Hamilton writer adds Writers’ Trust prize to Governor General’s Award for debut book ‘Chrysalis’


Published December 6, 2023 at 11:45 am

Hamilton's Anuja Varghese was honoured by both the Writers' Trust Awards and the Governor General's Award for her debut short story collection 'Chrysalis'

The awards keep coming for Hamilton writer Anuja Varghese.

A month ago Varghese’s debut collection of short stories, Chrysalis, won the prestigious Governor General’s Award for fiction and the $25,000 cash prize that goes with that honour. Two weeks later her book won the $10,000 Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBTQ2S+ Emerging Writers at the Writers’ Trust Awards ceremony November 21 in Toronto.

The award is presented to an emerging Canadian writer who identifies as (but is not limited to) lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or two-spirit for an outstanding debut book in any genre.

Chrysalis is a short story collection that centres South Asian women, showing how they reclaim their power in a world that constantly undermines them. Exploring sexuality, family and cultural norms, the stories deal with desire and transformation.

The book is described by the Writers’ Trust selection committee as an “electric array” of queer, feminist, and mythical short stories. “Varghese uses aspects of Hindu folklore and magical realism to transform her stories into powerful tales. Elements of queerness are sprinkled throughout, turning our perception of love stories on their head. The writing is focused and vivid with characters that are unapologetic and feisty; they love who they love and do not shy away from stepping into their powerful selves.”

The short stories in Chrysalis are not typical diasporic tales of food, identity, and belonging, “but rather ones that weave together thematic complexities of the historical horrors of colonialism with queerness and joy.”

Varghese was one of three writers shortlisted for this year’s award.

Other winners include debut novelist Kai Thomas, who won the $60,000 Atwood Gibson Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for his novel In the Upper Country; and Christina Sharpe, who took home the $75,000 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction for Ordinary Notes.

Four authors were also honoured for their contributions to Canadian literature over the course of their careers: Laisha Rosnau won the $60,000 Latner Griffin Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize; Helen Humphreys won the $25,000 Matt Cohen Award; Kyo Maclear earned the $25,000 Vicky Metcalf Award for Literature for Young People; and Anosh Irani won the $25,000 Writers’ Trust Engel Findley Award.

Several of the winners, including Varghese, Thomas and Maclear, called for a ceasefire in the Israeli-Hamas war in the middle east in their acceptance speeches.

Other major issues touched on by winners included reconciliation, addiction and book bans.

Varghese also used her speech to encourage queer writers to find their community and “don’t give up.”

“If you are a queer writer in the room or watching and you are worried there’s no space for your stories or maybe your family doesn’t support you or your community doesn’t feel safe for you, find your people,” she said. “And don’t give up because we need your voice.”

The Writers’ Trust Awards, founded in 1976 by Margaret Atwood, Pierre Berton, Graeme Gibson, Margaret Laurence and David Young, supports Canadian writers through literary awards, fellowships, financial grants, mentorships and more.

Chrysalis was among 14 titles, seven in English and seven in French, that were acknowledged by the Governor General’s Literary Awards as the best books in 2023 at a ceremony on November 8.

The prizes are administered by the Canada Council for the Arts, with a total of $450,000 awarded across all the prizes annually.

Varghese, a Hamilton-based writer and editor, has also seen her stories recognized in the Prism International Short Fiction Contest and the Alice Munro Festival Short Story Competition.

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