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Fighting For a Hand to Hold: An Anti-Colonial Reading List

The QWF Literary Awards celebrate the best books and plays by English-language writers, playwrights, and translators in Quebec, as well as those translating English works from Quebec into French. Each award comes with a purse of $3,000.

For more information about the Awards and to see Giller Prize-winning author Sean Michaels announce all the finalists, check out the Gala page on our website.

Fighting for a Hand to Hold won The Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-Fiction and The Concordia University First Book Prize at the 2021 Awards Gala.

Learn more about the book at https://fightingforahandtohold.ca

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Fighting for a Hand to Hold: Confronting Medical Colonialism against Indigenous Children in Canada (foreword by Cindy Blackstock, afterword by Katsi’tsakwas Ellen Gabriel) uses the #aHand2Hold campaign as a case study of contemporary medical colonialism in Quebec, and demonstrates that inequalities in health care follow fault lines of societal injustices.

The campaign confronted Évacuations aéromédicales du Québec (ÉVAQ), the provincially run medical evacuation airlift service, and its long-standing practice of separating Indigenous children from their families in northern Quebec. The book also contextualizes this now-defunct practice by exposing the Canadian medic …

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Love Stories: A People and Planet Affair

(We've got Arno Kopecky's The Environmentalist's Dilemma—which Publisher's Weekly calls “Timely and relevant... [offering] plenty to think about” —up for giveaway right now. Enter for your chance today!)

This is a short list of Canadian books that capture the drama of humanity’s relationship with Mother Earth.

*****

The Lesser Blessed, by Richard Van Camp.

A coming-of-age novel set in the rural aftermath of Canada’s residential school system may seem an odd choice to lead a list of environmental literature. But even if it doesn’t mention climate change, The Lesser Blessed always struck me as essential eco-reading. Hilarious, tragic, and ruthless, the novel thrusts you into the living legacy of colonialism, an intensely human story without which no understanding of ecological destruction (and resilience) is complete. I was blown away by Van Camp’s ability to turn such bleak material into a healing voyage—and a page-turner at that. This is one of very few books in my adult life that I read in a single sitting.

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Eavesdropping on Other Lives, Real and Imagined

Historical fiction and books of social history featuring the lives of not really “ordinary” people, recommended by Lesley Krueger, author of the new novel Time Squared

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Most of the books I write are set at least partly in the past, so my reading often takes me back—back into social history and into novels and poems written or set historically. It can be research, but since these are also the type of books I love, work becomes a pleasure. (I try not to think about the pleasure being partly work.)

As a writer, I’m preoccupied with why things happen. How did we get where we find ourselves? We all know the answer sometimes lies in the moment. Impulse. But of course we often act out of long-term beliefs, traumas or societal expectations, whether we’re fulfilling them or fighting them. These eight books by Canadian authors have taken me deep into the question of "Why?"

I also love the way they let me eavesdrop on other lives, real and imagined, since eavesdropping is surely part of reading, too.

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They Call Me George: The Untold Story of Black Tra …

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Islands: Perfect Settings for Stories

Islands offer wonderful settings for stories, real and imagined. They’re enisled, separate, away. They inspire intriguing metaphors. They attract interesting, some might say “quirky,” people. Surrounding waters present lulling beauty and hidden danger. And when things happen on islands, insularity stirs up complex social dynamics and demands local solutions. With islands on three coasts and scattered throughout rivers and lakes, it’s hardly surprising that these compelling literary devices have a powerful presence in Canadian fiction and creative non-fiction.

As a rule of thumb (grounded in observation, rather than any systematic analysis) the size of an island tends to shape the nature of the story. Large islands are settings for tales of distinctive communities, defined at least in part by their distance from urbanity. Lucy Maude Montgomery placed her stories of Anne of Green Gables on Prince Edward Island as it encapsulates a nurturing rural lifestyle preserved in a changing world by its sandy shorelines. As Anne says, “Look at that sea, …

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Most Anticipated: Our Fall 2021 Nonfiction Preview

Our 2021 Fall Preview continues (have you seen our Most Anticipated Fiction yet?) with nonfiction, and exciting new books about everything, including food, beauty, art, travel, singing, healing, grieving, shopping, aging, and so much more.

