The City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize

The City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize is awarded in honour of acclaimed Calgary writer W.O. Mitchell and recognizes literary achievement by Calgary authors. Established in 1996, the W.O. Mitchell Book Prize is coordinated through a partnership between The City of Calgary and the Writers' Guild of Alberta, which administers the award as part of the Alberta Literary Competitions.

Entries are judged by an independent jury recruited by the Writers' Guild of Alberta. Shortlisted authors have an opportunity to deliver a reading. The winning author receives a $5,000 cash prize and receives the award at the Calgary Awards Presentation in June.

2022 Finalists


The City of Calgary and the Writers’ Guild of Alberta are pleased to announce the finalists for The City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize:

  1. Memory Speaks: On Losing and Reclaiming Language and Self, Julie Sedivy (Harvard University Press)
  2. My Mother, My Translator, Jaspreet Singh (Vehicule Press)
  3. Unbecoming, Neil Surkan (McGill-Queen's University Press)

Memory Speaks: On Losing and Reclaiming Language and Self

Julie Sedivy

Harvard University Press

From an award-winning writer and linguist, a scientific and personal meditation on the phenomenon of language loss and the possibility of renewal.

As a child Julie Sedivy left Czechoslovakia for Canada, and English soon took over her life. By early adulthood she spoke Czech rarely and badly, and when her father died unexpectedly, she lost not only a beloved parent but also her firmest point of connection to her native language. As Sedivy realized, more is at stake here than the loss of language: there is also the loss of identity.

Language is an important part of adaptation to a new culture, and immigrants everywhere face pressure to assimilate. Recognizing this tension, Sedivy set out to understand the science of language loss and the potential for renewal. In Memory Speaks, she takes on the psychological and social world of multilingualism, exploring the human brain’s capacity to learn—and forget—languages at various stages of life. But while studies of multilingual experience provide resources for the teaching and preservation of languages, Sedivy finds that the challenges facing multilingual people are largely political. Countering the widespread view that linguistic pluralism splinters loyalties and communities, Sedivy argues that the struggle to remain connected to an ancestral language and culture is a site of common ground, as people from all backgrounds can recognize the crucial role of language in forming a sense of self.

Distinctive and timely, Memory Speaks combines a rich body of psychological research with a moving story at once personal and universally resonant. As citizens debate the merits of bilingual education, as the world’s less dominant languages are driven to extinction, and as many people confront the pain of language loss, this is badly needed wisdom.

My Mother, My Translator

Jaspreet Singh

Vehicule Press

In 2008, Jaspreet Singh made a pact with his mother. He would gladly give her the go-ahead to publish her significantly altered translation of a story from his collection, Seventeen Tomatoes, if she promised to write her memoirs. After she died in 2012, he decided to take up the memoir she had started. My Mother, My Translator is a deeply personal exploration of a complex relationship. It is a family history, a work of mourning, a meditation on storytelling and silences, and a reckoning with trauma—the inherited trauma of the 1947 Partition of India and the direct trauma of the November 1984 anti-Sikh violence Singh experienced as a teenager.

Tracing the men and especially the women of his family from the 1918 pandemic through the calamitous events of Partition, My Mother, My Translator takes us through Singh’s childhood in Kashmir and with his grandparents in Indian Punjab to his arrival in Canada in 1990 to study the sciences, up to the closing moments of 2020, as he tries to locate new forms of stories for living in a present marked by COVID-19 and climate crisis.

Unbecoming

Neil Surkan

McGill-Queen's University Press

Unbecoming, Neil Surkan's sophomore collection, clings to hope while the world deteriorates, transforms, and grows less hospitable from moment to moment. Interplaying tenderness with dogged perseverance, these poems tumble through vignettes of degraded landscapes, ebbing spiritual communities, faltering men, and precarious friendships.

Yet, in the face of such despair, responsibility and optimism bolster one another - exuberance, amazement, and compassion persist despite the worsening of the wounded Earth. Multifaceted and inventive, this collection of poems vaults from intimation to excoriation, where grief, desire, bewilderment, and protest all crackle and meld.

As the world "appears, exceeds, and un- / becomes too quickly for certainty, / just enough for love," the poems in Unbecoming face the horizon with wary eyes and refuse to turn away.

Eligibility criteria


  • The book's publication date must be in 2021.
  • The author must have lived (permanent address) in Calgary for a minimum of two years, as of December 31, 2021.
  • The following types of writing are eligible: fiction, poetry, non-fiction, children's literature or drama.
  • Self-published books with an ISBN are eligible.
  • The following types or writing are not eligible: multi-author anthologies, cookbooks, guidebooks, textbooks, technical manuals, bibliographies and works of a purely academic or scholarly nature. Books of fewer than 48 pages (except children's literature), books that are not written in English or French, multi-authored books (if any one of the authors is not a Calgarian), and reprints or new editions of previously published books are also not eligible.
  • If, in the opinion of the jury, no work in this competition merits an award, no award will be given. In all cases the jury's decision is final.

Submissions for The W.O. Mitchell Book Prize


Submissions for The City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize are accepted in accordance with the Alberta Literary Competitions timelines, which run October through December of the award year.

For more information or to submit a publication, contact the Writers' Guild of Alberta, call 1‑800‑665‑5354 or visit www.writersguild.ca.

2020 Recipient


Under Shifting Stars

Alexandra Latos

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

From the HMH website:

This heartfelt novel for fans of Jandy Nelson and Adam Silvera follows twins Audrey and Clare as they grapple with their brother's death and their changing relationships—with each other and themselves.

Audrey’s best friend was always her twin, Clare. But as they got older, they grew apart, and when their brother Adam died, Clare blamed Audrey for the accident. Now, Audrey’s attending an alternative school where she feels more isolated than ever. Tired of being seen as different from her neurotypical peers, Audrey’s determined to switch to the public high school, rebuild her friendship with Clare, and atone for Adam’s death . . . but she’ll need to convince her parents, and her therapist, first.

Clare knows her sister thinks she’s the perfect twin, but Audrey doesn’t realize that Clare’s “popular” status is crumbling—she’s begun to question old friendships, dress in Adam’s clothes, and wonder what feelings for a nonbinary classmate, Taylor, might mean. As she grapples with not only grief but also her gender fluidity, Clare wonders where she’ll belong if she sheds her carefully constructed image and embraces her true self.

Will first crushes, new family dynamics, and questions of identity prove that Audrey and Clare have grown too different to understand each other-or that they've needed each other all along?

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