2020 Trillium Book Award Finalists

Ontario, Canada’s Top Literary Award

2020 Trillium Book Award Finalists


TORONTO | May 12, 2020 | Fourteen diverse books have been shortlisted for Ontario’s prestigious literary prize, the 2020 Trillium Book Award/Prix Trillium, presented by Ontario Creates, an agency of the government of Ontario.

There are two English and two French prizes: the Trillium Book Award in English and the Prix Trillium in French, as well as the Trillium Book Award for Poetry in both English and French. Written by established and emerging authors, the shortlisted titles span a wide variety of genres, showcasing the diversity of voices that make up Ontario’s vast literary landscape.

The Trillium Book Award/Prix Trillium winners will be announced during an online event on June 17, 2020. In the ramp-up to the big awards night, Ontario Creates will be sharing, celebrating and showcasing these 14 talented finalists on our website and social channels.

English-language Finalists for the Trillium Book Award:

  • Christina Baillie and Martha Baillie, Sister Language, Pedlar Press
  • Téa Mutonji, Shut Up You’re Pretty, VS. Books/Arsenal Pulp Press
  • Sara Peters, I Become a Delight to My Enemies, Strange Light
  • Zalika Reid-Benta, Frying Plantain, House of Anansi Press
  • Seth, Clyde Fans: A Picture Novel, Drawn & Quarterly


Now available from Pedlar Press directly, or from local fine independent booksellers.

Alan Reed studied semiotics at the University of Toronto and writing at Dartington College of Arts in the UK. He is the author of a collection of poems, For Love of the City, two plays, and the novel, Isobel and Emile. He lives in Montreal QC. Isobel and Emile was nominated for the 2011 ReLit Awards fiction long list.



The Artist’s Way

A simple coming-of-age narrative told in rhythmic prose, The Benjamenta College of Art follows Luca, a first-year student carving out a place for himself at the titular institution. Luca quickly falls in love with Amalia, a fellow student, and, as their relationship blossoms, he embarks on a mission to draw the college itself, a labyrinthian “puzzle box” filled with students — “people who will not ever belong anywhere,” in Amalia’s words — just like him.

Indeed, there is something universal about Luca, whose only identifying feature is his “shaggy” hair, which grows longer and longer over the course of his studies. An unknown novice in the insular world of the college, he is lonely and insecure, and yet somehow certain that he would rather be there than the place he left. Upon completing his first year, he decides to stay in town for the summer, claiming, “he [does] not want to go back to where life was small enough for all of it to fit into a neat little house and nothing else but the sky overhead.” So, he works and he draws, making forays into the city to study the college from various angles. However, when his relationship with Amalia comes to an end a year later, his enthusiasm for his art wanes.

Artmaking is so often misrepresented in popular culture, with talent and inspiration superseding much of the actual work involved. (If I had a quarter for every thirty- second movie montage of a novelist churning out a manuscript, I’d probably have more than the average book advance these days.) In contrast, Luca is not presented as someone who is especially gifted or passionate, nor is he ever fully satisfied with his work, a strength of this novel. His experience suggests that making art is about time and trust. As Reed writes, “He is so close to something, he may not realize it yet but he is, it has been there all along and he just has to notice it under everything else that he wishes it would have been.” The book’s ending sidesteps tropes about turning heartbreak into artistic gold, but there is still the sense that Luca will persist. Some of Reed’s stylistic choices make this a challenging read. His long sentences carry a poet’s attention to cadence and sound, making them easier to digest when read aloud. Reed doesn’t employ dialogue, and a painstaking focus on actions such as getting dressed or turning on lights can feel tedious. Everyday objects appear repeatedly in Reed’s physical descriptions, which tend to be general; a desk is “the kind of desk that would be in a classroom except that it is here and not in a classroom,” and the doors in the college “are all different sizes and made from all different kinds of wood, when they are made of wood, and not even the door handles are ever the same…” While all of these choices seem intentional, they detract from tension, leaving this book with a lack of forward drive.

Reed’s choice for the name of this college appears to be an overt wink to The Institute Benjamenta, a 1995 art film directed by the Brothers Quay. While I can’t offer commentary on how these two works are related, having not seen the film, reviewers describe it as “quasi-mystical” and “dreamlike,” adjectives that could also be applied to Reed’s work. Incidentally, this college appears to have worked its way into my subconscious, as one night while reading this book, I dreamt that I was there. It was a strange experience — much like making art.   —mRb

Carly Rosalie Vandergriendt is a Montreal-based writer whose work has appeared in Journey Prize Stories 30, Humber Literary Review, CVC Short Fiction Anthology, The Fiddlehead, The Malahat Review, and others. She is currently at work on her first novel. Visit her at carlyrosalie.com.