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In Return (September), Kamal Al-Solaylee interviews dozens of people who have chosen to or long to return to their homelands, from the Basques to the Irish to the Taiwanese, and makes a return of sorts himself, to the Middle East, visiting Israel and the West Bank as well as Egypt to meet up with his sisters. Gone Viking II (November) features a series of remarkable excursions occurring over before, during, and after the voyages recounted in Bill Arnott's previous memoir, Gone Viking: A Travel Saga. The original French-language edition of Made-Up (September) was a cult hit in Quebec. Translated by Alex Manley—like author Daphne B., a Montreal poet and essayist—the book's English-language text crackles with life, retaining the flair and verve of the original, and ensuring that a book on beauty is no less beautiful than its subject matter.

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On the Road Again: Literary Road Trips

Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that my first novel, The List of Last Chances, features a road trip across Canada. My childhood was filled with such travels—some out of necessity, as we moved from province to province—and some for low-cost holidays, exploring the country in a station wagon filled to the brim with tents, sleeping bags, and coolers full of egg-salad sandwiches. We traversed the country more than once with four kids, two adults, sometimes a dog – and had our share of breakdowns, ripped maps, roadside meltdowns and more.

Along the way we saw the beaches of PEI, the long empty prairies which are not really so empty at all, the heights of the Rocky Mountains, and the coastal inlets of BC. As an adult, I’m still fascinated by the possibilities that road trips present (and I take them, either solo or with my own children, as often as I can) and perpetually curious about the unique and diverse personalities of the different regions in Canada.

I’m not the only one: road trips and national identity have always been a popular theme for Canadian writers. Here’s a few titles, both fiction and nonfiction that go exploring: 

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Dazzling Memoirs

In my book on memoir, Memoir: Conversations and Craft, I had the great good fortune of interviewing seven distinguished Canadian writers who have written memoirs. They were my “dream team” of authors, chosen because I admire their writing and referred to them often when I taught memoir workshops. With luck, I thought half of the group would say yes to my request of an interview to be included in my book. To my delight, all seven said yes.

I heartily recommend their memoirs.

BONUS: Enter to win a copy of Memoir: Conversations and Craft at our giveaways page!

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Writing Style and Focus

Causeway: A Passage From Innocence, by Linden MacIntyre

Can a writer be both punchy and elegant? Yes, they can. I have always enjoyed Linden MacIntyre’s writing style. I read Causeway: A Passage From Innocence, MacIntyre’s "hauntingly bittersweet memoir of home, fathers and sons, and the bridge between dreams and demons,” when I had been living in Cape Breton for about ten years. I couldn’t put the book down. It appealed to me as a "Caper-in-training" (how I ref …

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A Taster: Spring 2021 Nonfiction Preview

Life stories, family, baseball, and retreat. These highlight the nonfiction we're most looking forward to this spring,

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Her Name Was Margaret (February), by Denise Davy

About the book: Margaret Jacobson was a sweet-natured young girl who played the accordion and had dreams of becoming a teacher until she had a psychotic break in her teens, which sent her down a much darker path. Her Name Was Margaret traces Margaret's life from her childhood to her death as a homeless woman on the streets of Hamilton, Ontario. With meticulous research and deep compassion author Denise Davy analyzed over 800 pages of medical records and conducted interviews with Margaret's friends and family, as well as those who worked in psychiatric care, to create this compelling portrait of a woman abandoned by society.

Through the revolving door of psychiatric admissions to discharges to rundown boarding homes, Davy shows us the grim impact of deinstutionalization: patients spiralled inexorably toward homelessness and death as psychiatric beds were closed and patients were left to fend for themselves on the streets of cities across North America. Today there are more 235,000 people in Canada who are counted among the homeless annually and 35,000 who are homeless on any given night. Most of t …

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25 Reasons to be Hopeful

In difficult times, sometimes hope is maligned as something frivolous, a symptom of one's inability to engage with reality and look trouble in the face. But of course, the certainty of hopeless is its own kind of limitation. As Rebecca Solnit writes, "To me, the grounds for hope are simply that we don’t know what will happen next, and that the unlikely and the unimaginable transpire quite regularly.”

