To Trillium and Beyond: The 2015 Trillium Awards and the Future of Women Writers

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The winners:

Poetry Award: Broom Broom by Brecken Hancock

Prix du livre d’enfant: Mauvaise mine by Micheline Marchand

Prix littéraire: Vioncelle pour lune d’automne by Michel Dallaire

Book Award: How You Were Born by Kate Cayley


Let’s discuss the finalists and winners of the 2015 Trillium Awards. In the Prix littéraire Trillium, the category had a 3:2 ratio of men to women (Martine Batanian, Michel Dallaire, Blaise Ndala, Daniel Poliquin, and Patricia Smart); the Trillium Book Award had an even split of three women and three men (Margaret Atwood, Dionne Brand, Kate Cayley, James King, Thomas King, and Edmund Metatawabin with Alexandra Shimo). From short stories to memoir, this year’s Prix littéraire Trillium and Trillium Book Award finalists ran the gamut of genre at the highest level of craft.

All of the finalists in both the Trillium Award for Poetry and Prix livre de d’enfant Trillium were women. The 2015 finalists for the Poetry Award were Brecken Hancock, Aisha Sasha John, and Deanna Young. Challenging the constructs of time, sense, and memory, these three women write compelling works that capture the reader and call for reflection. The 2015 finalists for Prix du livre d’enfant were Diya Lim and Micheline Marchand. Both of these women write effectively to a younger audience, blending ideas of fantasy and reality in order to draw readers into their irresistible narratives.

Taking a closer look at these numbers leads to further questions. It is true that these numbers evidence women receiving attention and acknowledgement for their accomplishments. However, the categories of Poetry and Children’s Literature were completely composed of women finalists. Do these numbers evidence a growing genre-bias in writing? Or at least illustrate a genre-bias in this year’s Trillium Award?

Hazel Millar is the publicist and managing editor for BookThug. (BookThug published Aisha Sasha John’s THOU, which was a finalist in the poetry category.) Hazel is also the co-curator of the HIJ Reading Series and the publicist for National Poetry Month. Hazel graciously offered to chat with me at the Trillium Awards about the gender divide within the world of publishing. We spoke about Rob Spillman’s article in Flavorwire. (Canthius co-editor, Claire Farley, previously discussed this article in the Canthius blog post Why Start a Literary Journal for Women Writers). Hazel explained that BookThug’s fiction editor, Malcolm Sutton, had recently shared Spillman’s article with her as well. Hazel replied to these gender divide concerns in relation to BookThug: “As it turns out, Malcolm has been experiencing a very similar thing as the editors of Tin House and Granta have outlined. At the moment we do tend to receive far more submissions from men than women.” However, Hazel mentioned that BookThug has an unspoken mandate to prioritize women in publication. It is interesting, though, that they have experienced a bit of a genre-bias in terms of submissions by women. Hazel said: “We have had quite a bit of success attracting and supporting women poets, which is something we are very proud of, but have found it more difficult to attract women prose writers to submit.” BookThug’s fiction editor, Malcolm Sutton, has been following the same approaches as Tin House and Granta; as a result, BookThug hopes to see a greater number of women submit work in the future. As Hazel said: “Of course, we have had some wonderful experience publishing women prose writers like Marianne Apostolides, Alisha Piercy, Carellin Brooks and now Jess Taylor, and we hope these successes will help to encourage more women to submit their prose work to the press.” BookThug has had great success in publishing women across genres and actively promotes their women writers.

I also had the opportunity to speak with Brecken Hancock at the Trillium Award Readings. Brecken’s collection Broom Broom won this year’s Trillium Award for Poetry. With a stunning intimacy, her collection reveals personal history and private pain through an exploration of form and soundscape. Brecken expressed her concerns with the gender divide within the writing world. Regarding content in writing, Brecken said: “I believe feminist work is incredibly important alongside the work of writing.” She expanded upon that idea: “I fully support (and have volunteered for) amazing organizations like Canadian Women in the Literary Arts because I think that encouragement, advocacy and awareness-raising are essential to address the gender gap.”

Perhaps the 2015 Trillium Award finalists demonstrate a narrowing of the gender gap within writing. This year, the finalists were made up of ten women and six men. Furthermore, three women writers and one male writer won awards. This year, women took the Trillium Awards by storm. But the awards are not an end; they are an opportunity to spread awareness and share literature – great literature. As Anne Michaels once said at a Trillium Reading: “Awards always bring readers to books – books to readers. And that’s a fantastic thing.” It is a wonderful thing, and it’s incredible that Ontario offers the Trillium Awards to honour writers, their works, and their publishers.

But where do we go from here? We still need to critically examine the gender gap and genre-bias present within the realms of awards, publishing, and writing. We must ask why women are more willing to propose their work in the field of poetry than to present work within the field of prose. Asking women why they write within a specific genre generates interesting discussion and urges women writers to answer the following questions: “What have you been writing lately?” and “Will you share it?”

Kristen Smith is currently pursuing doctoral studies at York University in Toronto, Ontario. Her interests in literature include Atlantic Canadian and Island Poetry, exploring themes of absence, silence, isolation, belonging, regionalism, and community. She received her Master’s Degree in English from the Literatures of Modernity Program at Ryerson University. She has four articles currently in publication with the University of Liverpool, the International Journal of Literature and Psychology, Inter-Disciplinary Press, and the International Journal of Media & Cultural Politics.

 Photo Credit:

Claire FarleyComment