Trillium Book Award

Trillium Book Award

The Walrus Foundation celebrates the silver anniversary of Ontario’s leading book prize

The Walrus Foundation joins the Ontario Media Development Corporation in celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Trillium Book Award.

The OMDC established the award program in 1987 to “recognize excellence, support marketing, and foster increased public awareness of the quality and diversity of Ontario writers and writing.” In the first year, Michael Ondaatje won for his novel In the Skin of a Lion. A host of internationally acclaimed authors have followed, including Margaret Atwood, Timothy Findley, Thomas King, Anne Michaels, and Alice Munro.

The Trillium Book Award for Poetry has gone to the province’s emerging poets since 2003. Only first, second, or third published works are eligible, with separate awards for English and French languages. Past winners of the former include Maureen Scott Harris, Jeramy Dodds, and Karen Solie.

In 1994, the OMDC launched the Prix Trillium, a separate distinction for Ontario’s francophone writers and their publishers. In 2006, it modified the French-language awards to honour poetry and children’s literature in alternating years.

The Trillium Book Award can now be won by titles in any genre: fiction, non-fiction, drama, children’s lit, and poetry. A jury of writers and literary figures judges all submissions to select both the finalists and ultimate winners.

Many examples of fiction, poetry, memoir, and journalism by past Trillium Book Award recipients can be found in The Walrus magazine’s archives. We are proud of our relationship to these creators, and of our shared history, along with the OMDC, of supporting and cultivating the arts in Ontario.


Phil Hall, Killdeer

BookThug, 2011
Author photo: Ann Silversides
The Walrus Blog Q&A
Phil Hall

Ken Babstock, Methodist Hatchet

House of Anansi Press, 2011
Author photo: Carolin Seeliger
The Walrus Blog Q&A
Ken Babstock
Methodist Hatchet

David Bezmozgis, The Free World

HarperCollins Canada, 2011
Author photo: David Franco
The Walrus Blog Q&A
David Bezmozgis
The Free World

Tony Burgess, Idaho Winter

ECW Press, 2011
Author photo: Ian Willms
The Walrus Blog Q&A
David Burgess
Idaho Winter

Kristen den Hartog, And Me Among Them

Freehand Books, 2011
Author photo: Sara Angelucci
The Walrus Blog Q&A
Kristen den Hartog
And Me Among Them

David Gilmour, The Perfect Order of Things

Thomas Allen Publishers, 2011
Author photo: Sandrine Expilly
The Walrus Blog Q&A
David Gilmour
The Perfect Order of Things


Nick Thran, Earworm

Nightwood Editions, 2011
The Walrus Blog Q&A
Nick Thran

Helen Guri, Match

Coach House Books, 2011
The Walrus Blog Q&A
Helen Guri

Jacob McArthur Mooney, Folk

McClelland & Stewart, 2011
Author photo: Mike McPhaden
The Walrus Blog Q&A
Jacob McArthur Mooney

Margaret Atwood

Margaret AtwoodGeorge Whiteside

Born: Ottawa, Ontario

Resides: Toronto, Ontario

Trillium Book Award–winning works: Wilderness Tips (1991*), The Robber Bride (1993), Morning in the Burned House (1995)

Selected additional works: The Edible Woman (1969), Surfacing (1972), Lady Oracle (1976), Life Before Man (1979), Bodily Harm (1981), The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), Cat’s Eye (1988), Alias Grace (1996), The Blind Assassin (2000), Oryx and Crake (2003), The Penelopiad (2005), The Year of the Flood (2009)

Prose for The Walrus:Resisting the Veil” (October 2003), “Warlords” (March 2005), “Voice” (July 2005), “I Dream of Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth” (July/August 2012, excerpt)

Biography: Margaret Atwood is the author of more than fifty volumes of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and children’s literature. Her work is widely read and acclaimed across the globe; it has been translated into more than forty languages. Among her numerous writing prizes, she has won the Man Booker Prize, two Governor General’s Literary Awards, and three Trillium Book Awards; she is a companion to the Order of Canada and to the Order of Ontario. Atwood has taught and held writer-in-residence posts at a number of universities in Canada and abroad, and is the recipient of several honourary degrees. A lifelong advocate for human rights and environmental protection, she is the current vice president of PEN International and honourary president of the Rare Bird Club within BirdLife International.

* All book dates indicate year of publication.

