The 2019 Amazon Canada First Novel Award winner

Al Woodworth on May 23, 2019

Last night in Toronto, Casey Plett, author of Little Fish, was announced as the winner of the Amazon Canada First Novel Award, presented by The Walrus. Now in its 43rd year, the annual award celebrates debut Canadian novelists, many of whom have gone on to become some of Canada’s most beloved novelists — including Michael Ondaatje, Joan Barfoot, W.P. Kinsella, Michael Redhill, Katherena Vermette, and Michael Kaan.

Casey Plett’s novel was chosen from a shortlist of six novels — The Amateurs by Liz Harmer, Searching for Terry Punchout by Tyler Hellard, Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq, Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead, and Reproduction by Ian Williams. As Doretta Lau, one of the judges remarked, “These books show us the power that story has to bring our communities together and how literature enriches our hearts, minds, and spirits.”

The ceremony was truly a celebration of the diverse voices and stories that reflect the world we live in. Throughout the festivities, many of the authors commented on their desire and need to represent their communities in their work, staying true to their own path. The shortlisted authors read briefly from their novels, and each reading crackled with energy and excitement, reflecting the distinct personalities of the writers. The audience loved it — laughing and cheering — which was indicative of this special night and these special writers.

Upon receiving the award to a standing ovation, Casey Plett shared, “This is an incredible an honor…if you had told me five years ago there would be this much reaction, gratitude, appreciation and love for this story about young, poor, sex working transsexuals in Winnipeg dealing with addiction, poverty, mental health. It’s more than the world, it’s more than I can begin to say. Thank you.”

For the second year in a row, the judges also named a winner for the Youth Short Story category, which celebrates authors between the age of 13 and 17 who have written a short story under 3,000 words. Yann Martel, the bestselling author of Life of Pi, delivered the award to Jenniffer Meng for her short story “Where Do All the Birds Go?”

As the winner of the First Novel Award, Plett takes home $60,000, and Jenniffer Meng, winner of the Youth Short Fiction category, received $5,000 along with a mentorship lunch with editors at The Walrus.

—Al Woodworth

Al Woodworth reads and writes regularly for Amazon's best books of the month program.

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