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Norma Dunning wins $25,000 Governor General’s English fiction prize for ‘Tainna’

The Edmonton-based Inuk writer explores themes of displacement, loneliness and spirituality in six short stories / BY Robert Wiersema / November 17th, 2021

The Canadian literary prize season came to a triumphant close this morning with the announcement of the winners of the 2021 Governor General’s Literary Awards.

Edmonton writer and University of Alberta lecturer Norma Dunning, 62, was awarded the English fiction prize for her book, Tainna: The Unseen Ones, a collection of six short stories exploring contemporary Inuk life. Dunning, who entered university when she was 50, wrote Tainna while working on her doctoral dissertation on Indigenous peoples education, which she completed in 2019.

The English non-fiction prize was awarded to Kingston, Ont., poet Sadiqa de Meijer for alfabet/alphabet: a memoir of a first language, which traces the writer’s transition from speaking Dutch to English.

Norma Dunning


The GG awards were announced on the heels of the $100,000  Scotiabank Giller Prize, which went to Omar El Akkad on Nov. 8 for his second novel, What Strange Paradise, with two of the biggest 2021 Writer’s Trust prizes handed out Nov. 3, when Katherena Vermette won the $60,000 Atwood Gibson fiction prize for her second novel, The Strangers, and the $60,000 Hilary Weston non-fiction prize was awarded to Tomson Highway for his memoir, Permanent Astonishment.

The Governor General’s English drama prize went to a previous GG nominee, Halifax writer Hannah Moscovitch, for her play, Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes, an account of a relationship between a student and teacher, exploring the power dynamics of the post #MeToo era.

Tolu Oloruntoba, who lived in Nigeria and the United States and is now based in Surrey, B.C., was awarded the English poetry prize for his debut, full-length poetry collection The Junta of Happenstance, an exploration of disease, rooted in his experience as a doctor, and dis-ease, including family dysfunction, the im/migrant experience, and social injustice.

With 14 categories (seven in each official languages), including both adult books and books for young readers, the GGs are Canada’s most expansive and oldest established literary prizes, with winners reflecting the geographic and cultural diversity of the country.

Each of the winners was chosen by a specialized panel of their peers; the winning author receives $25,000, with their publisher receiving a $3,000 grant, while each finalist receives $1,000.

The full list of nominees and winners of the 2021 Governor General’s Literary Awards can be found on their website.



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