Author Michelle Good has won a prestigious Governor General’s Literary Award, shortly after winning the Amazon Canada First Novel award.
The Kamloops-area author received the award for her book, Five Little Indians, published by Harper Perennial/HarperCollins Canada. The awards were announced on Tuesday, June 1, with seven English and seven French categories.
Good’s novel won in the English Fiction category.
The author has seen quite a number of accolades come her way for her debut novel, but the reality of the book’s success hasn’t fully set in, she said.
“I am in a state of gracious shock,” Good said, adding she has been ‘bombarded’ with media and speaking requests as word of the book continues to get out.
Five Little Indians tells the story of five young students at residential school in British Columbia.
“The paths of the five friends cross and crisscross over the decades as they struggle to overcome, or at least forget, the trauma they endured during their years at the Mission,” the description of the book reads.
Along with winning the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Amazon Canada First Novel Award, Five Little Indians was a finalist for the 2020 Atwood Gibson Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, was on the Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist and made it onto the Globe and Mail, CBC, Apple, Kobo and Indigo Best Book of 2020 lists. The book is also up for an Indigenous Voices Award, to be announced in late June.
“Every time the book gets a greater profile, there are more hearts and minds that can be opened to the direct and intergenerational impact of the residential school legacy, and perhaps it will contribute to an ongoing and a better participation in reconciliation,” Good said.
It’s a sentiment that rings particularly clear after last week’s announcement that the remains of 215 children had been discovered in an unmarked mass grave at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Before being published, Five Little Indians was something Good had been working on for nearly a decade. Good said the writing process for the book, released in 2020, began in 2011, while she was studying for a graduate degree at UBC.
“I made the decision that I was going to do a Masters of Fine Arts specifically to write this book,” Good said.
After finishing up the degree, she decided she would spend the next couple of years fine-tuning the work until she was satisfied with the result.
“I wanted to let it grow beyond the confines of thesis requirements,” Good said, adding she is happy to let her writing take as long as necessary.
“I’m not one of those really disciplined persons,” she said. “I do get up at five every morning, but I don’t set a particular amount of time to write. I just am driven by the intensity of the writing itself and I write until I’ve run out of things to write. I let it gestate and let it carry on and carry me to the next moment when it’s flowing freely. I really prefer living in quiet, rural places. I have a beautiful eight-foot picture window that looks out over a lake and it’s very inspirational. That’s where I write.”
Good is now working on a new novel inspired by her own family history.
“It speaks to a broadly characterized, fictionalized version of my great-grandmother,” Good said. “She was born in 1856 and I was born in 1956. There’s a really nice symmetry there.”
Good is a descendant of the Battle River Cree and a member of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. Her great-grandmother was part of the 1885 Frog Lake uprising. Her uncle was Chief Big Bear.
“She never saw a non-Indigenous person until she was in her late teens, maybe early 20s,” Good said. “This book is an articulation of the history of ‘clearing the Plains’ through the eyes of an Indigenous woman who had cleared the Plains without the interference of white people, or I should say, colonizers, for a period of time, and then experienced the extreme impact of what it meant to have those cultures clash.”
Good was a practicing lawyer and professor for much of her professional career, with a law degree from UBC. She also worked as a lecturer in Indigenous resurgence and colonial fingerprints in the 21st century.
“It was a pretty awesome experience,” Good said.
Founded in 1936, the Governor General’s Literary Awards are one of Canada’s oldest and most prestigious literary awards program, with a total annual prize value of $450,000. The Canada Council for the Arts has funded, administered and promoted the awards since 1959.
The winners are selected by the members of peer assessment committees in each of the seven categories in both official languages. The committees assessed eligible books published between September 1, 2019, and September 30, 2020, for English-language books and between July 1, 2019, and June 30, 2020, for French-language books.
Each winner receives $25,000, with the publisher receiving $3,000 to promote the winning books. Finalists receive $1,000 each.
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