If you’re at all interested in Canadian LGBTQ2IA+ books, you have probably at least heard of the Dayne Ogilvie Prize. It’s an annual $4000 prize given by the Writers’ Trust of Canada for emerging LGBTQ-identified writers. Every year amazing writers are nominated for it and sadly only one person wins the prize. Past winners include Leah Horlick, Amber Dawn, and Farzana Doctor! This year’s shortlist was announced last week, and I am very excited, both about the two writers whose work I already know and the third writer who is new to me! Let’s get to know them a bit.
If you’ve been reading my blog the last few months, Toronto and Montreal-based writer Kai Cheng Thom’s name will be familiar to you. Her first novel, Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir, came out in November 2016. The blurb describes it as a “highly sensational, ultra-exciting, sort-of true coming-of-age story of a young Asian trans girl, pathological liar, and kung-fu expert who runs away from her parents’ abusive home”; she finds her true family of trans femmes, who band together to form “a vigilante gang to fight back against the transphobes, violent johns, and cops that stalk” their part of town. I LOVED her debut poetry collection a place called NO HOMELAND, which is full of poems with strong roots in oral traditions and spoken word: you can really hear them in your mind and heart. They’re also tough and tender meditations on family, race, being trans, femininity, trauma, relationships, community, sex, books, and love. (All of the important and intense and complex and mostly beautiful things in life). It was just released by Arsenal Pulp Press. This was one of my favourite poems:
someday they’ll cut this body open
and discover that my flesh is made of sky:
azure, sapphire, cerulean, turquoise, ultramarine
cirrus and cumulus clouds stirring behind my eyes
cumulonimbus, alight with lightning,
crackling through the capillaries of the heart.
i am oh so full of rain
you could fall through me forever.
dear scientist, mortuary explorer, search me thoroughly
tenderly catalogue all my wayward parts.
find somewhere in me
the forgotten moon, the faded stars.
re-member, reassemble, this tattered heaven, this
Eva Crocker is the nominee whose work I was not familiar with before the announcement of the shortlist, so I am now very excited to add her work to my special Canadian Lesbrarian TBR. She’s from Newfoundland and her debut short story collection Barrelling Forward was released this March. (How did I miss this??) The manuscript for Barrelling Forward was shortlisted for the 2015 Writers’ Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Fresh Fish Award for Emerging Writers. The publisher describes the collection like this:
Financial uncertainty leads to interpersonal insecurity as an assortment of youthful protagonists navigate the everyday challenges of life — and making a living — on the island. What happens when the man interviewing you for a job takes you on a date to see a hypnotist? How do you get rid of a psychosomatic case of bedbugs? What’s the best way to get rid of a beaver dam? How do you tell someone you just started seeing that you didn’t know you had scabies when you hooked up? In the Cuffer Prize–winning story, “Skin and Mud,” two boys have an intimate encounter as they wander through the barrens one day after school. Barrelling Forward is packed with unforgettable characters, vibrant humour, and acute insight into the overwhelming anxieties of new adults living their lives in the midst of a crumbling old economy.
Ali Blythe is a Vancouver-based poet whose collection Twoism is amazing and beautiful and that kind of loveliness that seems at once very specific (i.e., queer) but also ancient and timeless. I was lucky enough to get to talk to Ali about Twoism for Quill & Quire when it came out. Twoism is all about themes of gender, sexuality, Greek mythology, love, art, and the vastness of the universe, although Ali admits to not knowing “how to manage the complexities” of today’s identity politics. Twoism also investigates how “the pain of being alive in a body is overwhelming,” with poetry and nature offering something of an escape. In addition to writing poetry, Ali Blythe is also editor-in-chief of the Claremont Review. Have a look at this excerpt from the poem “A Small Dress” from Twoism:
You push open the door
I smell coffee and wake
slowly telling you I dreamed
you were a small dress
of infinitely breakable sticks.
I am going to try you on
now, I said in the dream.
Even knowing what patience
and care it took to piece you
together last time.
A bare bulb made cagey
shadows of you as you
were lowered over me.
I tried not to move too much.
It wasn’t a dream, you say.