Sutherland House Prize Finalists
Here's the short list. Tell us which book you'd most like to read
Welcome to the 177th edition of SHuSH, the official newsletter of The Sutherland House Inc. If you’re new here, hit the button:
Way back in SHuSH 154 we introduced the inaugural Sutherland Prize, an annual award for the best nonfiction book project, open to both new and experienced writers anywhere in the world.
We put special emphasis on works of narrative non-fiction that require substantial research or subject-matter expertise because fact-based writing is now out of favour with our literary establishment (more on our motivation for the prize here). Entrants were asked to send either a well-developed proposal, a work in progress, or a draft manuscript. The winner will receive a contract for publication with Sutherland House and a $10,000 (Can.) advance.
We had hoped to have a winner by December 1 but were forced by circumstances to move the announcement to the first SHuSH in January.
Meantime, we have a short-list!
The following five entrants were chosen from more than eighty submissions. It was a real challenge to reduce the field to five. It will be more difficult still to select a winner. Our criteria are excellence in writing, thinking, and research, as well as originality and marketability.
The last point is where you come in. We want your input. Read through the short list and tell us on the poll below which of the books you’d most like to read. We’re not turning this into a popularity contest—as we’ve said all along, the final determination will be made by the editors of Sutherland House—but your input will help us solve the marketability part of the puzzle.
Without further ado, your finalists. (Each of the following descriptions is either written by or adapted from material provided by the author).
Americosis, by Samuel Forster
Virtually every problem with the modern American mode of living stems from three major cultural characteristics: a pathological attachment to the automobile, a horrifying apathy toward the obesity epidemic, and a deeply engrained fetishization of employment. This should be plain to anyone paying attention, but it’s especially clear if you sell your car and spend six gruelling months riding public transit in Dallas, Texas, arguably the nation’s most regrettable example of urban dysfunction.
For the better part of a year, I got on the train in one of the biggest cities in the wealthiest nation of all time, only to find myself surrounded by people who are either homeless or commuting to a job that hardly keeps them above the poverty line. Most of them are morbidly obese, and those who aren’t are only slim because of heroin or some other destructive analgesic.
This country is in shambles for reasons that are material and obvious, but if you turn on the TV, the only issues our political and media intelligentsia find time to talk about are drag queens, QAnon crackpots, the sexual misadventures of partisan pseudocelebrities, and other such sparkly hysterias. It’s all ludicrous political stagecraft that has absolutely nothing to do with the lives of normal Americans, to say nothing of the weakest and most miserable. These conditions, which constitute a clear cultural disease, are so ugly and glaring that a diagnostic report like this really shouldn’t be necessary.
Alas, here it is.
Samuel Forster is a Canadian-American ghostwriter and journalist and the former editor of Banter Magazine. He currently works as a reporter for the Buenos Aires Times.
Manifest Destiny be Damned, Allan Jones
The borders of Canada have been so firmly established for so long that few would guess they have an epic history. In fact, they were formed by a dramatic series of negotiated treaties and conventions involving such major historical figures as Admiral Byrd, Lord Dorchester, Napoleon, Thomas Jefferson, Sir John A. Macdonald, Daniel Webster and Louis Riel. For 170 years, from King George III’s Royal Proclamation of 1763 until 1930, three empires—Britain, Russia, Spain—and the America republic were all involved in the hard-fought geopolitical struggle over our territorial evolution. Our borders have passed through periods of contraction, expansion, near obliteration, survival, consolidation, renewed threats, tacit acquiescence, and, finally, acceptance.
But acceptance doesn’t mean the frontiers we now have—including the world’s longest land border separating us from the US—are what we ought to have inherited. In many instances, war, rumours of war, chance, compromise, topographical errors, historical inaccuracies, and plain stupidity played their parts. In fact, if not for the errors and inaccuracies, Canada might have stretched far beyond the northern fringes of North America and shared the continent on a more equal basis with the United States.
Marching step by step through the clashes of personalities and nations that gave us our shape, Manifest Destiny be Damned tells a fresh story of Canada’s history and explains both the limits and extent of our most precious resource—the land on which we stand.
