Plum Johnson has won the C$25,000 RBC Taylor Prize, one of Canada’s top literary awards for nonfiction. Her memoir They Left Us Everything, which the prize jury described as “beautifully observed and written with great warmth and wit,” was published by Penguin Canada. The book tells the story of Johnson’s relationship with her difficult parents, and the overwhelming task of clearing out their cluttered 23-room house after they died.

The jurors were Kevin Garland, former executive director of the National Ballet of Canada; Martin Levin, author, playwright, and former books editor at the Globe and Mail; and Andrew Preston, winner of the 2013 RBC Taylor Prize. They described the book as “a story of love, loss, and legacy, written with compassion and humor, it subtly evokes T.S. Eliot's lines: 'We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.’”

The award ceremony took place Monday in downtown Toronto, where Johnson, a native of Richmond, Virginia, who now lives in Oakville, Ontario, seemed surprised and overjoyed at her win.

“This is just stunning to me. I feel like I’m going to faint,” said Johnson. “I’ve never been in this position before, so I can’t compare it to anything else, but I just think that over the last week, [the prize finalists] have been so well taken care of, and all the publicity this has generated for non-fiction has been — I just don’t imagine it could be topped anywhere else.”

The other four finalists, who each receive C$2,000, include M.G. Vassanji for And Home Was Kariakoo: A Memoir of East Africa; David O’Keefe for One Day in August: The Untold Story Behind Canada’s Tragedy at Dieppe; Barbara Taylor for The Last Asylum: A Memoir of Madness in Our Times; and Kathleen Winter for Boundless: Tracing Land and Dream in a New Northwest Passage.