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3 alumni win 2017 Governor General’s Literary Awards

Richard Harrison, Julie Flett and Oana Avasilichioaei earn prestigious annual prizes for best in Canadian lit
November 7, 2017
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By Richard Burnett

Concordia alumni have won an impressive three of seven English 2017 Governor General’s Literary Awards (GGs). The victorious Concordians are Richard Harrison, MA (Eng.) 94, Julie Flett, BFA (studio art) 99, and Oana Avasilichioaei, MA (Eng.) 02, GrDip (transl.) 16.

The Governor General’s Literary Awards recognize Canada’s best English and French books in seven categories: Fiction, Non-fiction, Poetry, Drama, Young People’s Literature — Text, Young People’s Literature — Illustrated Books, and Translation (from French to English and vice-versa). The Canada Council for the Arts administer the awards.

Richard Harrison

On Not Losing My Father’s Ashes in the Flood Richard Harrison’s On Not Losing My Father’s Ashes in the Flood won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry.

In the Poetry category, Harrison was honoured for On Not Losing My Father’s Ashes in the Flood (Wolsak and Wynn Publishers). The Governor General’s Literary Awards peer assessment committee stated, “In these moving poems about the father/son relationship set against the Alberta flood of 2013, Richard Harrison’s intimate yet open voice deftly explores subjects as wide-ranging as childhood, middle-age anxiety, dementia and loss with wonder, humour and resilience.”

The day of his win, Harrison said, “I’m delighted by it, buoyed up and humbled. All day I’ve felt like I’m six and 60 at the same time. Many of my poetry mentors were Governor-General Award winners. From what I think of now as the start of my writing life 40 years ago, the GG was the Prize in front of me. It established, in both its nominee lists and its winners, a community I wanted to be part of.”

Harrison also happily noted that he has “gotten many messages from people who already knew this book intimately, and took the opportunity to talk with me about its meaning to them in detail. And there are people I haven’t heard from in decades writing to me, to look back with me on what I’d written or they’d learned in my classes. And that may be one of this award’s greatest gifts.”

Harrison tips his hat to Concordia for helping him on his way.

“I think of the benefits of both the literary critical classes I took that helped me think better about writing, and of learning how to write better in the creative writing classes I had with poets like Mary di Michele and Gary Geddes,” he said. “I studied with Terence Byrnes [MA 80], as well as with Irving Layton [LLD 76] in his last class before his retirement. Many of my fellow students, who refined their craft at Concordia workshops, have since gone on to do great work themselves. Concordia was part of Montreal’s literary life.”

Julie Flett

When We Were Alone When We Were Alone by David Alexander Robertson and Julie Flett won the Governor General’s Literary Award in the Young People’s Literature — Illustrated Books category.

In the Young People’s Literature — Illustrated Books category, Flett won for When We Were Alone (HighWater Press) which she co-authored with David Alexander Robertson. The peer assessment committee stated, “When We Were Alone is a poignant story of a dark and unforgettable part of Canadian history. David A. Robertson gently links the residential school experiences to a new generation with an enduring example of healing, love and understanding. Julie Flett’s simple but profound illustrations expertly complement the text and elevate this important story.”

Winning this GG Award “is an incredible honour,” Flett says.

She adds, “I keep thinking back to being introduced to David Robertson, when we read the story together for the first time. Not only did it strike me as a beautifully written story, I also started to consider how much of a responsibility it would be to illustrate a book on residential schools. After that initial meeting, other than corresponding on the cover, I was on my own with the material, working and reworking the images to tell the story with pictures as gently and sensitively as it was written.”

“Studying in studio arts at Concordia gave me the opportunity to spend the time I needed to ground myself in a project, to go as deeply as the work and research would take me,” Flett says.

Oana Avasilichioaei

Book-Readopolis Oana Avasilichioaei took home the Governor General’s Literary Award in the Translation category for Readopolis, from the original Lectodôme by Bertrand Laverdure.

In the Translation category, Avasilichioaei won for Readopolis (BookThug), her translation of Lectodôme by Bertrand Laverdure.

The peer assessment committee stated, “In Readopolis, Oana Avasilichioaei has risen to and matched the stylistic acrobatics of Bertrand Laverdure’s Lectodôme. The many voices of Quebecois writing sing through in this intelligent translation — a vertiginous ode to the pure, if rarely rewarded, pursuit of literature.”

About her win, Avasilichioaei says she’s “incredibly amazed, honoured and surprised. I feel a wonderful sense of recognition for this work.”

When she learned the news, “I was speechless, then I jumped out of my seat!” Avasilichioaei recalls. “I’ve published several books, I’ve translated several books, but I never thought I would ever reach the GG ranks.”

Avasilichioaei is thankful for her time at Concordia. “I am a two-time alumna and both degrees are pertinent because, first of all, I don’t think I would be half the translator I am if I wasn’t also a poet, because I really approach translation from a writing perspective,” she says.

“My more recent translation degree really helped me hone some skills and develop in areas that I had less experience with,” she adds. “In fact, I translated this book right after finishing my degree! I am very proud of this book.”

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