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Book covers of 19 finalists of the 2021 Ottawa Book Awards.

Meet the finalists for the 2021 Ottawa Book Awards

By Apartment613 on September 30, 2021


Since 1985, the Ottawa Book Awards have recognized the top English and French books published by local authors in the previous year. Both official languages have categories for fiction and non-fiction this year, totalling 19 books published in the last year by local authors. From immersive biographies to deeply personal poetry pieces and poignant narratives, Ottawa is bursting with rich literary talent.

All shortlisted finalists receive $1,000 and each winner receives a grand prize of $7,500 from the City of Ottawa.

The Archibald Lampman Award for Poetry and Le Prix littéraire Émergence AAOF – 2021 will also be presented at the ceremony.

Winners of the 2021 Ottawa Book Awards will be revealed during a virtual awards ceremony on Wednesday, Oct. 20 at 6pm. To receive a link to the invitation for the event, write to

This post was created using information from the City of Ottawa.

2021 Finalists

English fiction category

Awarded for outstanding published works of fiction including novels, short stories, children’s literature and poetry.


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Why Birds Sing
by Nina Berkhout (ECW Press)

A charming novel about a disgraced opera singer, her cancer-plagued brother-in-law, a temperamental parrot named Tulip, and a competitive whistling group called the Warblers.

Nina Berkhout is the author of two previous novels: The Mosaic, which was nominated for the White Pine Award and the Ottawa Book Awards and named an Indigo Best Teen Book, and The Gallery of Lost Species, an Indigo and Kobo Best Book and a Harper’s Bazaar Hottest Breakout Novel.


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We Shed Our Skin Like Dynamite
by Conyer Clayton (Guernica Editions)

In her debut collection of poetry, Conyer Clayton hovers in the ether, grasping wildly for a fleeting sense of certitude. Through experiences with addiction and co-dependence, sex and art, nature and death, she grapples for transcendence while exploring what it means to disengage.

Conyer Clayton is an Ottawa-based artist and gymnastics coach, originally from Louisville, Kentucky. She is the winner of Arc’s 2017 Diana Brebner Prize and the Capilano Review’s 2019 Robin Blaser Poetry Contest. Her debut full-length collection of poetry, We Shed Our Skin Like Dynamite (Guernica Editions), was published May 2020.


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Heart Sister
by Michael F. Stewart (Orca Book Publishers)

After his twin sister, Minnie, dies in an accident, Emmitt struggles to put her back together again, in spirit, by filming a virtual reality movie of all the people his sister helped with her transplanted organs. His hope is that seeing all the good that Minnie’s selfless act has done will help his grieving parents find a way to heal.

Michael F. Stewart is the Claymore Award winning author of The Boy Who Swallows Flies and many books for young people in various genres, including Ray Vs. the Meaning of Life. He is also a screenwriter and television and video game writer. Michael lives in Ottawa.


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Dark August
by Katie Tallo (HarperCollins Publishers)

Augusta Monet is living an aimless life when her great-grandmother dies, leaving her a house and a dog. She returns home to Ottawa and discovers cold case files hidden in a trunk. The files belonged to her police detective mother who died in a car crash. “Gus” digs into the past and uncovers the terrible truth about her mother’s death.

Katie Tallo has been an award-winning screenwriter and director for more than two decades. In 2012, Katie was inspired to begin writing novels. Her mystery/thriller debut, Dark August, is set in the Wellington West neighbourhood where she lives with her husband, Andy.

English non-fiction category

Awarded for outstanding published works of non-fiction including biographies, memoirs, cultural histories, literary journalism and essays.

The Fight for History: 75 Years of Forgetting, Remembering, and Remaking Canada’s Second World War 
by Tim Cook (Penguin Random House Canada)

The Fight for History is about the efforts to restore a more balanced portrait of Canada’s contribution in the global conflict. This is the story of how Canada has talked about the war in the past, how we tried to bury it, and how it was restored.

