Hamilton author wins prestigious Governor General’s Literary Award with debut book


Published November 8, 2023 at 5:01 pm

Anuja Varghese Chrysalis Governor General’s Literary Awards Hamilton authors writers

Hamilton-based author Anuja Varghese has won the prestigious Governor General’s Literary Award for fiction for her debut short story collection Chrysalis, a work she hopes readers will personally connect with and even see as a mirror of their own experiences.

Founded in 1936, the awards celebrate literary works across seven categories for all ages. The works were published in Canada in English and French.

“The winners of the 2023 GGBooks are memorable and distinct in how they connect us to the current moment,” said Michelle Chawla, director and chief executive of Canada Council for the Arts, in a statement. “They are being celebrated and are worth discovering for what has been captured on the page, and because they will go on to influence literature and generations of readers to come.”

Varghese’s Chrysalis is described as “genre-blending stories of transformation and belonging” about women of colour, exploring queerness, family and community.

“I feel incredibly honored to be recognized alongside a shortlist of books and authors I admire so much! It feels particularly special to be the only short story collection in the mix, so if it encourages more readers to get into short stories, I’m very excited about that,” said Varghese in an email to inthehammer.com today (Nov. 8).

Winners receive a $25,000 prize.

The author plans to give back to Hamilton’s literary community, who she says have been supportive in many ways.

“So my hope is to use this win to help open doors for other emerging writers, particularly QT-BIPOC (Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) writers, and support local opportunities and platforms for those voices in whatever ways I can,” she said.

The peer assessment committee members for the Governor General’s Literary Award said Chrysalis highlights Varghese’s “impressive range.”

“Each story is complex and intimate, the characters served by rich, evocative writing that goes to the heart of their humanity. Confidently cutting across genres, Chrysalis is sparkling and downright delightful,” wrote Carleigh Baker, Neil Bissoondath and Jessica Westhead in a statement. 

The book, published by House of Anansi Press, tackles the complexity of family, community, sexuality and cultural expectation, including ways in which racialized women are “robbed of power” and how they reclaim it. 

Chrysalis Anuja Varghese books fiction Hamilton writers authors

Author credits Hamilton’s supportive writing community 

Inthehammer.com asked Varghese what she hopes to accomplish with her writing, particularly with her award-winning book Chrysalis.

“I think the dedication of my book says it best. It reads: ‘This book is for all the girls and women who don’t see themselves in most stories. You are worthy of reflection, despite what you have been told,’” she said. “I hope readers connect with these stories in personal ways, and perhaps, find a mirror somewhere in the pages of this book.”

Varghese said the stories in her book are mostly set in Toronto, where she lived for 10 years. However, it was in Hamilton where she found a supportive writing community and that helped her write the book. 

She credits writing workshops by Hamilton-based literary artist Jaclyn Desforges in helping to bring her Chrysalis short stories to life. Desforges is the Mabel Pugh Taylor Writer in Residence at McMaster University.

“I would really encourage Hamilton writers at any stage of the writing journey to come out to local events like gritLIT, Lit Live, and Dirty Laundry Poetry Series,” she said. “I promise it will not only make your writing better, but will also make being a writer a lot more fun!”

Varghese is a writer and editor whose writing has also been recognized in the PRISM International Short Fiction Contest. She was also nominated for the Pushcart Prize and shortlisted for the Writers Trust of Canada Dayne Ogilvie Prize. 

The Governor General’s Literary Awards is funded and run by the Canada Council for the Arts. Eligible books were published between Aug. 1 and July 31. Peer assessment committees (seven in English and seven in French) review the finalists in each category.

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