Allan Jones is a former Royal Canadian Air Force airman and navigator on maritime patrol aircraft. He has worked in various capacities at National Defence Headquarters and as an intelligence analyst at the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service.
Toller Cranston: The Ice, the Paint, the Passion, by Phillippa Cranston Baran.
“If something is worth doing, it is worth overdoing” — Toller Cranston
For millions of people worldwide, there is no need to say Cranston. He was Toller. Creative. Flamboyant. Outspoken. Whether he was winning Olympic medals, painting 20,000 paintings, judging a beauty pageant with Donald Trump, or performing for an audience that consisted only of his friend the Prime Minister of Canada, the King of Jordan, and their wives—he was a true creative force.
For decades, this Canadian icon and internationally recognized celebrity amazed, outraged, and inspired. He showed immense courage in the face of insufferable establishment negativity, stayed true and authentic, spoke up, spoke out, and did the work. He changed a sport. He changed attitudes. He changed lives. He motivated others to be brave, dream big, and chase their destiny.
Much has been written about Toller Cranston. Much has been written by Toller Cranston. Now, from the sister of an icon comes the story of a complex talent who was funny, flamboyant, and deeply human. Toller Cranston: The Ice, the Paint, and the Passion is about more than the extraordinary achievements and legendary battles: it captures the voices of those who knew Cranston, admired him, competed with him, and were inspired by him—a cohort of world and Olympic champions, curators and collectors, LGBTQ artists and performers, as well as a host of colourful characters and fans who intersected with his extraordinary life. Together they reveal the profound and lasting impact that Cranston had and continues to have on other people.
Phillippa Cranston Baran is a former university film professor and award-winning writer/producer. She has a faded scar on her left thigh acquired at age twelve when her younger brother kicked her with his skates because she refused to twirl him.
The Screw That Changed the World, by Karl Turner.
In the early years of the Industrial Revolution, almost all machinery was purpose-built and custom made, right down to the screws. Each manufacturer’s screws had proprietary threads, which meant that a single stripped screw on a locomotive could put it out of commission for weeks while its owner ordered a replacement from the original manufacturer. Along came Joseph Whitworth, a London toolmaker who set up shop in the industrial heartland of Manchester in 1833. He designed a set of standardized screws that he claimed would meet the demands of the entire manufacturing industry. By 1858, almost everything in England was held together with a Whitworth thread.
It is tempting to christen Whitworth the father of standardization, but the concept has a long history. Life, you see, is standard. Our DNA is the standardized template for every living thing. Language is the crucial standard by which we communicate and develop as a species. Measurement and money are the standards by which we work.
From that perspective, Whitworth’s thread was just another standard, one with which to build things, yet its impact was far greater. From the moment his screws were introduced to industry, the world began to move exponentially faster. We began layering standard upon standard in every aspect of life, kicking our economy and our pace of social change into overdrive. We continue to do so today—what is the Internet other than a collection of thousands of digital standards? Nothing better explains the bewildering fast pace and interconnectedness of our world than Whitworth’s thread.
Karl Turner is an award-winning researcher and documentarian. This book is inspired by the radio documentary of the same name that he contributed to IDEAS on CBC Radio One.
Unrooted, Erin Kannan
Amir and his family hide from the Taliban in a tiny apartment with fifty other people for more than a week before his father and uncle decide to make the risky journey to Turkmenistan.
Reluctant to leave their cattle and the only life they know, Bandak and his family hold out in their village in southern Sudan as long as possible until roaming warlords force them on a long trek to Ethiopia.
With Burmese troops headed for their village deep in the jungle, eight-month-old Thaw Gay is carried on her mother’s back as her family makes a desperate run for the Thai border.
This is the story of three children forced from their homelands by war. Amir, the ‘lucky one,’ lands in a new country that permits refugees to work and reside legally; Thaw Gay and Bandak spend most of their childhood in refugee camps waiting for the world to let them in. Each endures a childhood of chaos, transience, and precarity on the fringes of a host society. Each makes his or her own journey toward safety, becoming a first-generation immigrant to America’s urban west. Their paths converge as adults working at a refugee resettlement agency in Phoenix. Ultimately, all three find purpose in a life of public service.