Austin Clarke

Austin Clarke

Born: St. James, Barbados

Resides: Toronto, Ontario

Trillium Book Award–winning work: The Polished Hoe (2002)

Selected additional works: The Survivors of the Crossing (1964), Growing Up Stupid Under the Union Jack (1980), Nine Men Who Laughed (1986), Proud Empires (1986), Public Enemies: Police Violence and Black Youth (1992), The Origin of Waves (1997), The Question (1999), More (2008)

Prose for The Walrus:We Want a Black Poem” (March 2007), “Where Are the Men?” (June 2008)

Biography: In 1955, Austin Clarke left his home in Barbados for the University of Toronto’s Trinity College because, he later told U of T Magazine, it was “the closest thing to Oxford.” Two years later, he left school to marry and seek employment as a journalist. Malcolm X was the first person he interviewed for radio. In 1969, Clarke unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Toronto. He has since become a member of the Order of Canada: his citation reads, in part, “a distinguished novelist and short story writer who has explored the immigrant experience with humour, compassion, happiness[,] and sorrow.” For decades, Clarke has been a respected author, teacher, and community activist. The Polished Hoe, in addition to winning the Trillium Book Award, received the Giller Prize for fiction, the Commonwealth Writers Best Book Award for Canada and the Caribbean region, and the Commonwealth Writers Award.

Jeramy Dodds

Jeramy DoddsAnna Koskinen

Born: Ajax, Ontario

Resides: Calgary, Alberta

Trillium Book Award for Poetry–winning work: Crabwise to the Hounds (2008)

Selected additional works: “Two Riders, Four Werewolves” (2011)

Poetry for The Walrus:Cottage Country” (September 2010)

Biography: In his own words, Jeramy Dodds “started writing during puberty because talking was impossible.” The poet and sometime archaeologist grew up less than an hour’s drive east of Toronto. He has since lived in Iceland, where he worked on translations of the thirteen-century epic Poetic Edda, and Calgary, where he was a writer in residence at the University of Calgary. He recently accepted an invitation to Scotland to participate in the Hawthornden Castle Fellowship, an international retreat for writers. His poems have been translated into Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Icelandic, Latvian, and Swedish.

Mark Frutkin

Mark FrutkinSandra Russell

Born: Cleveland, Ohio

Resides: Ottawa, Ontario

Trillium Book Award–winning work: Fabrizio’s Return (2006)

Selected additional works: The Growing Dawn (1983), Atmospheres Apollinaire (1988), Invading Tibet (1991), In the Time of the Angry Queen (1993), The Lion of Venice (1997), Iron Mountain (2001), Erratic North: A Vietnam Draft Resister’s Life in the Canadian Bush (2008), A Message for the Emperor (2012)

Biography: When Mark Frutkin was nine years old, his older brother gave him a combined edition of The Iliad and The Odyssey bearing the inscription “In hopes that from this you may learn to love the literature of the ancients.” The optimism paid off in full: Frutkin studied five years of Latin, and now thanks the Jesuits for his interest in language. Born and raised in Ohio, he came to Canada as a draft resister during the Vietnam War. He settled on a Quebec farm that had belonged to a World War II resister, living in a log cabin with no electricity or running water. He later moved to Ottawa, where he still resides comfortably. He is the author of three books of poetry and seven books of fiction. His newest novel, A Message for the Emperor, is scheduled for publication this September.

On winning the Trillium: “When I arrived back at my house in Ottawa, I found that a friend of mine, who is a very literary-minded person, had put up a sign saying, ‘Welcome back, winner of the Trillium Award!’ It was right on my driveway for the whole neighbourhood to see. That was quite fun.”

Camilla Gibb

Camilla GibbGeorge Whiteside

Born: London, England

Resides: Toronto, Ontario

Trillium Book Award–winning work: Sweetness in the Belly (2006)

Selected additional works: Mouthing the Words (1999), The Petty Details of So-and-So’s Life (2002), The Beauty of Humanity Movement (2010)

Prose for The Walrus:You Go First” (July/August 2004), “The Principles of Exile” (July/August 2007)

Biography: Camilla Gibb, born in London and raised in Toronto, is a trained ethnographer with a doctorate in anthropology from Oxford University. In 2001, the jury of the prestigious Orange Prize for Fiction named her one of twenty-one young female authors to watch in this century. She’s worked hard to merit the distinction, spending fifteen years researching Sweetness in the Belly, a historical novel set against the backdrop of the Ethiopian revolution. Her next book, The Beauty of Humanity Movement, plunged readers into the world of contemporary Vietnamese society. Upon its publication, the Globe and Mail dubbed Gibb (along with authors Steven Heighton, Katherine Govier, and Miguel Syjuco) one of Canada’s “New Orientalists.”

