawn that any one of them could fill a novel. Beirne writes with a curiosity throbbing with energy, bordering on obsession.
Andrew Forbes, What You Need (Invisible Publishing)
Andrew Forbes’ stories in What You Need are plainly spoken, his characters ending up in bar fights, playing high school sports and building thermonuclear devices in their garages. He has a gift for balancing good old-fashioned narratives with surprising implosions of fate. Voice and details are his strong point. Whether they’re digging up a dead friend or puzzling over their daughter’s ability to walk through walls, his characters are easy to relate to, they are true to themselves and they engage the reader, who can’t wait to turn the page. What You Need is insightful and intelligent, sharp and deep as bone.
Hugh Graham, Last Words (Exile Editions)
In his opening story “Next to Last,” about a Canadian in Paris who ends up doing some work for the CIA, Hugh Graham’s writing is reminiscent of Graham Greene’s. But further into Last Words, there’s a story about a woman’s passion, “Elmira Rawlinson,” that’s almost Thomas Hardy-ish with its richly descriptive tones. Graham is a chameleon of sorts, trying on different voices, shadings and special effects. But what you can count on from tale to tale is the complexity of his approach and the lusciousness of his prose. His blend of lyricism and deeply articulated empathy for the human condition resonates long after you’ve turned the last page.
Kevin Hardcastle, Debris (Biblioasis)
Debris is a spare and shadow-drenched book, the sentences well-wrought, the voice never less than distinctive. His characters include a cage fighter being tracked down by the Hell’s Angels, a night clerk at a seedy hotel who makes moonshine whiskey and a gas contract salesman wearing out his shoes in a number of Alberta towns. These are tough-talking men who advertise their misery like a kind of nakedness. Strangely, the result of all this suffering and violence is a beauty that at times almost takes your breath away.
Heather O’Neill, Daydreams of Angels, (HarperCollins Publisher)
Gypsies, cherubs, androids, wolf boys and the Marquis de Sade are just a few of the characters who populate Heather O’Neill’s Daydreams of Angels, a fanciful, fantastical collection of post-modern fairy tales. Despite the sweetness at the core of almost every story, the book is filled with dark, often sticky surprises. You’re guaranteed to come away from an O’Neill story both delighted and disturbed; she can go from the heights of glee to devilish anxiety in the space of a paragraph. Hers is a world of great imaginative alchemy. Whether she’s writing about shipwrecks, babies washed up on the beach or Rudolf Nureyev clones, she’s dead serious about her shape-shifting themes, fearless in the face of the wild and the absurd.