Here’s the prize for facing parents — and siblings — head on
The Writers’ Trust capped off its annual night of prize giving on Wednesday—some $260,000 in total—with two of Canada’s premier book of the year awards, the $50,000 Rogers Writers’ Trust fiction prize and the $60,000 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust nonfiction prize. They went to an oddly matched couple, both exploring, in their own ways, one of the defining issues of their baby-boom generation. Kathy Page won the fiction award for Dear Evelyn, a novel inspired by her parents’ long and complicated marriage, while Elizabeth Hay won the nonfiction prize for All Things Consoled, her memoir of her parents’ lives: two gifted writers facing their parents—and siblings—head on.
The latter took as much courage as the former and considerably more empathetic caution. Her parents, after all, were dead, Hay, 67, commented wryly, “but I did worry about my brothers and my sister. I didn’t hear from them for quite awhile after I sent them copies, but it worked out in the end.” The youngest of three sisters, 60-year-old Page was also “very anxious about their reactions. The fear of them not talking to me again was inhibiting. It turned out I didn’t need to worry—one read several chapters in draft and made good comments, the other had reservations but didn’t demand rewrites.”
How the two authors went about their work arose from instinctive reactions. “Memoir never crossed my mind” Page says. “I needed to create a story so I could imagine my way out of their actual stories, to move from strict fairness to the larger, life-like arc of fiction.” For Hay, who had originally contemplated a book of short stories drawn from family life, it was the realization that “I just couldn’t call my parents any other than Gordon and Jean Hay, and then that I couldn’t call my husband by another name, and then my son…and there it was, memoir.”