Systemic Racism Doctor’s Book Wins Two QWF Literary Awards

Samir Shaheen-Hussain was one of the few double winners for Fighting for a Hand to Hold: Confronting Medical Colonialism Against Indigenous Children in Canada.

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A rare double winner was among the stars of the 23rd annual Literary Awards gala of the Federation of Quebec Writers, held Wednesday evening at the Lion d’Or and hosted by Montreal novelist Sean Michaels, winner of the Giller Prize.

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First author Samir Shaheen-Hussain, pediatrician and assistant professor of medicine at McGill University, won Concordia University’s First Book Award and the Mavis Gallant Non-Fiction Award, for Fighting for a Hand to Hold : Confronting Medical Colonialism Against Indigenous Children in Canada.

The three-person jury for the first book hailed the in-depth work as “an important book that defines and confronts racism in all its nefarious forms … a wake-up call for governments and the medical community”. The Gallant jury called the book “particularly necessary for Quebec politicians who continue to deny systemic racism against Indigenous peoples and other racialized minorities.”

Mikhail Iossel won the Hugh MacLennan Paragraph Prize for Fiction, for Love Like Water, Love Like Fire, a collection of stories inspired by the experience of the author who grew up in the twilight years of the former Soviet Union and immigrated to North America, where he eventually held an academic position at Concordia. The longest story, Moscow Windows, was honored by the jury, who described it as “brilliant … surreal and realistic, filled with humor and irony”.

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Saleema Nawaz’s pandemic-themed novel, Songs for the End of the World (written before COVID), We, Jane by Aimee Wall and Undersong by Kathleen Winter were also shortlisted in the category.

The AM Klein Prize for Poetry went to Sarah Venart for I Am the Big Heart, a collection hailed as “a vulnerable and moving account of what it means to love and care for others.”

Three-time QWF winner Monique Polak won the Janet Savage Blachford Prize for Children’s and Young Adult Literature for her novel Room for One More. Polak was honored for her story, which takes place in 1942, of a Montreal schoolgirl learning about the experience of German Jews during World War II.

Mikhail Iossel won the Hugh MacLennan Paragraph Award for Fiction.
Mikhail Iossel won the Hugh MacLennan Paragraph Award for Fiction. Photo by Natalie Olivares /Federation of Writers of Quebec

The Cole Foundation Prize for Translation alternates each year between titles from French to English and from English to French. This year, it was the turn of the first, and the honor went to Sarah Henzi for I Am a Damn Savage; What have you done to my country ?, the two part translation of Je suis une Cursite sauvagee and What have you done with my country? An Antane Kapesh, a pair of works first published in the 1970s in bilingual French-Innu editions . The jury said: “Henzi’s masterful translation and insightful afterword carry a powerful voice and illustrate a commitment of rare depth to a text worth reading afar.

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The Judy Mappin Community Award, recognizing outstanding contributions to English-language literature in Quebec, had two recipients this year: the founder of Paragraphe bookstore, Richard King, and H. Nigel Thomas, Montreal novelist, teacher and founder of the literary review Kola, for its achievements in the recognition and promotion of black writers in Quebec.

Wednesday’s gala marked a return, after a one-year hiatus due to COVID, to the venue that has hosted the event for almost three years since 2002. Attendance restrictions notwithstanding, the resumption of the usual vibe of community building was warmly welcomed by all.

A replay of the gala can be viewed online. For more details, visit qwf.org.

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  1. Pediatric emergency physician at the Montreal Children's Hospital, Samir Shaheen-Hussain has fought for years against discrimination in the Quebec health network.

    Systemic racism in Quebec health care has been around for a long time, says doctor

  2. Erín Moure bridges the worlds as a poet and translator

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