Julie Payette honours literary award winners

The Governor General’s Literary Awards honoured several Canadian authors for their written work at Rideau Hall on Nov. 29.

The black-tie event, now in its 81st year, recognized 14 works of literature; half in French and half in English. Each winner received $25,000, and a copy of their book with an artistically interpreted cover, courtesy of Lorraine Choquet, a bookbinder of over 20 years.

The ceremony took place in the ballroom, with towering Victorian architecture and cascading golden drapes.

The 200-member audience sat below, facing the windows rather than the painting of the Queen of Canada, as in previous years. This change of layout was an attempt to create a more intimate event inclusive of the larger audience, according to Julie Rocheleau, the event’s media contact.

The Large Brass Ensemble of the Central Band of the Canadian Armed Forces played as the award recipients entered the room. Amidst applause, they filed towards their seats and as the evening commenced, they received their accolades and gave their speeches.

Governor General Julie Payette, the official resident of the 175-room national historic site, presented each winner with their award. In her opening speech, she joked about the apparently dwindling importance of books in the age of electronics.

However, she added that, “I’m an engineer, not a big [reputation] for reading books but books are important to me too.”

Several of the winning works included Indigenous identities as a central theme. David A. Robertson won in the category of Young People’s Illustrated Books for When We Were Alone, a novel about an old woman who tells the stories of the time she spent in a residential school, to her granddaughter. The Canada Council website describes it as “a poignant story of a dark and unforgettable part of Canadian history.”

In his acceptance speech, Robertson said “I believe the path to reconciliation is paved by stories.”

Hiro Kanagawa’s, this year’s recipient in the English Drama genre for his work Indian Arm—a theatre piece that follows the Allmers, a fractured family living on native leasehold land near Deep Cove, B.C. Described as a “masterful navigation” of the tensions between Indigenous identities by the Canada Council website, the play is intended as a dialogue that includes the audience.

In an interview after the ceremony, Kanagawa, a Japanese-born actor and writer currently living in Port Moody, B.C., spoke about the liberation he finds in creating something that is meant to be re-interpreted. 

“I think theatre is inherently a conversation. It is inherently a collaboration. And that’s what I love about the genre,” Kanagawa explained. “I very rarely have written [roles] for myself. Precisely because I want someone else to interpret [mine] and bring something new to what I’ve written.”

Although reviews of the play described it as ‘tragic,’ Kanagawa refuted the need to categorize his work, saying it would be an “artificial restriction” that would prevent the piece from reaching its potential.

When it comes to the theatre, Kanagawa said he believes in the process of heavy editing: “Of every 10 pages that are written, one stays.”

Kanagawa also added some final words about his relationship to theatre, “I think theatre really lives in the subtext. So, in order to allow that to live you do have to pare back your words, your beautiful children, your darlings.”