The following books are infused with hope—that what we do and who we are really matters, that second chances are possible, and so too is a better world.

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This is Not the End of Me, by Dakshana Bascaramurty

About the book: Layton Reid was a globe-trotting, risk-taking, sunshine-addicted bachelor—then came a melanoma diagnosis. Cancer startled him out of his arrested development--he returned home to Halifax to work as a wedding photographer—and remission launched him into a new, passionate life as a husband and father-to-be. When the melanoma returned, now at Stage IV, Layton and his family put all their stock into a punishing alternative therapy, hoping for a cure. This Is Not the End of Me recounts Layton's three-year journey as he tried desperately to stay alive for his young son, Finn, and then found purpose in preparing Finn for a world without him.

Wit …

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5 Books for World Alzheimer's Month

In fiction and nonfiction, these authors whose lives have been touched by Alzheimer's Disease bear witness and weave stories about the complexity of memory, identity, and love.

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Reverberations: A Daughter's Meditations on Alzheimer's, by Marion Agnew

About the book: Most people think Alzheimer's Disease is the same as memory loss, if they think about it at all. But most people prefer to ignore it, hoping that if they ignore it hard enough, it will go away. That was certainly Marion Agnew's hope, even after she knew her mother's diagnosis. Yet, with her mother's diagnosis, Marion's world changed. Her mother—a Queen's and Harvard/Radcliffe-educated mathematician, a nuclear weapons researcher in Montreal during Word War II, an award-winning professor and researcher for five decades, wife of a history professor, and mother of five—began drifting away from her. To keep hold of her, to remember her, she began paying attention, and began writing what she saw. She wrote as her mother became suspicious on outings, as she lost even the simplest of words, as she hallucinated, as she became frightened and agitated. But after her mother's death, Marion wanted to honour the time of her mother's life in which she had the disease, but she didn't want the illness to domin …

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Most Anticipated: Our 2020 Fall Nonfiction Preview

We're looking forward to books about history, true crime, memoir, nature, music, dance, food, and so much more. There's something for everyone looking for fantastic nonfiction in Fall 2020.

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Wish You Were Here: A Murdered Girl, a Brother's Quest and the Hunt for a Serial Killer (September), by John Allore and Patricia Pearson, is the story of a brother’s lifelong determination to find the truth about his sister’s death, a police force that was ignoring the cases of missing and murdered women, and, to the surprise of everyone involved, a previously undiscovered serial killer. Barbara Amiel’s memoir Friends and Enemies (October) is not a book of vengeance (though that this needs to be denied is intriguing!) but an attempt to find her own truth: a life that reads like a novel. Jann Arden—bestselling author, recording artist and late-blooming TV star—is back with If I Knew Then (October), a funny, heartfelt and fierce memoir on becoming a woman of a certain age. And Bill Arnott guides readers on an epic literary odyssey following history’s most feared and misunderstood voyageurs in Gone Viking (September).

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Launchpad: On Nostalgia, by David Berry

Book Cover On Nostalgia

Today we're launching David Berry's book On Nostalgia, a history of nostalgia—which is no small thing! Tobias Carroll writes at Literary Hub, "[Berry] pulls off the impressive feat of covering plenty of ground in a concise and compelling manner."

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The Elevator Pitch. Tell us about your book in a sentence.

It’s a cultural history of nostalgia, an examination of why and how we’re so ceaselessly drawn back.

Describe your ideal reader.

Someone who has never met a Wikipedia hole they couldn’t fall in.

What authors/books is your work in conversation with?

Among others, I’d hope it’s in conversation with writers like FT Marinetti, Jaron Lanier, Eric Hobsbawm, Barbara Tuchman, Steven Pinker, Bill Bryson and every tech CEO who has written a thinkpiece or memoir, although I would certainly not claim that all those conversations are polite or respectful.

What is something interesting you learned about your book/ yourself/ your subject during the process of creating and publishing your book?

I learned that when left to my own devices, my nostalgic thoughts tend to turn towards chocolate chip cookies. Also, I went from someone who was pretty deeply suspicious of nostalgia in general to someone who is deeply suspicious of the ways it’s used against us and profoundly …

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