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Cree writer Michelle Good is finding it hard to celebrate her book's latest win after the remains of 215 children were found on the site of a Catholic-run residential school in Kamloops, B.C. Photo: Kent Wong

> The Scroll

Debut Novelist Michelle Good Wins 2020 GG Fiction Award

/ BY Kim Honey / June 1st, 2021


The accolades keeps rolling in for this first-time novelist, who published Five Little Indians when she was 65, and now the Cree writer can add the $25,000 Governor General’s fiction award to her resume.

On May 27, Good won the $60,000 Amazon Canada First Novel Award for her story about five residential school survivors who band together after their release as they grapple with the trauma inflicted by the forced separation from their families and their treatment at a church-run school, and try to survive on the streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

In an interview with Canadian Press, Good said it seemed selfish to celebrate when she was mourning the discovery of the remains of 215 children on the grounds of Canada’s biggest residential school in Kamloops, B.C., not far from her home in Savona.

“”Here is this trauma playing itself out again, and again and again, right now. It’s not in the past. Why can’t people see that? This is something that is piercing the hearts of Indigenous people right across the country.”

A member of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, Good drew on the residential-school experiences of her mother, grandmother and cousins, as well as the people she met since she started worked with Indigenous organizations as a teenager. After graduating from UBC law school at 43, she worked primarily as an advocate for residential-school survivors. In her late 50s, she began writing Five Little Indians as a graduate student in UBC’s Master of Fine Arts creative writing program.

After the book was long listed for a 2020 Giller Prize, Good said she was inspired to write it because of “the failure of Canadian society generally to understand how the nightmares of the residential school legacy continue to ripple through the lives and communities of Indigenous people in Canada.” It was also a finalist for the 2020 Writer’s Trust fiction prize.

The 2020 Governor General’s Literary Awards recognized 14 authors writing in English and French, with Laval University literature professor Sophie Létourneau winning the French fiction award for Chasse à l’homme (Manhunt).

Anne Carson, one of Canada’s most celebrated poets, won the English language poetry prize for her 21st book, Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, described as a “meditation on the destabilizing and destructive power of beauty, drawing together Helen of Troy and Marilyn Munroe.”

The English non-fiction award went to Guelph, Ont., ecology and environmental sciences professor Madhur Anand for This Red Line Goes Straight to Your Heart, an experimental memoir about the 1947 Partition of India, which created India and Pakistan, immigration and family.

Founded in 1936, the Governor General’s Literary Awards are one of Canada’s oldest and most prestigious literary awards program, with a total annual prize value of $450,000. The Canada Council for the Arts has funded, administered and promoted the awards since 1959.

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