Paul Yee wins Vicky Metcalf Award, Jean Little honoured with Matt Cohen Award

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:Toronto (November 7, 2012) – Tonight in Toronto’s Isabel Bader Theatre, the Writers’ Trust of Canada awarded $114,000 to Canadian writers at the 12th annual Writers’ Trust Awards. Comprising five awards for literary merit and a sixth for long-standing service to the country’s literary community, the Awards provide the occasion for one of the richest literary prize-giving events in Canada.

Three authors received awards for their excellence in literature, including two children’s authors: Jean Little, who, nearly blind since birth, has overcome tremendous challenges to write dozens of beloved books for young readers, received the $20,000 Matt Cohen Award: In Celebration of a Writing Life; and Paul Yee, a writer who has documented the Chinese-Canadian experience from its early days to the present, won the $20,000 Vicky Metcalf Award for Children’s Literature.

An additional award for service to the writing community was presented to the Metcalf Foundation, in recognition of its role in creating and sponsoring the Vicky Metcalf Award for Children’s Literature, which was presented for the 50th time tonight. Several past prizewinners appeared in a video to talk about the obstacles that writers of children’s literature in Canada face and what receiving this prize has meant to them and their careers.

The event was hosted by CBC Radio One broadcast journalist Shelagh Rogers.

“Tonight the Writers’ Trust identifies and honours some of our most gifted writers in Canada,” said Peter Kahnert, Writers’ Trust Chair and senior vice-president, corporate communications and marketing, Raymond James Ltd. “These prizes represent an affirmation of the talent on display in Canadian literature, and the Writers’ Trust is grateful to our many sponsors and partners for their support in helping us shine a light on the efforts of tonight’s prizewinners and finalists.”

Below are the comments from the jurors.

Paul Yee: Winner of the 2012 Vicky Metcalf Award for Children’s Literature ($20,000)

Sponsored by the Metcalf Foundation
Jury: Deirdre Baker, Ronald Jobe, and Joanne Schwartz

“Paul Yee has contributed uniquely and powerfully to our literary landscape over a writing career that spans almost 30 years. He was virtually the first children’s author to document the Chinese Canadian experience from its early days to the present. Ghost Train, Tales from Gold Mountain and Dead Man’s Gold now stand as classics. Layered and haunting, they strike at the heart of human character, while at the same time portraying a very particular historical setting in vivid, economical prose. Even in his quick, contemporary short stories he writes from a strong position of familiarity and knowledge, bringing up many facets and varieties in the Canadian experience of immigration. And yet, in almost all his stories, whether historical or contemporary, there is a moment of revelation or character change that pivots on human passions that we all share. His recent teen novels have a biting voice that speaks to issues of identity, racism and sexual discrimination, both inside and outside the Canadian Chinese community. His is a body of work to wrestle with, one that leaves the reader altered and that deserves our recognition.”

Selected Publications
Teach Me to Fly, Skyfighter! (1983)
The Curses of Third Uncle (1986)
Saltwater City: An Illustrated History of the Chinese in Vancouver (1988)
Tales from Gold Mountain (1989)
Ghost Train (1996)
The Boy in the Attic (1998)
Dead Man’s Gold and Other Stories (2002)
Song for Ba (2004)
Chinatown (2005)
Bamboo (2005)
Shu-Li and Tamara (2007)
Learning to Fly (2008)
Shu-Li and Diego (2009)
Blood and Iron (2010)
The Secret Keepers (2011)
Money Boy (2011)

About the Author
Paul Yee is a Chinese-Canadian writer who was born in Spalding, Saskatchewan, but grew up in Vancouver’s Chinatown. His favourite stories as a child were adventure books about faraway places. Yee holds a Master’s degree in Canadian history from the University of British Columbia and is the author of numerous children’s books, many of which are inspired by members of his family and community. His story Ghost Train won the Governor General’s Award for English language children’s literature in 1996, and was also adapted into a play. Yee had trouble finding books about the world of Canadian immigrants when he was young, so he has tried to fill that void with his writing. In 1990, he won the Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize for his collection Tales From Gold Mountain; his 1988 book Saltwater City, an examination of Vancouver’s Chinese-Canadian culture and experience, won the City of Vancouver Book Award in 1989.

