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The Boat People has won the 2019 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction! (Yes, THAT Harper Lee). I’m so grateful to Doubleday for putting the book forward and to the jurors who obviously have a very refined literary palate. Also: the University of Alabama School of Law and the ABA Journal who administer and sponsor the prize. These things are a lot of work and labours of love.
Late next month, I’ll be accepting the award at a ceremony at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. (I KNOW. IT’S WILD) In addition to a speech, there will be an on-stage conversation between myself and the jurors. We’ll be talking about To Kill a Mockingbird and my book and probably politics and refugees.
Refugee law, and in particular, the perfectly legal and legitimate process of coming to the border and seeking asylum, is a situation that is woefully misunderstood by the general public. It doesn't help that so many Canadian politicians - many of them lawyers by training - willfully and purposely lie. Fiction can be the antidote, translating the letter of the law into a compelling plot and using imagined characters to show readers the truth. The truth is so important. This is a federal election year and now more than ever we all have a duty to tell the truth. Loudly. And as often as possible. Awards give me and my book a soap box and a megaphone. For these gifts, I’m incredibly grateful.
Y’all, The Boat People was in THE NEW YORK TIMES!
THE NEW YORK TIMES! The Boat People was featured in the December 9th issue’s “new in paperback” section alongside Emily Wilson’s translation of Homer’s Odyssey and a non-fiction about the roots of the American asylum system. Appropriate, n’est-ce pas?
The American paperback hit shelves this month and along with it came a small resurgence in publicity stateside, including the NYT mention, a lovely review in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and some blog love too.
And late last month, LitHub asked me to curate a list of “lesser known Canadian books.” So I wrote a short essay and threw together a book list, all the while cringing at the thought of the title LESSER KNOWN CANADIAN BOOKS AS CHOSEN BY TOTALLY UNKNOWN CANADIAN. But when the piece came out I laughed out loud (and totally approved) of the title they chose. The Great White North Isn’t So White.
And speaking of lists, it is end-of-the-year round up season and The Boat People was one of several books on the CBC’s Best Canadian Fiction of 2018 list, 49th Shelf’s best fiction of the year, and the best books of the year list on Pickle Me This.
THE BOAT PEOPLE has been long-listed for the Aspen Words Literary Prize! Awarded annually, it’s given to “an influential work of fiction that illuminates a vital contemporary issue and demonstrates the transformative power of literature on thought and culture). This is a pretty new prize, only in its second year. The inaugural winner was Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (a book I read back in January and adored).
I was on a plane to Toronto last Monday afternoon, blissfully unaware that the team at Doubleday US had even submitted my book for consideration, when the long-list was announced. I landed to the happy email from my publicist and then I looked up the competition and was even happier. Because look at those books! In particular, Brother by David Chariandy, one of my favourite reads from last year.
The short-list will be announced in February. Until then, fingers crossed!