Tawhida Tanya Evanson wins inaugural Blue Metropolis New Contribution Literary Prize

The alumna takes flight with first novel, Book of Wings
December 15, 2022
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By Richard Burnett, BA 88

Portrait of a woman with blue headdress “What sparked my love of spoken word and music was working as a DJ and music director of [Concordia’s] student radio station CRSG (now CJLO),” says Tawhida Tanya Evanson, BA 97. | Photo: Temmuz Arsiray

Montreal poet, performer and oral storyteller Tawhida Tanya Evanson, BA 97, is the winner of the inaugural Blue Metropolis/Conseil des arts de Montréal New Contribution Literary Prize for her début novel Book of Wings (Véhicule Press).

The novel, which follows an artist on a global journey of self-discovery, was described by Quill & Quire as “a stunning testament to how the grief of heartbreak can bring us back to who we are.”

“It is based on travels that I made in my late 20s to Morocco, France and a few other countries,” says the Antiguan-Quebecoise multidisciplinary author and arts educator. “I wrote about those experiences at the time but I wasn’t quite sure what they all meant. So, I sat on that manuscript for 20 years.”

The Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival — one of the largest multilingual festivals of its kind in North America — hosted an advance award ceremony at Montreal’s Salon du livre on November 24, and will present the award to Evanson in person at a larger event next spring during the 25th anniversary edition of Blue Metropolis, which runs from April 27 to 30, 2023.

“To be recognized like this is a wonderful feeling,” says Evanson, who has also published two collections of poetry, Bothism and Nouveau Griot, and has performed internationally for 25 years as a spoken-word artist.

“I also think when you work in poetry — which is already on the fringe of literary arts and spoken word is even further on the fringe — you don’t necessarily do it for accolades. You do it out of love.”

Image of book cover Book of Wings is the winner of the inaugural Blue Metropolis/Conseil des arts de Montréal New Contribution Literary Prize.

While Evanson enjoys writing, she says she also loves experiencing live-audience reactions at her spoken-word events.

“I am also a dancer,” Evanson explains. “That’s a different kind of performance, where you also lose yourself, but without words. When using language, the idea is to let the language, the content and the theme be at the forefront — but you also use your body. The text has to be strong, and the body also has to be strong for it to flow through. I’m kind of in the John Giorno-style of poets who sweat.”

A full-circle moment

Currently serving as vice-president of the Quebec Writers’ Federation, Evanson is translating Book of Wings into French for publication in 2024. And with Montreal’s legendary Kalmunity Vibe Collective, she is working on an “Afrofuturist long video-poem” titled Cyano Sun Suite, which will premiere in 2023.

“During COVID, I watched a lot of live concert documentaries from the late 1960s and early 1970s and thought, ‘I want to do something like that but with spoken word.’ So, I talked to members of Kalmunity Vibe Collective and we put on a live poetry-music concert at the Montreal Biosphere that will become this film.”

Evanson says her studies in Concordia’s Creative Writing program helped shape her work and career.

“My work was workshopped in class by other students and vice versa. It was invaluable being in that kind of setting,” she recalls. “What sparked my love of spoken word and music was working as a DJ and music director of the student radio station CRSG (now CJLO). I also studied publishing with my professor, Simon Dardick, who runs Véhicule Press, which published Book of Wings.

“There was a really nice circle there. I enjoyed my time at Concordia.”



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