Tim Cook is the Great War historian at the Canadian War Museum, as well as an adjunct professor at Carleton University. In 2008 he won the J.W. Dafoe Prize for At the Sharp End and again in 2018 for Vimy. He is a member of the Order of Canada.


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The Taste of Longing: Ethel Mulvany and her Starving Prisoners of War Cookbook
by Suzanne Evans (Between the Lines)

Ethel Mulvany, the only Canadian woman imprisoned by the Japanese in Singapore’s notorious Changi Jail in World War Two, was so determined to survive the horrors of starvation she harnessed her imagination and rallied the women around her to create a cookbook of dream foods – just one of her many feats of resistance chronicled in The Taste of Longing.

Suzanne Evans holds a PhD in religious studies. Her writing, which has appeared in academic and literary journals, newspapers, magazines and books focuses on women and war. After working, studying, and living in China, Indonesia, India and Vietnam, she now lives in Ottawa.


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The Last Goldfish: A True Tale of Friendship
by Anita Lahey (Biblioasis)

Anita and Louisa navigate 1980s suburban adolescence together: they make carpe diem their manifesto and hatch ambitious plans. But when Louisa’s life takes a shocking turn, into hospital wards, medical tests, and treatments, a new possibility confronts them, one that alters, with devastating finality, the prospect of the future for them both.

Anita Lahey’s previous books include The Mystery Shopping Cart: Essays on Poetry and Culture (Palimpsest Press, 2013) and two Véhicule Press poetry collections: Spinning Side Kick (2011) and Out to Dry in Cape Breton (2006). The latter was shortlisted for the Trillium Book Award for Poetry and the Ottawa Book Award.


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One Good Reason: A Memoir of Addiction and Recovery, Music and Love
by Séan McCann with Andrea Aragon (Nimbus Publishing)

A powerful memoir co-written by the founder of Great Big Sea and his wife, exploring alcoholism, childhood abuse, and the fight to save their marriage, family, and themselves.

Séan McCann was as a founding member of Great Big Sea. Today Séan is a mental health, addiction, and recovery advocate who continues to sing and share his story of surviving 25 years of alcoholism. Andrea Aragon is the daughter of a Vietnam War veteran and mother of two growing boys.


The Age of Fentanyl: Ending the Opioid Epidemic
by Brodie Ramin (Dundurn Press)

Dr. Brodie Ramin brings the story of the opioid epidemic into the era of fentanyl, which is the leading cause of overdose death in North America. From his perspective as an addiction doctor working on the front lines of the epidemic, Dr. Ramin discusses the disease and the cure.

Brodie Ramin is a primary care and addictions physician. He is an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa and a Diplomate of the American Board of Addiction Medicine. Dr. Ramin lives in Ottawa.

French fiction category

Awarded for outstanding published works of fiction including novels, short stories, children’s literature and poetry.

by Daniel Castillo Durante (Les Éditions L’Interligne)

Regularly faced with the lack of understanding and even impenetrability that typify a society devoted to short-term profit, the characters in these works of microfiction fall victim to despair. Their flight into exile involves going beyond their inner limits as much as crossing geographical boundaries.

Professor of French and Comparative Literature, a writer and a traveller, Daniel Castillo Durante has written novels, short stories and works of microfiction. His work has earned him multiple prizes, including the 2021 Trillium Book Award.

Débris du sillage
by Gilles Latour (Les Éditions L’Interligne)

Expressing both freedom and anxiety, the poetry of Gilles Latour reflects concern at the deterioration of the physical, social and political environment. His words are the Débris du sillage—the debris left behind, carried along in a current of experience, floating between emotional memory and apprehension of what the future holds, through moments of lyricism, irony and philosophical reflection.

Born in Cornwall, Gilles Latour grew up in Ottawa. He studied literature in Montreal, and later earned a living by working for humanitarian groups in various parts of the world. However, poetry is clearly what sustains him. He lives in Ottawa, where his five collections have been published by L’Interligne.


