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Announcing the Winner of the 2023 Herb Wyile Prize in Canadian Literature


The winner of this year’s Herb Wyile Prize in Canadian Literature is Billy Johnson for his essay “A.B. Walker’s Neith (1903-04) and the Aesthetic Grammars of Black Modernism in Canada,” published in issue 47.2.

The judges said:

This essay adeptly navigates complex discussions without resorting to hedging or making broad claims about the critical treatment of Black archives in Canada. A notable strength lies in its adept affirmation of the utility of a modernist framework for examining Walker and Neith. Instead of succumbing to Eurocentric readings, this essay skillfully positions modernism in relation to Blackness in Canada. Acknowledging the lack of critical precedent for reading modernism in Black Canadian writing, this important work cautions against categorizing early-twentieth-century Black writers such as Walker under the label of Canadian modernism. Furthermore, the essay’s seamless weaving of multiple contexts for Neith and Walker, along with interpretive gestures across the Black diaspora, strengthens its value in Canadian literary and Black diaspora studies.

In “A.B. Walker’s Neith (1903-04) and the Aesthetic Grammars of Black Modernism in Canada,” Billy Johnson breaks important ground, adding to the scholarship on literary modernism in Canada by: contextualizing the dearth of writing on modernist texts by Black Canadian authors in the first half of the twentieth century; excavating an important publication (Neith) and author/editor (Walker) to not only redress a gap in knowledge but to critique the elision of Black modernisms in Canada; and bringing together a national and regionalist frame to complicate the negotiation of emergent modernisms in Canada. The writing is clean and clear; the close-reads and wider contextualizations tremendously insightful. Not just an “I found this” but an “Here is what this is and what finding this means to us now and to the time then.” 

The winning article was selected by a committee of two adjudicators – Cornel Bogle (Simon Fraser) and Shane Neilson (McMaster) – from among the essays that appear in SCL/ÉLC's two issues published in 2023. The prize has a value of $500.

Congratulations Billy!


Congratulations as well to McKenna James Boechner and Nicholas Bradley for receiving honourable mentions from our committee of adjudicators!

McKenna James Boeckner, “Trinidadian/Canadian Food and the Fiction of Belonging in David Chariandy’s Brother” (47.2)

The judges said:

This contribution to scholarship on David Chariandy’s Brother skillfully explores the complexities of diasporic experiences and cultural assimilation, incorporating Barthian food-as-language theory. The essay stands out for its creative analysis and nuanced exploration of food as a discursive space. The writer creatively reads the various ways that food appears in the novel, including sexual, relational, familial, and cultural contexts. The analysis of Trinidad and Tobago’s national dishes and the protagonists’ food memories connects identity development to food and contributes to a broader conversation on diasporic literature and the inequities faced by Black peoples in urban spaces.

Nicholas Bradley, “Ice Cod Bell or Stone: Poetry, Canon, Memory” (47.2)

The judges said:

This essay on Earle Birney’s Ice Cod Bell or Stone skillfully articulates the neglect of Birney’s contributions within the field of Canadian literature. The writer demonstrates careful attention to reasons for this oversight, eloquently highlighting factors such as shifting critical fashions and evolving educational trends. The clarity and articulation with which the argument is presented make a compelling case for the urgent reevaluation of works like Ice Cod Bell or Stone within a broader historical context. Of particular resonance is the writer’s conclusion, which serves as a call to action for readers and scholars to renew their attention to Canadian poetics.

Herb Wylie Prize Winners