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Wednesday, 21 November 2012 13:57

Candace Savage honored with Hilary Weston prize for A Geography of Blood

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Saskatchewan writer Candace Savage was recently awarded the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction for A Geography of Blood: Unearthing Memory from a Prairie Landscape. The $60,000 prize is, in terms of financial value, the largest nonfiction award in the country.


“It's an enormous deal, really huge,” admitted Savage. “When I was writing the book, this was the farthest thing from my mind. I can't tell you how the jurors read it, but I think they found it moving. It’s gratifying, of course, but this isn’t really about me, at all. It’s about the story, which belongs to all of us.”


The book tells the story of the Cypress Hills and the settlement of the Western Plains, and features Savage herself as a character and first-person presence. However, the book is primarily a historical work which focuses on some issues that many people may feel uncomfortable taking a closer look at.


“I think that my winning this prize signals a change in our collective willingness to face some stories that we haven't wanted to think about before,” Savage explained. “It treads on dangerous ground, telling stories we might rather not hear – stories that actually involve and belong to other people. It felt to me like a pretty risky enterprise, even while I was writing it.”


Savage worked on the book over the course of eight years, while working on several other projects, as well. She aimed to tell these stories in a respectful way, allowing voices other than her own to be heard and appreciated. Her approach took a great deal of thought and consultation.


“I'm grateful that I had so much time to work on it, because I think that helped really make this work successful,” she added. “I've had lots of great responses, and you never really can tell with something like this – it could have sunk like a stone. And that's kind of what you expect.”


However, the responses to Savage's book have been very positive. Even before she was awarded with the Hilary Weston prize, A Geography of Blood had been reviewed in national media and people were paying attention to what her book was saying.

“People were talking to me and reading it in a way that hadn't happened to me before, with the books I'd done,” admitted Savage. “I had a First Nations filmmaker and newspaper columnist call to say that he enjoyed the book, and thought it might help people recall other, similar stories they know.”

She feels that for others in the settler culture, they are facing stories that they've always known, somehow, or had a sense that something was wrong. She is encouraged to see that people are demonstrating a willingness to look at these things.


“The Cypress Hills are so glorious, who wouldn't want to go there in their imagination, even if it does take you to some uncomfortable places – it's still worth the trip,” she said. “I think people are encountering the story and finding it very troubling, but still others are finding it hopeful. The book doesn't leave you in a dark place; I tried to make it clear that we are all still here, and there are lots of chances to get this right.”

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Jessi Gowan