About the Sponsor
The goal of the Metcalf Foundation is to enhance the effectiveness of people and organizations working together to help Canadians imagine and build a just, healthy and creative society. Vicky Metcalf created this award in 1963 to stimulate the writing of literature for Canadian children. She held a passion for storytelling and published several children’s books. The prize has been administered by the Writers’ Trust since 2002.

Jean Little: Winner of the 2012 Matt Cohen Award: In Celebration of a Writing Life ($20,000)

Sponsored by Marla and David Lehberg
Committee: Patsy Aldana, Graeme Gibson, and Wayne Grady

“Jean was a pioneer Canadian writer, standing almost alone as a major, internationally recognized Canadian children’s author. She was an outstanding leader when it came to fearless book promotion. Her school appearances were legendary… let’s just say they could send shivers of fear and joy through children’s spines.”

Selected Publications
Take Wing (1968)
Mama’s Going to Buy You a Mockingbird (1984)
Lost and Found (1986)
Different Dragons (1989)
Little by Little: A Writer’s Education (1989)
From Anna (1990)
Look Through My Window (1995)
Kate (1995)
Mine for Keeps (1995)
Spring Begins in March (1996)
Willow and Twig (2003)
Brothers Far from Home (2003)
If I Die Before I Wake (2007)

About the Author
Jean Little is recognized throughout North America for her candid and unsentimental portrayals of adolescent life. Once a teacher of handicapped children, Little herself is only partially sighted, and she uses much of her real-life experience as the basis for her books. Her characters often deal with physical disabilities or confront psychological difficulties; however, none of her characters find magical cures for their problems. Instead, they learn to cope with and survive the challenges they face, and thus they are led to greater self-understanding.

Little’s parents read to her frequently, and as she gained limited vision, they taught her to read on her own. “Reading became my greatest joy,” she wrote in her autobiography Little by Little: A Writer’s Education. In 1955, Little graduated with her bachelor’s degree in English from the Victoria College’s English language and literature program and, for the next six years, she worked with handicapped children. These years helped inspire her to write for kids. “I decided to search for books about children with motor handicaps… I did not think they needed a book to help them adjust. I did believe, however, that crippled children had a right to find themselves represented in fiction.”

About the Prize
Established by a group of anonymous donors, the Matt Cohen Award recognizes a lifetime of distinguished work by a Canadian writer, working in either poetry or prose in either French or English. A founding member of the Writers’ Union of Canada, Mr. Cohen was a celebrated and prolific writer who died in 1999 at the age of 56.

Metcalf Foundation: Honoured with Writers’ Trust Award for Distinguished Contribution

Awarded to an individual or organization for long-standing involvement with the Writers’ Trust and the Canadian literary community.

The Metcalf Foundation has for 50 years championed Canadian authors and helped bring recognition to the brightest members of our country’s children’s literature community.

The Writers’ Trust Awards are made possible through generous support from corporate, foundation, and individual sponsors. The media partner, the Globe and Mail, provides additional support. The project is partially funded by the Government of Canada through the Department of Canadian Heritage Canada Book Fund. Partners supporting the program are Authors at Harbourfront Centre, Ben McNally Books, CBC Radio One, CityTV, Ecentricarts, Maclean’s, Park Hyatt Toronto, Push Design, Quill & Quire, Steam Whistle Brewing, and The Walrus.

For a complete list of all the winners, visit the Writers’ Trusts website.

About the Writers’ Trust
The Writers’ Trust of Canada is a charitable organization that seeks to advance, nurture, and celebrate Canadian writers and writing through a portfolio of programs, including literary awards, financial grants, scholarships, and a writers’ retreat. Writers’ Trust programming is designed to champion excellence in Canadian writing, to improve the status of writers, and to create connections between writers and readers. Canada’s writers receive more financial support from the Writers’ Trust than from any other non-governmental organization or foundation in the country.


For more information and interview opportunities contact:

Becky Toyne | 416-871-0502 |