Kim Echlin has been awarded the 2021 Toronto Book Award for her novel “Speak, Silence,” published by Penguin Random House Canada. The announcement was made October 5 in an online ceremony hosted by CBC radio’s Ismaila Alfa and presented in conjunction with program partner, Toronto Public Library.
The 2021 Toronto Book Awards volunteer jury described Echlin’s novel as a story of tragedy and community rebuilding that hooks the reader from the beginning to the last page. A Toronto journalist travels to war-torn Europe to reunite with her former lover and report on a festival in Sarajevo. What she finds is a network of women determined to move beyond their country’s shame. In an impeccably well-researched text, Echlin portrays the horrors of the Bosnian war through the stories of systemic sexual assault in three generations of a Muslim family with prose that portrays both horror and hope.
This year’s other finalists included:
Read what the jury had to say about each of the shortlisted titles below.
In Missing from the Village, Justin Ling combines investigative journalism and memoir, seamlessly blending the stories of immigrant men who went missing from Toronto’s gay village, and serial killer Bruce McArthur, who was able to fly under the radar despite being questioned by police at least twice during the decade before his ultimate arrest. Ling tries to unearth the system that failed the missing—the apathy of the police, and underlying homophobia and racism faced by the queer community on a daily basis. Ling’s writing is powerful but at times also triggering for those who can identify with the missing and the murdered.
As she did with her previous novel Scarborough (2017 Toronto Book Awards finalist), Catherine Hernandez again brings her keen observations skillfully to the page in Crosshairs. The setting this time is a not-too-distant dystopian future where Toronto spirals downwards from what would seem an unlikely catalyst, climate change. Unable to overcome the resulting natural disasters, Toronto takes a series of escalating steps that result in fascism and the loss of liberties. Hernandez’s future Toronto is divided into two main groups, one being the Others, consisting of those marginalized by their race, creed, colour, sexual orientation or gender identification. This timely novel reminds us that we are not immune to the backward forces taking hold in other parts of the world today and that we cannot just stand by and watch it happen.
Part poetry, part prose, Æther: An Out-of-Body Lyric by Catherine Graham is a wonderfully unconventional read. More than a memoir of a breast cancer survivor, Graham writes from that in-between world of soft wakefullness and dreaming during post-op recovery at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital. In this state, dreams become memories and memories become clarity. For anyone who has undergone surgery, they can easily identify with the way Graham has penned this personal narrative. Æther is an engaging work and a unique experience.
Faye Guenther’s Swimmers in Winter captures queer women’s lives in sharp, incisive ways. In six short stories, Guenther explores issues related to existing as a queer woman in Toronto through the collapsing of time (before and after World War II): police surveillance and violence, bar raids, desire despite the constant threat of danger, complexity of queer female friendships, trauma, and living financially precarious lives. Guenther has mastered the art of pulling the reader in regardless of the reader’s familiarity with these worlds. These stories are miniscule personal queer archives meant to undo everything we thought we knew about queer women’s lives in Toronto.
On Property is an important read during an era of debates about the role of police in society. Rinaldo Walcott offers a slim conversation starter that situates the relationship between private property and freedom for Black people around the world. By taking a global approach that positions the killings of Black people in Toronto by the police within a larger history, this book gives essential context behind contemporary calls to defund the police. It challenges readers to build a better society by staying connected to each other and by supporting society’s most vulnerable people.
Through a story of tragedy and community rebuilding, Speak, Silence hooks the reader from the beginning to the last page. A Toronto journalist travels to war-torn Europe to reunite with her former lover and report on a festival in Sarajevo. What she finds is a network of women determined to move beyond their country’s shame. In an impeccably well-research text, Kim Echlin portrays the horrors of the Bosnian war through the stories of systemic sexual assault in three generations of a Muslim family. With prose that portrays both horror and hope, Echlin takes the reader on a journey that follows women of all ages as they force the world to acknowledge for the first time that rape is not only a crime against an individual, it is also a crime against humanity.
Geoffrey E. Taylor, a key player in the book world for more than 35 years, was the Director and CEO of the Toronto International Festival of Authors and co-founded the Word Alliance, a group of eight major international literary festivals. Taylor is the inaugural recipient of the Order of the Forest, presented by a consortium of environmental activist groups, for his contribution towards building an ancient-forest-friendly book-publishing community. He holds an Honorary Degree from the Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning and the Republic of France conferred on him the distinguished honour of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Artes et des Lettres (Knight in the Order of Arts Letters).
Christine Miskonoodinkwe Smith is a Saulteaux woman from Peguis First Nation. She is an editor, writer and journalist who graduated from the University of Toronto with a specialization in Aboriginal Studies in June 2011 and went on to receive her Master’s in Education in Social Justice in June 2017. Her first non-fiction story “Choosing the Path to Healing” appeared in the 2006 anthology “Growing Up Girl: An Anthology of Voices from Marginalized Spaces”. She has written for the Native Canadian, “Anishinabek News”, “Windspeaker”, “FNH Magazine”, “New Tribe Magazine”, “Muskrat Magazine” and the “Piker Press”. She has also co-edited the anthology “Bawaajigan” with fellow Indigenous writer Nathan Adler.
Andy Stanleigh – an author, artist, editor, publisher and producer – is the founder and president of the award-winning Toronto-based publishing company Alternate History Comics (AH Comics). AH Comics’ library of original graphic novels and collections has involved almost 200 authors and artists globally. Their titles include “Titan: An Alternate History” – named “The Best in New Graphic Novels” by the National Post, the award-winning SCI: “Jewish Comics Anthology” and more. “The Hobson’s Gate” series that Andy wrote and illustrated, has been nominated for an Association of Arts and Social Change Canadian Publishing and People’s Choice Awards.
Angela Wright is a writer and communications professional who started her artistic practice in Toronto. Her literary work has appeared in “Catapult”, “The Fiddlehead”, “The New Quarterly”, “carte blanche”, and in the award-winning anthology, “Black Writers Matter”. She is currently working on her first book about society’s responses to individual and collective trauma with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council. Angela has previously served on a jury for Ontario Arts Council literature grants.
Sanchari Sur is a PhD candidate in English at Wilfrid Laurier University. Their writing can be found in “Joyland”, “Al Jazeera”, Toronto Book Award shortlisted “The Unpublished City” (Book*hug, 2017), “Room”, “Prism International”, “EVENT”, “Quill and Quire”, and elsewhere. They are a recipient of a 2018 Lambda Literary Fellowship in fiction, a 2019 Banff residency (with “Electric Literature”), and an “Arc Poetry Magazine” 2020 Critics’ Desk Award for a Feature Review, and the co-editor of “Watch Your Head: Writers and Artists Respond to the Climate Crisis” (Coach House Books, 2020).
Other titles included on this year’s longlist were: