Governor General’s Award-winning writer Erin Moure is shortlisted for the QWF’s prestigious Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-Fiction for her book Sitting Shiva on Minto Avenue, by Toots (New Star Books, 2017). The book tells the story of a man who had no obituary and no funeral and who would have left no trace if it weren’t for the woman he’d called Toots, who took everything she remembered of him and — for seven days — wrote it down. “I just knew he didn’t deserve to vanish,” Moure recently said. In recording the tale of the little man, through memories and Google searches, the book gives a glimpse into an entire era of urban Canada, from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and Main Street and Chinatown to a long-ago Montreal between the Great Depression and Expo ’67.
Erín Moure, a Montreal poet and translator, who once lived in Vancouver, begins this “work of the imagination” (“minto,” in Galician, means “I’m lying”) with a quote from Judith Butler about those persons who have “come to belong to the ungrievable,” though there may be some that grieve them. Erín Moure’s most recent book of poems is Planetary Noise: The Poetry of Erín Moure, edited and introduced by Shannon Maguire (Wesleyan University Press). No one alive now knows who Toots is.
The author of numerous books says she worked obsessively in a short span of time to produce the first draft of Sitting Shiva. “All I did was write for seven days in grief and panic to salvage every memory I had of the little man so he would not disappear. He lived in but did not participate in our market-driven economies and society of consumption and accumulation; he just lived in a remarkable attentionality to others and to spaces, and managed his disease as best he could. Friendship meant something to him, humanity did; he understood it.” The author is pleased the work is getting recognised. “I am surprised and glad that it can mean something to others, who never knew Paul. But who live in the world especially of Vancouver or of Montreal and who recognise the histories.” As for awards for books, Moure admits to not paying that much attention to shortlists in general. “But in the fall I am aware of the awards as their publicity reaches me and I do enjoy celebrating the wide range of amazing books that come out of Quebec each year — so in that sense, I do look forward to that joy and presence.”
The shortlist comes as a happy surprise to the Montreal author who used to call Vancouver home. “I am very humbled that it meant enough to a jury of folks who never knew Paul Émile Savard to shortlist it for the Mavis Gallant Prize in Montreal, which is one of its cities.” Other finalists for the award are Robyn Maynard — Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present (Fernwood Publishing) Judi Rever — In Praise of Blood (Random House Canada). The QWF Awards Gala takes place on Tuesday November 20th, 2018 in Montreal. For ticket information, click here.
Sitting Shiva on Minto Avenue, by Toots
New Star Books (Vancouver)