Five books have been selected for the short list for the eighth annual George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature.
The books were chosen from a total of 57 submissions.
“We had to enlarge the short list to five from three,” said Sean Johnston, an English professor at Okanagan College. “The entries overall were really strong this year.”
Gabor Gasztonyi’s book, A Room in the City, published by Anvil Press, is a collection of photographs, poetry and prose about Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
“It captures the lives of the people,” Johnston said. “This has been examined many times, but it still needs a closer look.”
Working With Wool: A Coast Salish Legacy and The Cowichan Sweater, by Sylvia Olsen and published by Sono Nis Press, is about the women who make the famous Cowichan sweaters.
Invisible Chains, by Benjamin Perrin and published by Penguin, deals with human trafficking and was the hardest book to read, Johnston said.
“It’s something we don’t want to think about,” he said. “It’s a really difficult subject matter.”
The Tiger, by John Vaillant and published by Knopf Canada, is the most acclaimed book on the list. It is about tiger hunting in eastern Russia.
“It seemed to be a global story of humans encroaching on the habitat of animals,” Johnston said.
One Story, One Song, by Richard Wagamese, published by Douglas and McIntyre, is a series of essays about one person’s place in the world.
Johnston describes this essay collection as “a prolonged investigation.”
This year, some of the books considered were positive and personal, rather than hard-hitting examinations of deep social problems.
Johnston said there was no conscious choice to change the tone of the awards.
“There might have been a misperception about what social awareness means,” he said. “Social awareness is a personal thing too.”
The list of books was released on July 27, Ryga’s birthday.
The winner of the award will be announced at a gala presentation at Centre Stage Theatre on Oct. 1.
The evening will also showcase Portrait of a Lady: A Tribute to Margaret Laurence, with Dorian Kohl playing the role of Hagar Shipley in the adaptation of Laurence’s novel, The Stone Angel.