Thomas King

Thomas KingGiles Revell

Born: Sacramento, California

Resides: Guelph, Ontario

Trillium Book Award–winning work: The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative (2003)

Selected additional works: Medicine River (1990), A Coyote Columbus Story (1992), One Good Story, That One (1992), Green Grass, Running Water (1993), Coyote Sings the Moon (1998), Truth and Bright Water (1999), Coyote’s New Suit (2004), A Short History of Indians in Canada (2005), The Red Power Murders: A Dreadful Water Mystery (2006)

Prose for The Walrus:Not Enough Horses” (July/August 2004)

Biography: Thomas King was born to a Cherokee father and a mother of Greek and German descent. He grew up in California, worked as a photojournalist in Australia, and earned a Ph.D. in English literature and American studies from the University of Utah. He has held numerous teaching positions in the US and Canada — he moved here in 1980 — and became well-known to CBC Radio audiences for writing and performing in Dead Dog Café Comedy Hour (1997–2000) and Dead Dog in the City (2006). His Trillium-winning book, The Truth About Stories, began as the 2003 Massey Lectures; King became a member of the Order of Canada the following year. In the 2007 federal election, he ran as the New Democratic candidate for his Guelph riding, finishing fourth.

Alistair MacLeod

Alistair MacLeodTed Rhodes

Born: North Battleford, Saskatchewan

Resides: Windsor, Ontario

Trillium Book Award–winning work: No Great Mischief (1999)

Selected additional works: The Lost Salt Gift of Blood (1976), As Birds Bring Forth the Sun and Other Stories (1986), Island: The Collected Stories (2000), To Every Thing There Is a Season: A Cape Breton Christmas Story (2004)

Biography: Alistair MacLeod was a young boy when his family moved from Saskatchewan to a farm on Cape Breton Island. He studied to become a specialist in British literature of the nineteenth century, then held teaching positions at Indiana University and the University of Windsor (from which he’s now retired). He is internationally renowned for his short stories, though it was his only novel, No Great Mischief, that claimed the Trillium. The book was short listed for Canada’s major literary awards, and won the 2001 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. MacLeod is a member of the Order of Canada and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

On winning the Trillium: “Writing is a very solitary craft. You’re often just in your cave or attic or cellar, but when you finish your book goes out to creative partners and then the larger world. It’s nice when it finds other people.”

Rabindranath Maharaj

Rabindranath MaharajGlenn Lowson

Born: Tableland, South Trinidad

Resides: Ajax, Ontario

Trillium Book Award–winning work: The Amazing Absorbing Boy (2010)

Selected additional works: The Interloper (1995), The Writer and his Wife (1996), Homer in Flight (1997), The Lagahoo’s Apprentice (2000), The Book of Ifs and Buts (2002), The Perfect Pledge (2005), The Picture of Nobody (2010)

Related reading:Melting Plots” by Nav Purewal (March 2010)

Biography: Rabindranath Maharaj came to Canada from Trinidad in 1992. He arrived in New Brunswick, where he earned a master’s degree in creative writing; his dissertation became his debut novel, Homer in Flight. Maharaj has lived in southern Ontario since the late 1990s. The idea to write The Amazing Absorbing Boy — a book about a teen immigrant’s experience of the multicultural Canadian city — came to him during his commute to Toronto’s downtown reference library, where he was a writer in residence. While studying his fellow commuters, he allowed his imagination free rein. “I’d feel that, wait a minute, if I go and have a conversation with that guy, I’m sure he’d tell me that some hit man from Argentina is after his family,” he later explained to the Globe and Mail.

On winning the Trillium: “My books had been shortlisted for a number of awards, but I’d never won. I want to be very honest here: I wish that, in some cases, I could have won, because I understand now how important awards really are. Every year, you have a couple hundred books being published. You need something like this to remove yourself from the crowd… It’s more important than reviews. This is a prize-driven society.”

Pasha Malla

Pasha MallaJason Bomers

Born: St. John’s, Newfoundland

Resides: Toronto, Ontario

Trillium Book Award–winning work: The Withdrawal Method (2008)

Selected additional works: All Our Grandfathers Are Ghosts (2008), People Park (2012)

Prose for The Walrus:1999” (May 2010), “The Air Strip” (June 2010), “Nightmare on George Street” (November 2010), “The Question Remains” (December 2010), “Housebroken” (June 2011)

Biography: Pasha Malla was born in St. John’s, grew up in London, Ontario, and now resides in Toronto. He is the son of a psychiatrist father from Kashmir and a social worker mother from Britain. In addition to his frequent contributions to The Walrus, he has written for Esquire, Nerve, Salon, the Globe and Mail, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. The Withdrawal Method, his first book of stories, was short listed for the Commonwealth Book Award and long listed for the Giller Prize; it won both the Trillium and the Danuta Gleed Literary Prize, and was named a book of the year by both the Globe and Mail and National Post. His debut novel, People Park, is due for release later this year.

