Hamilton writer Anuja Varghese has won the Governor General’s Literary Award for fiction for her short story collection Chrysalis.
Chrysalis is among the 14 titles, seven in English and seven in French, that were acknowledged by the Governor General’s Literary Awards as the best books in 2023.
The prizes, administered by the Canada Council for the Arts, are awarded in seven English-language categories: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, young people’s literature — text, young people’s literature — illustration, drama and French-to-English translation. French-language awards are also given out in the same categories. A total of $450,000 is awarded across all the prizes annually.
The winner in each category will receive $25,000. The remaining finalists will each receive $1,000.
Books published between Aug. 1, 2022 and July 31, 2023 were eligible for the 2023 awards. The finalists and winners are chosen by a peer assessment committee for each category.
Chrysalis is a short story collection that centres South Asian women, showing how they reclaim their power in a world that constantly undermines them. Exploring sexuality, family and cultural norms, this collection deals with desire and transformation.
“I never saw myself in the books I was reading. And I think that’s changing now,” she said in an interview with The Next Chapter. “There’s very rarely that kind of main character energy, especially for brown women, especially for queer brown women.”
Toronto-based author Kyo Maclear won the nonfiction category for her memoir Unearthing. After the father who raised her dies, she learns that he is not biologically related to her. In this memoir, she unravels the story of her biological father and explores what it really means to be a family.
Winnipeg writer Hannah Green won the poetry category for her collection, Xanax Cowboy, which follows a pill-popping, whiskey drinking woman with a reputation like a rattlesnake.
William Shakespeareʼs As You Like It: A Radical Retelling, a subversive update to Shakespeare’s classic from an Indigenous perspective, by playwright and actor Cliff Cardinal, won the drama category.
Alberta-based Sarah Everett won the young people’s literature — text category for her YA novel The Probability of Everything while Halifax’s Jack Wong won the young people’s literature — illustrated books category for his picture book When You Can Swim.
Rosaʼs Very Own Personal Revolution, written by Éric Dupont and translated by Peter McCambridge won the award for French-to-English translation.
The Governor General’s Literary Awards were created in 1936. Past winners include Thomas King, Madeleine Thien, Michael Ondaatje, Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood.
The Canada Council for the Arts is a partner of the CBC Literary Prizes. The CBC Nonfiction Prize will open in January, the CBC Poetry Prize will open in April and the CBC Short Story Prize opened in September.
Keep reading to learn more about the 2023 Governor General’s Literary Award English-language winners.
Chrysalis is a short story collection that examines the ways in which racialized women are undermined and exploited and the ways in which they reclaim their power. Blending realism with elements of fantasy, Varghese tells stories of a woman dying in her sleep repeatedly until she finds an unexpected refuge or a couple in a broken marriage encountering spiritual direction. Each story looks at family, sexuality, cultural norms and the ties that bind.
Anuja Varghese is a Hamilton, Ont.-based writer and editor. Her stories have been recognized in the Prism International Short Fiction Contest and the Alice Munro Festival Short Story Competition and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Chrysalis is her first book.
Chrysalis seamlessly blends realism with the otherworldly to achieve a work that is rollicking and wry, gleeful and ominous.– 2023 peer assessment committee
“A passionate, sophisticated collection of stories that highlights Anuja Varghese’s impressive range, Chrysalis seamlessly blends realism with the otherworldly to achieve a work that is rollicking and wry, gleeful and ominous. Each story is complex and intimate, the characters served by rich, evocative writing that goes to the heart of their humanity. Confidently cutting across genres, Chrysalis is sparkling and downright delightful,” the peer assessment committee said in a statement.
The peer assessment committee was Carleigh Baker, Neil Bissoondath and Jessica Westhead.
The Next Chapter13:48Anuja Varghese’s short story collection sizzles with desire and transformation
After Kyo Maclear’s father dies, a DNA test shows that she is not biologically related to the father that raised her. Maclear embarks on a journey to unravel the family mystery and uncover the story of her biological father, raising questions about kinship and what it means to be family in Unearthing.
Maclear is an essayist, novelist and children’s author. Her books have been translated into 15 languages, won a Governor General’s Literary Award and been nominated for the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award, among others. Her memoir Birds Art Life was a finalist for the 2017 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction and won the 2018 Trillium Book Award.
This quiet, arresting work softens the line between memoir and philosophy.– 2023 peer assessment committee
“In recursive, often incantatory prose, Maclear meditates on the fragile nature of kinship and memory. A finely plotted and intricate narrative, Unearthing reimagines the garden metaphor and explores the porous grounds of self, culture and belonging. This quiet, arresting work softens the line between memoir and philosophy,” the peer assessment committee said in a statement.
The peer assessment committee was KatłĮà Lafferty, Lorri Neilsen Glenn and Rinaldo Walcott.
The Next Chapter20:27Kyo Maclear on Unearthing
Xanax Cowboy is a poetry collection that follows the adventures of the Xanax Cowboy, a pill-popping, whiskey drinking woman with a reputation like a rattlesnake.
Hannah Green is a Winnipeg-based writer and poetry editor. She was a poetry finalist for the 2021 Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers.
