Kyo Maclear wins Trillium Book Award for Birds Art Life

Gorgeous meditation on grief, family and birding takes Ontario’s top literary prize

One thing you can say about Kyo Maclear’s Birds Art Life: it sure has legs.

Published in January 2017, it’s been around for well over a year (it made my 2017 top 10 list), copped a spot on last year’s short list for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for non-fiction and has just snagged the $20,000 Trillium Book Award for excellence in English-language prose writing by an Ontario author.

And no wonder. Though the 2018 Trillium short list was very strong – including, among others, Cherie Dimaline’s daring, speculative The Marrow Thieves, James Maskalyk’s ER memoir Life On The Ground Floor, which won last year’s Hilary Weston Prize, and the wonderful Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez – Maclear’s memoir has a unique soulfulness.

While grieving the decline of her famous journalist dad, Maclear makes new and powerful emotional and intellectual connections through her new interest in birding. Guided by a Toronto musician who agrees to share with her his passion for following winged creatures, she begins to see the world in new ways, exploring her relationships with family, art and her own writing career.

Along the way, Maclear is remarkably – sometimes alarmingly – candid, especially about her children and her fears for them. And her friendship with her birding guide gets tested in ways that will resonate with anyone who has been beholden to a person sharing their knowledge.

But though the book is personal, it abounds in universal themes about nature’s healing powers and the extent to which art can barely exist without it.

Since MacLear published her excellent novel Stray Love in 2012, her bibliography has consisted mostly of children’s books. They are all beautiful. But I welcome her return to prose written for adults and the Trillium jury’s decision to shine more light on Birds Art Life.

In all, four awards were given out at a gala held at the Toronto Reference Library on Thursday night (June 21) – two for prose and two for poetry.

Pino Coluccio’s punk collection Class Clown took the English poetry prize Toronto’s Aurélie Resch won the French prose prize for Sous le soleil de midi and Sylvie Bérard won the French poetry prize for Oubliez.

Fiction and non-fiction books by Ontario author’s are eligible for the awards. | @susangcole

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