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by Monia Mazigh (Les Éditions David)

Held hostage to the patriarchy that dominated 20th-century Tunisian society, Farida ultimately rejects the role assigned to her, thereby defying a culture that robs women of all power. Through the character of Farida, and later that of Farida’s granddaughter Leila, who moves to Canada, the author depicts the slow process of women’s self-assertion across the world.

Originally from Tunisia, Monia Mazigh is a Canadian novelist, essayist and academic. Her writing has won several awards, including the Ottawa Book Award and the Trillium Book Award. In addition to being a passionate advocate for human rights, Monia Mazigh appears as a commentator on two Radio-Canada programs.

Le poème involontaire
by Michel Thérien (Les Éditions David)

The poetry in Le poème involontaire lays bare the poet’s uncertainty. The accidental poem is one where the reader plays the role of both confidant and witness.

Born in Ottawa, Michel Thérien has spent more than two decades writing, teaching and promoting poetry. Several of his books have been translated and have received various awards and honours. Le poème involontaire is his eleventh collection of poetry.

Sept nuits dans la vie de Chérie
by Danièle Vallée (Les Éditions David)

Eight paintings by artist Suzon Demers inspired this novel by author Danièle Vallée. It weaves a disconcerting tale featuring a capricious prima donna whose fervour draws an ordinary seamstress into an insidious and unpredictable adventure.

Danièle Vallée is a well-known figure in the world of both oral and written literature, as well as that of the performing arts. She has published ten books, while also adapting her work for the stage by adding an artistic dimension heightened by diverse musical styles.

French non-fiction category

Awarded for outstanding published works of non-fiction including biographies, memoirs, cultural histories, literary journalism and essays.


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Ce que je voudrais dire à mes enfants
by Michel Bastarache et Antoine Trépanier (Les Presses de l’Université d’Ottawa)

In a letter to his two children, who died of an incurable disease, Michel Bastarache recalls both his childhood in Acadia and his career, which culminated with his appointment as the first Acadian judge to sit on the Supreme Court of Canada. Justice Bastarache describes his ongoing struggle to ensure the equality of the Francophone and Anglophone communities.

The Honourable Michel Bastarache, C.C., Q.C., successively served as Vice-President and Director of Marketing at Assumption Life; as President and Chief Executive Officer of Assumption Life and its subsidiaries; as Professor of Law and Dean of the School of Law at the Université de Moncton; and as Associate Dean of the Faculty of Law, Common Law Section, at the University of Ottawa.

Antoine Trépanier is a journalist with Radio-Canada in Ottawa. He previously worked as the provincial affairs bureau chief for a New Brunswick newspaper, and later as a Radio-Canada reporter in Moncton. He is a graduate of the University of Ottawa.

Niagara…la voie qui y mène
by Nicole V. Champeau (Les Éditions David)

A mythical place, Niagara has been depicted in various ways: through the historical and geographical reconstruction of what was once a component of French heritage; through the rediscovery of a place name shrouded in mystery—Onguiaahra; through the combination of brute force and raw beauty that leaves such a strong impression on travellers. All this in the shadow of a waterfall that once almost disappeared.

Poetry and non-fiction intersect in the work of poet, researcher and essayist Nicole V. Champeau. A native of Cornwall, she now calls Ottawa home. The section of the St. Lawrence River located in Ontario remains the focal point of her work, inspiring texts such as the essay titled “Pointe Maligne. L’infiniment oubliée.”

Mouvements ouvriers, partis politiques et luttes populaires aux États-Unis 1938-2018
by Serge Denis (Presses de l’Université Laval)

The author identifies and analyzes political interventions by American unions, in light of key developments, the growth of the labour movement in the United States and changes in the country’s political system.

Serge Denis is Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the University of Ottawa. Holding a doctorate from the Grenoble Institute of Political Studies, he has served as President of the Société québécoise de science politique and Director of the School of Political Studies at the University of Ottawa.

Winners of the 2021 Ottawa Book Awards will be revealed during a virtual awards ceremony on Wednesday, October 20 at 6pm. To receive a link to the invitation for the event, please write to