Two writers with deep roots in B.C.—Ziya Tong and Jessica McDiarmid—among five shortlisted for RBC Taylor Prize

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      There's no shortage of high-profile literary prizes in Canada for fiction.

      But for writers of nonfiction books, there are not quite as many opportunities since the B.C. Achievement Foundation discontinued its National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction in 2018.

      That happened less than a year after the B.C. NDP government was elected.

      This prestigious prize was founded by former B.C. Liberal premier Gordon Campbell and offered $40,000 cash to the winner. It was the largest cash award in Canada exclusively offered to a nonfiction author.

      Fortunately, there are still the Governor General's Award for English-language non-fiction and RBC Taylor Prize, which each come with $25,000 cash awards.

      This year, there are two writers with deep B.C. roots among the five writers on the shortlist for the RBC Taylor Prize, which was announced earlier this month by author Margaret Atwood.

      One of those shortlisted is Ziya Tong, former cohost of Daily Planet and author of The Reality Bubble: Blind Spots, Hidden Truths, and the Dangerous Illusions that Shape Our World.

      It focuses on realities that escape human perception and includes lengthy sections on the father of modern science, Galileo Galilei, and the father of microscopy, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. Tong's book also examines how urban living blinds human beings to what's occurring in nature, including the mass extinction of animal and plant species.

      Raised in Vancouver, Tong obtained her undergraduate degree from UBC and returned to her alma mater last year to deliver a lecture as part of the UBC Connects series hosted by president Santa Ono. Canadian author Naomi Klein praised the book as "a kaleidoscopic guide to everything we're missing".

      Another shortlisted finalist for the RBC Taylor Prize is Smithers native Jessica McDiarmid for her deeply researched Highway of Tears: A True Story of Racism, Indifference and the Pursuit of Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

      In an interview with the Straight last year, the B.C. author maintained that the lack of media attention about Indigenous women who went missing on the highway linking Prince George with Prince Rupert contributed to the public's indifference.

      “The level of public engagement [on an issue] has an enormous impact on political will, and that includes police forces," McDiarmid told writer Joshua Azizi at the time. “So things like the amount of resources devoted to a case is highly influenced by how much people are paying attention [and] how much the media is paying attention.”

      Whoopie Goldberg described Highway of Tears has "an extraordinary book" on the popular TV show The View.

      Jessica McDiarmid meticulously documented the tragic loss of Indigenous women and girls along the Highway of Tears.
      Wendy Perry

      The other shortlisted finalists for the RBC Taylor Prize are Bush Runner: The Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson, by Mark Bourrie; Had it Coming: What’s Fair in the Age of #MeToo, by Robyn Doolittle; and The Mosquito: A Human History of our Deadliest Predator, by Timothy C. Winegard.

      The award is named after author Charles Taylor, a former Globe and Mail correspondent and former chair of the Writers' Union of Canada.

      The winner will be announced on March 2 at a gala luncheon in Toronto.

      It's worth noting that the B.C. and Yukon Book Prizes also celebrates nonfiction authors. Its Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize was awarded last year to Vancouver writer Lindsay Wong for The Woo Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug Raids, Demons, and My Crazy Chinese Family

      Another B.C. writing prize, the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature, often goes to nonfiction book writers. Last year's winner was the Straight's Travis Lupick for Fighting for Space: How a Group of Drug Users Transformed One City's Struggle With Addiction.