Governor General's Literary Awards for 2019: English Language Winners

October 29, 2019 | Book Buzz

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The winners of this year's Governor General's Literary Awards were announced on October 28, 2019. Awards are given out in 14 categories, 7 in each of Canada's official languages with both adult and children's literature represented. The awards were established in 1936 by Lord Tweedsmuir, Canada's fifteenth Governor General. Lord Tweedsmuir is better known to readers as John Buchan, author of the adventure novel The Thirty-Nine Steps. 

Drama Winner:

Other side of the game

Other Side of the Game by Amanda Parris

Statement from the peer assessment committee: “Other Side of the Game courageously examines the struggles of young Black women and their loved ones as they navigate an unjust system. Parris crafts a portrait of the early years of Black activism, and parallels it with the present day. Enraging and engaging, this gripping and passionate play challenges dominant narratives to reveal the painful truths of life for marginalized Canadians in our society.”

Drama Finalists:

1 Hour Photo by Tetsuro Shigematsu

The Fighting Season by Sean Harris Oliver (Reference Only)

Thanks for Giving by Kevin Loring

What a Young Wife Ought to Know by Hannah Moscovitch


Fiction Winner:

Five wives

Five Wives by Joan Thomas

Statement from the peer assessment committee: “In Five Wives, Thomas delivers a compelling and powerful story about an encounter that alters the lives of those involved for generations. Set in a world where Indigenous peoples, missionaries and the forces of global capitalism collide, Thomas’s tale provides a nuanced examination of Operation Auca—a historical event that took place in Ecuador in 1956. This book raises important questions about religious fervour, autonomy and legacies of violence. Ambitiously conceived and beautifully written, this book is a masterful achievement.”


Fiction Finalists:

Eye by Marianne Micros

The Innocents by Michael Crummey

Late Breaking by K.D. Miller

The Student by Cary Fagan


Poetry Winner:

Holy wild

Holy Wild by Gwen Benaway

Statement from the peer assessment committee, "“These confessional yet sometimes difficult poems about the Indigenous trans body are lyrical, rhythmic and fierce. It was an extraordinary experience reading this burning, honest manifesto. In her poem ‘A Love Letter for Trans Girls,’ Benaway says, ‘welcome to the first day of forever… you are enough.’”


Poetry finalists:

The Grand River Watershed: A Folk Ecology by Karen Houle

  • Not yet available at Toronto Public Library.  

How to Avoid Huge Ships by Julie Bruck

St. Boniface Elegies by Catherine Hunter

Treaty # by Armand Garnet Ruffo


Non-Fiction Winner:

To the river

To the River: Losing My Brother by Don Gillmor

Statement from the peer assessment committee, "“In clear, crisp prose, Gillmor has written a book that is searingly honest and heartbreakingly sad. From the story of his brother’s life and death to a larger exploration of white, middle-aged masculinity, Gillmor impresses us with his quiet insights. At one point, he asks, “What are we anchored by?” His hard-earned wisdom holds us, here and beyond.”


Non-Fiction Finalists

City of Omens: A Search for the Missing Women of the Borderlands by Dan Werb

Fryderyk Chopin: A Life and Times by Alan Walker

Sea Trial: Sailing after My Father by Brian Harvey

Tiny Lights for Travellers by Naomi K. Lewis


Translation Winner:

Please note: the award is given to the translator. 

Birds of a kind

Birds of a Kind by Wajdi Mouawad, translated by Linda Gaboriau

Statement from the peer assessment committee, “This translation artfully captures the constantly shifting identities and tones that form the core of this controversial play. With pitch perfect, evocative precision, Gaboriau once again shows her faultless grasp of the emotional and intellectual complexities and nuances of translating for the stage and, in particular, Mouawad’s brilliant, challenging work.”


Translation Finalists:

887 by Robert Lepage, translated by Louise Blair

The Embalmer by Anne-Renée Caillé, translated by Rhonda Mullens

Synapses by Simon Brousseau, translated by Pablo Strauss

Vi by Kim Thúy, translated by Sheila Fischman