Dazzling in its play with form, the book has an utterly original voice, hard-hitting, mordantly ironic, unsparing in its gaze on the self.– 2023 peer assessment committee
“Xanax Cowboy takes us on a grim and tender ride, exploring a journey through mental illness and addiction. Self-reflexive and contemporary in phrasing and sensibility, the book pairs, like the title itself, a dark coping mechanism of life with the bittersweet harrows of self-performance. Dazzling in its play with form, the book has an utterly original voice, hard-hitting, mordantly ironic, unsparing in its gaze on the self,” the peer assessment committee said in a statement.
The peer assessment committee was Mary Dalton, Moez Surani and Gillian Sze.
William Shakespeareʼs As You Like It: A Radical Retelling is a subversive update to Shakespeare’s classic with an Indigenous perspective. It balances bawdy humour and raw emotions to challenge Canada’s relationship with Indigenous people.
Cliff Cardinal is a playwright and actor born on the Pine Ridge Reservation. His work has been recognized with the Buddies in Bad Times Vanguard Award for Risk and Innovation, the RBC Tarragon Emerging Playwright Award and the REVEAL Indigenous Arts Award. Cardinal has also written a play called Huff & Stitch.
It spares no one, not even the performer himself.– 2023 peer assessment committee
“In a blistering indictment of the country we call Canada, Cliff Cardinal challenges us to ask ourselves what role we play and are prepared to play on the path forward. It spares no one, not even the performer himself. It’s a rant, a fool, a stand-up routine and an angry personal essay full of humour, insights and surprises,” the peer assessment committee said in a statement.
The peer assessment committee was Aaron Bushkowsky, Tai Amy Grauman and Julie Tamiko Manning.
Q20:42Cliff Cardinal on his confrontational play The Land Acknowledgement, or As You Like It
The Probability of Everything follows 11-year-old Kemi Carter, an avid fan of probability. When she sees an asteroid hovering over the sky, her perspective on everything changes. The asteroid has an 84.7 per cent chance of colliding with Earth in four days. Is she the only one who feels like the world is ending?
Sarah Everett is an author of several books for teens, currently based in Alberta. Her debut novel is Some Other Now.
Seamlessly moving between the poetic and the grounded, Everett weaves a heartwarming and heartbreaking tale that lingers.– 2023 peer assessment committee
“Seamlessly moving between the poetic and the grounded, Everett weaves a heartwarming and heartbreaking tale that lingers. By the time readers reach the emotional climax of this surprising, powerful and beautifully written novel, they’ll be inclined to return to the beginning and read it again from the perspective of someone who knows what’s coming,” the peer assessment committee said in a statement.
The peer assessment committee was Cheryl Foggo, June Hur and Tom Ryan.
When You Can Swim is a picture book that encourages children to overcome their fears of the water. In the book, an adult explains to a young girl the joys and surprises of swimming.
When You Can Swim is for ages 4 to 8.
Jack Wong is a Halifax-based author and illustrator who was born in Hong Kong but grew up in Vancouver. When You Can Swim is his first book.
A vibrant ode to swimming where joy is yours for the taking as soon as you jump in,When You Can Swimtransforms fear into a rushing wave of eager anticipation.– 2023 peer assessment committee
“A vibrant ode to swimming where joy is yours for the taking as soon as you jump in, When You Can Swim transforms fear into a rushing wave of eager anticipation. The sumptuous use of colour and texture brings water to life in an array of settings, depicting it as a central character in a wondrous celebration of the breadth of a child’s abilities. It especially reaches out to those who have historically been excluded from learning to swim,” the peer assessment committee said in a statement.
The peer assessment committee was Marianne Ferrer, Lee Edward Födi and Mahak Jain.
Rosaʼs Very Own Personal Revolution follows the story of Rosa Ost, who grows up in Notre-Dame-du-Cachalot, as she moves from her tiny village to the big city of Montreal. It’s an adventure filled with long journeys and unsettling dreams, proving that revolutions in Quebec aren’t always quiet.
Peter McCambridge is a literary translator originally from Ireland, now based in Quebec City. He also translated Eric Dupont’s Songs for the Cold of Heart, originally La fiancée américaine, that was on the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist and was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General’s Literary Award for translation.
Eric Dupont is an author, teacher and translator from Montreal. His French-language novel La Logeuse won the Radio-Canada’s version of Canada Reads, Combats des livres. He was a finalist for both the Prix littéraire France-Québec and the Prix des cinq continents. He was the winner of the Prix littéraire des collégiens and the Prix des libraires.
This rare feat of literary translation is a seamless, highly readable and wonderfully inventive work in its own right.– 2023 peer assessment committee
“Peter McCambridge’s translation, Rosa’s Very Own Personal Revolution, brilliantly renders Éric Dupont’s vibrant literary universe and rollicking story of an innocent young woman from the Gaspé Peninsula catapulted into turn-of-the-millenium Montréal. This rare feat of literary translation is a seamless, highly readable and wonderfully inventive work in its own right,” the peer assessment committee said in a statement.
The peer assessment committee was Bilal Hashmi, Melissa Bull and Pablo Strauss.