“I’m thrilled for myself, I’m thrilled for the book, and I’m very gratified that this is a story that has resonated with the jury,” Savage told Q&Q after accepting the $60,000 award at a Toronto gala Monday night.
Savage won for A Geography of Blood: Unearthing Memory from a Prairie Landscape, published by Greystone Books in partnership with the David Suzuki Foundation.
The book, which has also been longlisted for the $40,000 B.C. National Award for Canadian Non-fiction, is a personal narrative that addresses the violent history of the Cypress Hills region of eastern Saskatchewan, where Savage lives part of the year. The jury’s citation describes A Geography of Blood as “a haunting meditation on time and place” and “a part memoir, part history, part geological survey, part lament, part condemnation of the accepted myth of the settlement of the Western Plains.”
“I’m not the first person to tell the story that’s at the heart of this book,” Savage said. “My whole purpose was to try to make the unbearable truth bearable, so that it could become part of our way of understanding ourselves.”
If anything could taint the night’s celebratory mood it would be the financial straits of the book’s publisher: Greystone is an imprint of D&M Publishers, which entered creditor protection in late October and is currently restructuring. Savage, a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and board member of the Nature Conservancy of Canada, has published more than a dozen books with Greystone, including 2004’s Prairie: A Natural History.
“I think the shipwreck at Douglas & McIntyre and Greystone Books is a tragedy,” she told Q&Q. “It’s hard to know who to feel most sorry for: the people like my brilliant editor who’s lost her job, the publicists who’ve lost their jobs, or the young women who had just started as the heads of those publishing programs.”
She added: “We don’t really have the measure yet of what the loses are. I keep hoping that something can rise from the dust, but perhaps that’s an unrealistic goal.”
Savage got her start in the book trade working under Greystone’s publisher, Rob Sanders, at the defunct Western Producer Prairie Books, which had been owned by the Saskatchewan Wheat Board. She credits Sanders with supporting her throughout her writing career.
“He absolutely has been my most stalwart companion, and he’s made everything possible for me,” she says.
Savage was nominated for the Weston Prize alongside four other finalists, each of whom received $5,000. The other nominees were: Kamal Al-Solaylee for Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes (HarperCollins Canada); Modris Eksteins for Solar Dance: Genius, Forgery, and the Crisis of Truth in the Modern Age (Knopf Canada); Taras Grescoe for Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile (HarperCollins Canada); and JJ Lee for The Measure of a Man: The Story of a Father, a Son, and a Suit (McClelland & Stewart).
The finalists were selected by a jury comprising former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario James Bartleman, author and past Weston Prize finalist Charlotte Gill, and journalist Marni Jackson. In selecting the winner, the jury was helped out by celebrity jurors Barbara Amiel Black and CTV’s Seamus O’Regan.