Gripping, thoughtful, and closely-observed, Unrooted explores the meanings of home and belonging, and the clashes of culture and identity in a world where mass migrations due to war and humanitarian crises are increasingly common.
Erin Kannan is a nonfiction writer with interests in home, migration, and belonging, and a public health consultant specializing in government and NGO communications.
That’s the short list. Here’s where you come in:
For the reader on your list
Last month, Sutherland House announced the launch of the Sutherland Quarterly, a new series of captivating essays on current affairs by some of Canada’s best writers. Each essay will be published as a stand-alone book and sold at retail in the usual manner; the essays will also be available (at a preferred price) by annual subscription.
These short books will be timely, topical, and highly readable. They will not come from one particular worldview or represent one style of writing. After the inaugural edition, each will contain responses to the previous essay to create a sort of rolling conversation from book to book.
We’re calling them essays but the degree to which each relies on argumentation, investigation, or story-telling will depend on the writer and the subject. While our first two authors are established journalists, we will also be publishing new voices, some of them journalists, others not. We are open to submissions.
The inaugural edition of SQ is Funeral for a Queen: Twelve Days in London, by former Globe & Mail correspondent John Fraser, who is also the founding president of the Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada. It will be released early next month. From the promotional copy:
On September 8, 2022, an announcement was posted on the gates of Balmoral Castle in Scotland and Buckingham Palace in London that Queen Elizabeth II, the longest serving monarch in British history, had died. That set in motion a remarkable ten days of official mourning and ceremony unlike anything seen in any nation for decades. Members of the royal family gathered—the new King Charles III and his Queen Consort Camilla; the newly-minted Prince of Wales, William and his princess, Kate; Harry the Bolter and his celebrity wife Meghan—along with hundreds of royals and heads of states from around the world. Hordes of people, many from overseas, spent long hours lining up in the rain to pay tribute to the beloved monarch, a presence in their lives for seventy years. On the scene for these events, renowned journalist John Fraser takes the reader from inside St. James Palace where the new King was proclaimed to Queen Elizabeth’s final resting place at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, from deeply moving scenes to the occasional hilarious screw-up, capturing the magic of the occasion with trenchant observations and witty commentary informed by a lifetime’s experience and curiosity about all things monarchical and his own encounters with the royals.
The second edition of SQ, coming in March, will be An Emergency in Ottawa: The Story of the Convoy Commission, by former National Post and Maclean’s columnist Paul Wells, who has recently relaunched himself as a one-man media machine.
Single copies will sell for $22.95 (plus HST); the subscription price is $74.99 (including HST). I hope you’ll consider subscribing. Also, the holidays are approaching: give a thoughtful gift!
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Our Newsletter Roll (suggestions welcome)
Steven Beattie’s That Shakespearean Rag, a newsy blog about books and reading
Art Kavanagh’s Talk about books: Book discussion and criticism.
Gayla Gray’s SoNovelicious: Books, reading, writing, and bookstores.
Esoterica Magazine: Literature and popular culture.
Benjamin Errett’s Get Wit Quick, literature and other fun stuff
Lydia Perovic’s Long Play: literature and music.
Tim Carmody’s Amazon Chronicles: an eye on the monster.
Jason Logan’s Urban Color Report: adventures in ink (sign-up at bottom of page)
Anne Trubek’s Notes from a Small Press: like SHuSH, but different
Art Canada Institute: a reliable source of Canadian arts info/opinion
Kate McKean’s Agents & Books: an interesting angle on the literary world
Rebecca Eckler’s Re:Book: unpretentious recommendations
Anna Sproul Latimer’s How to Glow in the Dark: interesting advice
John Biggs Great Reads: strong recommendations
Mark Dykeman’s How About This: Atlantic Canadian interviews and thoughts on writing and creativity.
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