CULT LIFE, poetry by Kyeren Regehr

Interview with Kyeren Regehr

All Lit Up: What did you learn writing Cult Life?

Kyeren Regehr: I learned a manuscript is like a melting pot that I can pour any number of elements into, and eventually, if heated steadily over the slow-burning flame of the subconscious, all the dross rises to the surface and can be scraped away. It also became clear during the editing process that even when telling a true story, emotional veracity is sometimes more important than literal truth.

ALU: If you were a character in a Choose Your Own Adventure story, what kind of quest would you be on? What three things would you have with you on your journey?

KR: Not so long ago I spent five weeks in a palm leaf hut in the Amazon jungle—no electricity, the only food a bowl of plantains and quinoa morning and evening, bathing and clothes-laundering in a river next to a cave of bats… scorpions, giant spiders, thieving monkeys, far too many exquisitely beautiful creepy-crawlies. My next Choose Your Own Adventure is a quest for human happiness in the jungle of my own garden, I’ll have a soft blanket, a good novel, and a steady supply of hazelnut chocolate (fair trade and plant-based).

ALU: Where do you draw inspiration from outside of poetry?

KR: What’s alive and juicy always inspires me both in my writing and in my life—the natural world, music and other art, humour, spirituality, good people, my family. The word inspiration comes from the action of breath, to breathe in (obviously); to fill oneself up with life. It’s too easy to fill ourselves up from the vast deadzone of the consumer culture, which is sedating and utterly uninspiring. I try to cultivate a feel-good mindset and fill up with small moments of gratitude for simple things (it’s not a perfect practice). Writing often comes from a place of trying to understand/unravel what doesn’t make sense, or from something that sparks my curiosity. A curious person is easily inspired.

ALU: Help us with a poetry prompt for our readers. Can you come up with a writing prompt for our readers to write their own poetry?

KR: Here’s a quick fun prompt, a kind of modern quasi-ekphrastic idea for a poem. When you’re ready with your notebook open, take several moments to breathe several full and deep breaths (to get out of your head and into your body). Actually do this until you feel a physical softening and slowing down. (Don’t skip the breathing, it’s a vital step.) Then… scroll through the camera on your phone (yes, your phone!) and stop at the first image that provokes an emotional/physical response. Something that makes you smile, cringe, sigh, etc. Don’t second guess yourself, don’t think about it. As soon as you feel it, stop. Use this image. Become curious about the quality of light/shadow/colour (or lack thereof), about the curves/angles/depth etc, until you can look through the image and into the beginning of a poem. (Tip: If you get tangled in thinking, return to the breath.)


THE DIFFICULT, nonfiction by Stan Dragland


Stan Dragland is originally from Alberta and lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland. He is Professor Emeritus, Department of English, Western University. He has taught creative writing at the Banff Centre and at Los Parronales, Chile. He was founder of Brick magazine and Brick Books, a poetry publishing house. Between 1994 and 1997, he was poetry editor for McClelland & Stewart. His first work, Peckertracks (1979), was shortlisted for the Books in Canada First Novel Award; Floating Voice: Duncan Campbell Scott and the Literature of Treaty 9 (1994) won the Gabrielle Roy Prize for Canadian literary criticism: 12 Bars (2002) was co-winner of the bpNichol Chapbook Award; Apocrypha: Further Journeys (2003) won the Newfoundland and Labrador Rogers Cable Award for nonfiction; Stormy Weather: Foursomes (2005) was shortlisted for the E.J. Pratt Poetry Award. Strangers & Others: Newfoundland Essays (2015) was shortlisted for the BMO Winterset Award). His recent work, Gerald Squires, has been nominated for the NL Nonfiction Book Award.


THE DIFFICULT is Dragland’s seventh work with Pedlar. If anyone were to insist that I, Beth Follett, explain myself, that I demonstrate my impartiality toward this writer who happens also to be my dear companion, I would say, Look deep into the heart of all Stan’s works, for you will find one theme especially repeated there, the theme explored by Rilke with his young student: We know little, but that we must trust in what is difficult is a certainty that will never abandon us. . .that something is difficult must be one more reason for us to do it. Readers of Dragland’s works will find their own ways to new, stranger and perhaps more difficult works, will find that by reading such books they are altered for the better, their own ways of reading the world forever changed, forever enriched.