Mother of boys, Norma Dunning says she likes to think of her books as her “daughters,” even when using the pronouns “she” and “she” to refer to her works.
One of her daughters, “Tainna: The Unseen Ones”, gave the Inuit writer much to be proud of, as the 2021 recipient of the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction.
Dunning said she didn’t know the short story book was submitted for the $ 25,000 prize until she opened her inbox last month to find out that “Tainna” had been named a finalist.
The author, academic and Edmonton grandmother said the victory gave her a level of visibility that is often denied to her as an older Indigenous woman.
“For someone who’s a longtime writer, this is validation of the work I offered,” Dunning, 62, said by phone ahead of the awards announcement Wednesday. “It’s just a nice reward at the end of it all.”
While writing from a young age, Dunning said she didn’t consider pursuing her passion on a professional level until her sons started having children of their own.
“Everything I have done has been late,” she said. “I started to think… I should get others to read this. It’s not just for me anymore.
Dunning enrolled in college at the age of 50, focusing her scholarship on Indigenous studies and educational sciences, while honing her craft in creative writing classes.
As she rose through the ranks of academia, eventually becoming a teacher at the University of Alberta, Dunning continued to balance research and fiction.
She wrote “Tainna” while doing her doctoral thesis in Victoria. The collection of short stories, published by Douglas & McIntyre, focuses on the experiences of today’s Inuit living outside their home territory.
“I have written a lot about the expectations of others when it comes to Inuit,” Dunning said, noting that the stories touch on issues such as racism and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Dunning said she hopes the Governor General’s Award will introduce “Tainna” to new readers.
“I love it, so I want everyone to read it,” she said. “It’s a bunch of stories that really make us all think about our own perceptions of what Inuit are or should be. “
The Governor General’s Literary Awards, which are administered by the Canada Council for the Arts, awarded honors in seven categories in English and French.
Kingston, Ontario poet Sadiqa de Meijer received the Non-Fiction Prize for “Alfabet / Alphabet: A Memoir of a First Language,” published by Anstruther Books, which explores her transition from Dutch to English.
Tolu Oloruntoba of Surrey, British Columbia, won the poetry category for “The Junta of Happenstance,” also from Anstruther Books.
The dramatic award went to Hannah Moscovitch of Halifax for “Middle Class Sexual Misconduct,” published by Playwrights Canada Press.
In children’s literature, Philippa Dowding of Toronto won the Text Award for “Firefly,” published by DCB, while Winnipeg writer David Robertson and Vancouver artist Julie Flett shared the Illustrated Book Award for “On the Trapline ”, published by Tundra Books.
The winner of the French to English translation was Erín Moure of Montreal for “This Radiant Life”, published by Book * hug Press, based on the original work by Chantal Neveu, “La vie radieuse”.
Each winner receives $ 25,000, while the publisher of each winning book receives $ 3,000 to support promotional activities. The finalists each receive $ 1,000.
There are separate French language categories for French writing.
Founded in 1936, the Governor General’s Literary Awards award a total of approximately $ 450,000 per year.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on November 17, 2021.