Charles Taylor Prize finalists on “the spark”

The Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction is a $25,000 purse awarded to an author whose book “best combines a superb command of the English language, an elegance of style, and a subtlety of thought and perception.” We’re excited to welcome the finalists to our stage on February 27, just a few days before the winner is announced on March 4. Leading up to what promises to be a fascinating evening, we asked some of the finalists to tell us about the spark that started it all.

Djwa, SandraSandra Djwa, author of Journey with No Maps: A Life of P.K. Page:

The spark for Journey with No Maps came about 25 years ago when I heard P.K. Page speaking autobiographically about her father, Lionel Page, at the Vancouver International Writers Festival. He was a military man and was General Officer, Commander-in-Chief Atlantic Command, during the Second World War when he died in harness. I was struck by the depth of emotion in her voice and begun to wonder about her life story. Would she have a biography? After her talk we happened to meet but I somehow couldn’t raise the topic although I knew then that I would like to write her biography. Aside from the fact that I admired her poetry and knew the period from writing a biography of F.R. Scott, I now suspect that a large part of the attraction to P.K. Page as a subject was the parallel between our military fathers—mine had been a captain in the Canadian Merchant Marine, carrying munitions from Halifax to England. But the idea didn’t take fire until a decade later, in December 1996, (after P.K. & I had collaborated on an interview for a special issue of The Malahat Review) when she phoned and asked if I would like to write her biography.

Ross King, author of Leonardo and the Last Supper:

(c) Judith Ghilks

(c) Judith Ghilks

I had wanted to write a book on Leonardo for a long time. But my mind was concentrated six or seven years ago when, in the heyday of The Da Vinci Code, I used to get invited to give lectures on the “real” Leonardo and the “truth” of the paintings described in the novel. I was forced to go back to the paintings themselves and to examine the documentary evidence. The material was incredibly rich and strange, from things such as how Leonardo got the commission to paint The Last Supper to what food he put on the table in front of Christ and the Apostles. The Da Vinci Code may tell a good story, but in my opinion the truth is—as so often—far more interesting and elucidating than the fiction.

All five finalists for the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction will participate in a panel discussion at Authors at Harbourfront Centre on Wednesday, February 27.


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