On winning the Trillium: “I had been working for a long time on what were just stories, which, together, I didn’t think of as a book. It was never really a book until I held it in my hands, and even then it blew me away that people who didn’t even know me were reading this thing. The [Trillium] cemented the fact that there were other people reading my stuff and responding to it in a way that just wasn’t on my radar.”

Michael Ondaatje

Michael OndaatjeBeowulf Sheehan/PEN American Center

Born: Columbo, Ceylon (Sri Lanka)

Resides: Toronto, Ontario

Trillium Book Award–winning works: In the Skin of a Lion (1987), The English Patient (1992)

Selected additional works: The Dainty Monsters (1967), The Man with Seven Toes (1969), Rat Jelly (1973), Coming Through Slaughter (1976), Elimination Dance (1978), Running in the Family (1982), Secular Love (1984), Anil’s Ghost (2000), The Story (2006), Divisadero (2007), The Cat’s Table (2011)

Biography: Michael Ondaatje is known around the world as the author of The English Patient, which won the Trillium, the Man Booker Prize, the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, and the Canada Australia Prize — and it was adapted into a Hollywood film that won nine Academy Awards, including best picture. Ondaatje immigrated with his mother, brother, and sister to England in 1954, then followed his brother to Canada eight years later. In 1971, he won the first of his five Governor General’s Awards for The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, which melds prose and poetry with photos, illustrations, and “clippings.” He was made an officer of the Order of Canada in 1988, and a foreign honourary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2000. He continues to be a major force in Canadian literature.

Maureen Scott Harris

Maureen Scott Harris

Born: Prince Rupert, British Columbia

Resides: Toronto, Ontario

Trillium Book Award for Poetry–winning work: Drowning Lessons (2004)

Additional works: A Possible Landscape (1993); The Raven and the Writing Desk (2007, with artist Kelly Aitken); “Broken Mouth: Offerings for the Don River, Toronto” (2009)

Biography: Maureen Scott Harris was born in Prince Rupert, grew up in Winnipeg, and has lived in Toronto for nearly four decades. Until 1993, she worked as a cataloguer of rare books and in other capacities by the University of Toronto’s library system. She has since thrived as a poet, author, editor, and reviewer, and as production manager of Brick Books. In 2002, she won Arc Poetry Magazine’s Poem of the Year contest. She took the Trillium in 2005, and followed it a year later with first prize in Prairie Fire’s Creative Non-Fiction Contest. In 2009, Scott Harris became the first non-Australian to win the WildCare Tasmania Nature Writing Prize — an award that includes a two-week residency in a Tasmanian National Park.

On winning the Trillium: “I don’t think I can call myself a new poet. I’ve been writing a long time. But I’m delighted to think of myself as emerging, in all shades of that word’s meaning.”

Karen Solie

Karen SolieBarbara Stoneham

Born: Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan

Resides: Toronto, Ontario

Trillium Book Award for Poetry–winning work: Pigeon (2009)

Additional works: Short Haul Engine (2001), Modern and Normal (2005)

In The Walrus:Tractor” (March 2008)

Biography: Karen Solie has been a cub reporter, a photographer, a barrista, a farm hand, a groundskeeper, an academic research assistant, and an English teacher. Her debut collection, Short Haul Engine, won the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize, the Gerald Lampert Award, and the ReLit Award. Her second collection, Modern and Normal, was short listed for the Trillium. Pigeon, the Trillium winner that established her as one of Canada’s premier poets, also won the Griffin Poetry Prize and the Pat Lowther Award.

On winning the Trillium: “When you’re sitting in front of a blank screen and you’re writing some line that you think is genius, and the next morning you get up and realize it’s absolute shit, and you feel like the last good poem you wrote is the last good poem you’re ever going to write… the award is a little thing you can go back to, to remind yourself, ‘Well, I’m not a complete idiot, because these people that I respect told me that I can do something well.’ It means a lot.”

Related Reading:Something to Remember” by Joseph MacKinnon — The Walrus Blog on scene at the Trillium Winner Author Readings.

The Walrus Foundation acknowledges the generous support of the Ontario Media Development Corporation. Please visit our partner site, Open Book: Toronto.
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