National literary award removes 'glaringly inequitable' emerging writer age cap

·3 min read

A prestigious Canadian literary prize has changed its definition of who counts as an emerging writer after a Windsor author spearheaded efforts to challenge an age cap.

Jade Wallace said that young and emerging are not synonymous, and the implication that older writers don't need support is "non-sensical."

"An emerging writer is an emerging writer," they said in an interview with Windsor Morning host Tony Doucette on CBC Radio.

"If they don't have a network, if they're not familiar with the community, if they haven't had a book published, it doesn't really matter what age you are."

The Writers' Trust of Canada's annual RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers is a $10,000 prize for poetry and short stories by writers who have not yet been published in book form.

(Wallace, a writer and editor who is doing a masters' degree in creative writing at the University of Windsor, is no relation to the late Bronwen Wallace, the author for whom the award is named).

Previously, the prize was awarded to those under 35. According to Wallace, it's a career-making award and a virtual guarantee of a book deal.

Wallace contacted and later wrote an open letter to the Writers' Trust earlier this month calling the age limit "glaringly inequitable."

Their letter pointed out that some writers are more likely to get their start later due to life circumstances or barriers related to their background.

"Writers from families with low incomes often have to work more, or spend extra time caring for themselves or loved ones. People from BIPOC, 2SLGBTQIA+, disability, immigrant, and other marginalized communities, and/or women, are disproportionately likely to have lower incomes and to experience socioeconomic and other barriers to participating fully in the literary community," the letter stated.

Writers' Trust responds

The letter netted about 160 signatures from the literary community, including former prize judges, winners and the founder of the award. Less than two weeks later, the Writers' Trust announced it would change the criteria.

"They actually changed the rule before I even had to send a letter," Wallace said, adding that they were surprised to see change occur so quickly.

The Writers' Trust has acknowledged that the open letter "absolutely helped" change the rule.

In an email to CBC News, the organization said programs "need to evolve to reflect the changing circumstances and needs of the writing community."

"We have received important feedback about how some writers are simply unable to begin their writing careers before the age of 35. We recognize that an age restriction is unfair, particularly to marginalized writers, and especially those from LGBTQ2IS and BIPOC communities," it stated.

"The age restriction was an ongoing issue, and we'd had feedback about it from the literary community for a few years and held discussions internally and with program partners. Jade Wallace's open letter absolutely helped push this along."

The submission deadline for the 2021 RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers is Feb. 22. Two $10,000 prizes are being awarded and finalists will receive $2,500.