Complex relationships at the heart of new WO Mitchell Book Prize novel


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A touching memoir about family, war, politics and immigration, and ultimately the complex relationship between mother and son, won the 2022 WO Mitchell Book Prize.

Jaspreet Singh’s My Mother, My Translator (Vehicle Press) took home the honor when the 2022 Calgary Awards were announced Wednesday night.

The novel has its roots in the 1947 partition of British India which caused massive upheaval by displacing millions, including both of Singh’s parents. He grew up in Kashmir but also spent time with his grandparents in Pakistan. The award notes call it “a family history, a work of mourning, a meditation on storytelling and silences, and an appreciation of the trauma of the 1947 partition of India and the direct trauma of anti-violence. -sikh of November 1984 that Singh experienced as a teenager.”

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He began writing the book shortly after his mother’s death, and the the title refers to a pact he had made four years earlier with his mother. In 2008 Singh agreed to allow him to publish his significantly edited translation of a story from his collection, seventeen tomatoes, if she promised to write her memoirs. After her death in 2012, he decided to resume the memoir she had started.

A former writer-in-residence at the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta, Singh’s other literary works include the novels VShef and Helium and poetry collection November. A forthcoming book, Face: a novel of the Anthropocene on climate science and research is due out later this year.

The other two finalists for the annual WO Mitchell Book Prize were Julie Sedivy for Memory Speaks: On Losing and Reclaiming Language and Self (Harvard University Press) and Neil Surkan for Unbecoming (McGill-Queen’s University Press).

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It’s been a big week for local authors with the announcement of the Alberta Literary Awards on June 11th. The Writers’ Guild of Alberta handed out 11 awards at a gala last Saturday night, with eight of the awards going to writers from Edmonton and northern Alberta.

Calgary’s Lori Hahnel won the Short Story Collection Award for Vermin. Rod Moody-Corbett of Lethbridge won the Howard H. Gray Short Story Award for Malady Head, while Calgary’s Jessica Waite won the Jon Whyte Memorial Essay Award for In Defense of Grief.

Omar Mouallem won the Wilfrid Eggleston Award for Nonfiction for his book Praying to the West: How Muslims Shaped the Americas. Rayanne Hoanes, writer-in-residence of the Metro Edmonton Federation of Libraries, received the Stephan G. Stephansson Prize for Poetry for her book, Tell the Birds Your Body is Not a Gun.

Trina Moyles won the Memoir Award for her book Lookout: Love, Solitude, and Searching for Wildfire in the Boreal Forest, while Theresa Shea received the George Bugnet Award for Fiction for her book The Shade Tree.

The City of Edmonton Book Award was also announced at this time, with Burning the Night by Glen Huser winning that honor.

A full list of this year’s Alberta Literary Award winners is available here.

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