Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Charles Taylor Prize

I see that the Charles Taylor prize has this year gone to Andrew Westoll for his book The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary. From the little bits of it I've seen, it seems like a fascinating book. Check it out here.

But it also makes me think of the relatively good run of winners that were, in some fashion, historical. In 2008 it went to Richard Gwyn for the first volume of his Sir John A Macdonald biography. Then in 2009, it went to Tim Cook for the second volume of his history of Canadians in the Great War, Shock Troops. And last year the award went to Charlie Foran's beautiful biography of Mordecai Richler. Admittedly, Foran's biography was literary but in telling the life of Richler he also made a period the past come to life, at least as Richler saw it.

I'm sure it will be history's turn again, and in another year a book that is in some measure 'historical' will win the prize. But the announcement makes me think again of how few professional historians publish books that could be considered 'literary non-fiction' - the main criteria for the Charles Taylor Prize.

Tim Cook is the only professional historian to have won the prize, and Cook's main job is as the Great War historian at the new War Museum. And he deliberately writes in a way that has 'cross-over' appeal. That is, the books are solidly researched, but he writes to a mainstream audience.

Why don't more Canadian historians do this? What's wrong with the 'literary' in 'literary non-fiction'? Questions worth asking, even if the answers take a while to produce...

No comments:

Post a Comment