Thomas King’s book The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of the Native People in North America has won this year’s RBC Taylor Prize, which comes with an award of C$25,000 and is one of Canada’s largest prizes for literary nonfiction.
“Histories of North America’s Native Peoples abound, but few are as subversive, entertaining, well-researched, hilarious, enraging, and finally as hopeful as this very personal take on our long relationship with the “inconvenient” Indian,” the jury wrote. “King dissects idealized myths (noble Hiawatha, servile Tonto, the Sixties nature guru) against the tragic backdrop of real Indians abused in mission schools, penned together on reserves, and bludgeoned by vicious or ham-fisted government policies.”
King thanked his publisher Doubleday Canada, particularly publishing director Lynn Henry and publicist Sheila Kay, his agent Jackie Kaiser at Westwood Creative Artists and his partner Helen Hoy.
During the gala luncheon in Toronto, prize trustee David Staines asked King why he uses humor in a book about such a harrowing history. King said in his younger years he was an activist who raged at protests and on television and radio shows. But, he said, “I discovered that humor in many ways was the best way to deal with very serious issues because humor would deepen the tragedy and the tragedy would sharpen the comedy.”
The Inconvenient Indian also recently won the C$40,000 British Columbia’s national award for nonfiction. When asked if this recognition is a sign that Canada is waking up to a re-examination of its history with aboriginal people, King said, after 400 years of problems, “The most I can hope for is that the book begins a real conversation.”
King, the son of a Greek mother and Cherokee father, is a novelist, short story writer, nonfiction author, screenwriter, photographer and teaches English and theater studies at the University of Guelph.
Jury members—British university professor and critic Coral Ann Howells; author and professor James Polk; and 2012 prize winning author Andrew Westoll—chose King’s book from 124 submissions, a longlist of 12 and a shortlist of five.
The other finalists were
• The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master, And The Trial That Shocked A Country by Charlotte Gray (HarperCollins Canada)
• The Once and Future World: Nature As It Was, As It Is, As It Could Be by J.B. MacKinnon (Random House Canada)
• The Dogs Are Eating Them Now: Our War in Afghanistan by Graeme Smith (Knopf Canada)
• Arthur Erickson: An Architect’s Life by David Stouck (Douglas & McIntyre)
The RBC Taylor Prize was established by Noreen Taylor in honor of her late husband literary nonfiction author Charles Taylor.