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Canadian-American Author Ruth Ozeki Wins Women’s Book Prize for “The Book of Form and Emptiness”

The UK judges said her fourth novel, inspired in part by the Vancouver Public Library, contained "sparkling writing, warmth, intelligence, humour and poignancy." / BY Kim Honey / June 20th, 2022


Canadian-American author Ruth Ozeki has won the 2022 Women’s Prize for Fiction for The Book of Form and Emptiness, a novel partly inspired by a tale of a ghost haunting the Vancouver Public Library’s basement.

The book centres on Benny Oh, a 13-year-old boy who starts hearing man-made objects speak to him after his father dies. When his mother starts hoarding, the cacophony becomes too much, so Benny find refuge in a library. In an interview with The Georgia Straight last year, Ozeki said the description of Benny’s house and the alley behind it were taken from her memories of living in the downtown east side of Vancouver, behind the Union Gospel Mission second-hand store, which also appears in the novel. 

The Book of Form and Emptiness, published in September 2021, “stood out for its sparkling writing, warmth, intelligence, humour and poignancy,” judge Mary Ann Sieghart said at a ceremony in London, where Ozeki was presented with the prize money, the equivalent of $47,800. 

Ruth Ozeki

 

“”I don’t write novels to win prizes, nobody does, it would be a very stupid thing to do,” Ozeki said at the presentation on June 15. “In the media landscape that is so cacophonous and crowded, what prizes do is create an occasion for celebrating books. In a way it doesn’t really matter who wins.”

The author, a film maker and Zen Buddhist priest, teaches creative writing at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., and splits her time between Massachusetts, New York and British Columbia.

Her third novel, A Tale for the Time Being, won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2013. It was set on Cortes Island, B.C., where Ozeki lived for seven years.

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