Jennifer Manuel was more than surprised when she won the award for the best work of fiction at the 33rd Annual BC Book Prizes, held in Vancouver on April 29.
The award-winning, Duncan-based author took home the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize for her first novel, The Heaviness of Things that Float, described as a deft exploration of the delicate dynamic between First Nations communities and non-native outsiders.
“I wasn’t prepared to give a speech because I didn’t think that I had a chance of winning,” Manuel said from her home in Duncan.
“There were strong contenders in the fiction category who are exceptional writers, and I really felt I was the underdog when I found out I was a finalist. I thought on my feet very quickly when my name was announced, thanked all my readers and asked the audience that, during this year of truth and reconciliation, they actually do something to help this process.”
The BC Book Prizes were established in 1985 to celebrate the achievements of British Columbia writers and publishers.
A total of $14,000 is awarded to winners, with each prize providing $2,000.
Manuel had previously won awards for her short fiction, including the Storyteller’s Award at the Surrey International Writer’s Conference in 2013.
She has also published short fiction in PRISM International, The Fiddlehead, Room Magazine and Little Fiction.
Fellow author Diana Gabaldon described Manuel’s writing as “astonishing in its intimacy, delicate complexity and sense of compassion.”
A long-time activist in Aboriginal issues, Manuel taught elementary and high school in the lands of the Tahltan and Nuu-chah-nulth peoples before she retired from teaching and became a full-time author.
She said she’s currently writing her second novel, The Morning Bell Brings the Broken Hearted; which is a prequel to The Heaviness of Things that Float.