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Brian Thomas Isaac’s “All the Quiet Places” wins $5,000 Indigenous Voices Award

The B.C. author, a retired bricklayer, drew on his childhood growing up on the Okanagan Indian reserve for his coming-of-age story set in 1956 / BY Dene Moore / June 24th, 2022


A debut novel written by a 72-year-old one-time bull rider and retired bricklayer is among the winners of the 2022 Indigenous Voices Awards.

Brian Thomas Isaac’s All the Quiet Places won the $5,000 prize for the best published prose in English at the awards announced on June 21, National Indigenous Peoples Day.

The coming-of-age tale is centred around six-year-old Eddie Toma, who is growing up on the Okanagan Indian Reserve in the British Columbia Interior with his mother, Grace, and his little brother, Lewis. It is 1956, racism is rampant, the community is feeling the full weight of systemic colonial discrimination, and Eddie is only beginning to become aware of the greater world around him.

In a radio interview last year, Isaac described the publication of his book as “surreal.” Having spent most of his adult life working – in the oil fields, as a bricklayer, and for a brief time in his teens riding bulls – Isaac has said he was always writing, but the book, inspired by his own life growing up on the Okanagan Indian Reserve, took time.

 

“You go to work. You get married. And by the time you sit down and start to write, it’s quite a gap,” the grandfather said in an interview on CBC’s As It Happens. “But I did remember all of those things … and I do have a child’s imagination.”

In turns hilarious and heartbreaking, jurors called the novel “haunting,” and cited the power of Isaac’s unflinching gaze and meticulous detailing. The book is also a finalist for the 2022 Amazon Canada First Novel Award and was named one of Indigo’s Top 10 Best Canadian Fictions Books of 2021.

It is the fifth year for the Indigenous Voices Awards, which were established in 2017 in response to an online controversy over cultural appropriation. Previous winners include Jesse Thistle’s From the Ashes and Tanya Tagaq’s Split Tooth.

The literary awards consider published and unpublished works in English and French, including prose, poetry, graphic novels, comics or illustrated works, as well as works published in an Indigenous language.

The recipient of the $5,000 prize for a published work in French is Édouard Itual Germain, a member of the Pekuakamiulnuatsh community in Quebec, for his book Ni kistisin / Je me souviens. A self-taught writer, Germain died before he saw his novel published. He was 71 years old.

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