Desmond Cole has been awarded the 2020 Toronto Book Award for his memoir “The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power”, published by Doubleday Canada. The announcement was made on November 30 at an online ceremony in conjunction with program partner, Toronto Public Library. The prize was presented virtually by Paul Ainslie, Councillor for Scarborough-Guildwood and a member of the Toronto Public Library Board.

After a lively jury deliberation, the finalists for this year’s Toronto Book Awards have been named. This year’s shortlist includes a novel, a graphic novel, a short story collection and two works of non-fiction and tell stories that reflect the diversity and depth of the communities that call Toronto home.

Finalists for the 2020 Toronto Book Award are:

Book jacket, Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta, published by House of Anansi Press
Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta (House of Anansi Press)
Frying Plantain is a series of linked short stories tracing the path of a Jamaican-Canadian girl in Toronto from childhood to the beginning of her adult life. The narrator struggles with her mother, her grandparents, her friends and herself, seeking understanding of who she is meant to be, in her own eyes and the eyes of the world, which is not always the same thing. The book evokes what it feels like to grow up, to want, to walk in the snow, and to move away from the ones you love because you must. These stories evoke the complexity of a person while also, with equal complexity, evoking a neighbourhood (Eglinton West) over time: shifting, complicated, many peopled, loved.

Book jacket, Dancing After TEN by Vivian Chong and Georgia Webber, project manager and access support by Kathleen Rea, published by Fantagraphics
Dancing After TEN by Vivian Chong and Georgia Webber (Fantagraphics) | Project manager and access support by Kathleen Rea
Although she worked with collaborator Georgia Webber, Dancing After Ten, is Vivian Chong’s story, a stunningly-poignant memoir and a landmark in the graphic memoir genre. A successful cornea operation temporarily repairs Chong’s eyesight after an unfortunate freak occurrence. She scurries to sketch and chronicle her memories against the inexorable affliction crippling her newly-implanted corneas. Chong’s ability to sagaciously navigate her sudden misfortune amid life’s daily turmoil, and the veering sands centering romantic relationships, is miraculous and awe-inspiring. Dancing After Ten is a compellingly uncommon experience, perfect for a pandemic and Covid’s myriad accompanying metaphors of blindness.

Book jacket, In the Beggarly Style of Imitation by Jean Marc Ah-Sen, published by Nightwood Editions
In the Beggarly Style of Imitation by Jean Marc Ah-Sen (Nightwood Editions)
In the Beggarly Style of Imitation defies categorization and almost defies description. It could be called short stories, it could be called an experimental novel, it could be called a meditation on style. In this book, style is a serious game that demonstrates through formal play the limitations of believing in authenticity. Classical maxims, satire, found photographs, science fiction, riffs on Borges, an essay on film, an essay on misanthropy, a tribute to Austin Clarke that is a marvelous short story in itself, a filthy correspondence on art, are enclosed in an elaborate fiction in which even elements of the author’s biography may not be entirely real. This is a profoundly ambitious book that exhilarates, infuriates and challenges the reader.

Book jacket, The Missing Millionaire by Katie Daubs, published by McClelland & Stewart
The Missing Millionaire by Katie Daubs (McClelland & Stewart)
Katie Daubs’s The Missing Millionaire is rich in characters, history, and a specificity of detail that brings early-20th-century Toronto to the reader with thrilling immediacy. Investigating the famous 1919 disappearance of Ambrose Small allows Daubs to take interesting byroads into the theatrical, law enforcement, and mental health treatment past of Toronto, all while creating an exciting narrative that makes this unsolved mystery feel deeply tied to a crucial moment in the city’s history.


Book jacket, The Skin We're In by Desmond Cole, published by Doubleday Canada
The Skin We’re In by Desmond Cole (Doubleday Canada) – 2020 Toronto Book Award Winner
A skillful blend of history and reportage, The Skin We’re In punctures any illusions Torontonians may harbor about race relations in their City, and provides a local front-line perspective on Black Lives Matter. Desmond Cole describes his progression from journalist to activist on behalf of Toronto’s black residents fed up with mistreatment at the hands of the police, lip service from politicians and media, and indifference from the community at large. Accomplished, timely and powerful, The Skin We’re In is a potent and urgent reminder that there is no place for complacency in the battle against racism.

2020 Toronto Books Awards longlisted authors and publishers are:

  • Frying Plantain, Zalika Reid-Benta (House of Anansi Press)
  • The Skin We’re In, Desmond Cole (Penguin Random House Canada)
  • The Missing Millionaire, Katie Daubs (Penguin Random House Canada)
  • The Subtweet, Vivek Shraya (ECW Press)
  • We Have Always Been Here, Samra Habib (Penguin Random House Canada)
  • In the Beggarly Style of Imitation, Jean Marc Ah-Sen (Nightwoood Editions)
  • Artistic Glass, Cloe Joel Aigner (ECW Press)
  • Dancing After TEN by Vivian Chong and Georgia Webber, project manager and access support by Kathleen Rea (Fantagraphics)
  • Shame on Me, Tessa McWatt (Penguin Random House Canada)
  • Last Impressions, Joseph Kertes (Penguin Random House Canada)
  • Take Back the Tray, Joshna Maharaj (ECW Press)
  • Mobile, Tanis MacDonald (Book*hug Press)
Kate Cayley is a writer from Toronto. Her collection of short fiction, How You Were Born, won the Trillium Book Award, was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, and was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. She has published two collections of poetry, When This World Comes to an End, and Other Houses, and a young adult novel, The Hangman in the Mirror. She was a playwright-in-residence at Tarragon Theatre from 2009-2017, and wrote two plays for Tarragon, After Akhmatova and The Bakelite Masterpiece, which went on to multiple American productions.
Black and white portrait of Kate Cayley
Kate Cayley

Michael Fraser is an award-winning poet and writer. He is the author of the 2016 collection, To Greet Yourself Arriving (Tightrope Books). He has been published in numerous national and international anthologies and journals including: Paris Atlantic, Arc, CV2, and The Caribbean Writer. He is the recipient of various awards and grants, and is included in the Best Canadian Poetry in English 2013 and 2018.
Portrait of Michael Fraser wearing sun glasses and a hat
Michael Fraser

Liz Howard’s debut collection Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent won the 2016 Griffin Poetry Prize, was shortlisted for the 2015 Governor General’s Award for poetry, and was named a Globe and Mail top 100 book. Her recent work has appeared in Canadian Art, The Fiddlehead, Poetry Magazine and Best Canadian Poetry. She served as the 2018-2019 Distinguished Canadian Writer in Residence at the University of Calgary and is now an adjunct professor in the English and Creative Writing department at the University of Toronto. She is of mixed settler and Anishinaabe heritage. Born and raised on Treaty 9 territory in northern Ontario, she currently lives in Toronto.
Portrait of Liz Howard
Liz Howard


Naben Ruthnum (Nathan Ripley) published the nonfiction book Curry: Reading, Eating and Race with Coach House in 2017. As Nathan Ripley, he is the author of Find You in the Dark (2018), and Your Life Is Mine (2019). His short fiction has won the Journey Prize and a National Magazine Award.
Portrait of Naben Ruthnum
Naben Ruthnum

Ben McNally has been a bookseller in Toronto since the 1970s, most recently at the store on Bay Street that bears his name.
Portrait of Ben McNally
Ben McNally