A deeply researched and critical study of Canada's health care services for Indigenous children by Samir Shaheen-Hussain has won two Quebec Writers' Federation (QWF) annual literary awards. Fighting for a Hand to Hold: Confronting Medical Colonialism against Indigenous Children in Canada, was awarded both the Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-Fiction, and the Concordia University First Book Prize.
Shaheen-Hussain's Fighting for a Hand to Hold is "a necessary book," wrote one juror, "not just for medical workers who provide care for Indigenous children, but for civil servants who proportion this care, and especially necessary for Quebec politicians who continue to deny systemic racism against Indigenous people and other racialized minorities."
The author, a pediatrician and assistant professor of medicine at McGill, was a key organizer of a campaign that prompted the Quebec government to stop airlifting children from northern communities for treatment down south without a parent or caregiver present.
The QWF's Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction went to Mikhail Iossel for Love Like Water, Love Like Fire, a collection of semi-autobiographical short stories tracing a man's youth in Soviet Russia to his immigrant experiences in Montreal.
"Harrowing, hilarious, dark, and devastating," was how one juror described the stories by Iossel, a Concordia University literature professor. "The sentences twist the reader through the illogical forces of dictatorship, childhood, puberty, survival, and writing angsty poetry in a communist regime." Another cited one of the book's tales, Moscow Windows, as "surreal and realistic…one of the best stories I have ever read."
Other QWF prize-winners are:
• The Janet Savage Blachford Prize for Children's/Young Adult Literature to Monique Polak, for Room for One More, a wartime story of Rosetta, a Westmount girl whose family hosts a "ready-made brother" Isaac, a 16-year-old Kindertransport refugee from Nazi Germany.
• The A. M. Klein Prize for Poetry to Sarah Venart for I Am the Big Heart, whose poems were described by a juror as, "deceptively compact, yet expansive narratives (whose) details…are warm to the touch."
• The Cole Foundation Prize for Translation to Sarah Henzi for rendering the late An Antane Kapesh's Je suis une Maudite sauvagesse; Qu'as-tu fait de mon pays? to I Am a Damn Savage; What Have You Done to My Country?
• The Judy Mappin Award for outstanding contributions to English-language literature in Quebec to bookseller Richard King, founder of Paragraphe Bookstore, and writer H. Nigel Thomas, whose teaching and founding of Kola magazine has been transformational for Black writers in Quebec.
• The QWF College Writers Prize to Julian Button-Nadon of John Abbott College for his short story, "A Fisher's Parade."
• The carte blanche Prize for best contributions to QWF's online magazine to Noa Padawer-Blatt, for Tricks (Issue 41).
For details on QWF prize-winners and short-listed finalists, and their works, please go to https://qwf.org/award-year/2021/
— Quebec Writers' Federation