Thomas King says it’s nice to be nominated for Governor General award, again

·4 min read

Thomas King has some mixed emotions over the fact he has once again been nominated for a prestigious prize.

King, of Cherokee/Greek ancestry and who now lives in Guelph, Ont., is a finalist in the Fiction category for the 2020 Governor General Literary Awards for his book Indians on Vacation. It’s about a couple who travel through Europe seeking information about a long-lost relative.

King, 78, won a Governor General award in 2014 for his novel The Back of the Turtle. That’s why he finds it somewhat awkward to see another of his books in the running.

“I always felt you should only win it once. It just feels a little bit greedy. There’s a lot of other writers out there.”

King is one of five finalists in the category. “I don’t need to win it again,” he said. “I’d be happy to win it. But I would feel a little bit odd.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Canada Council for the Arts, which operates the Governor General Literary Awards, cancelled its 2020 campaign. Finalists for the 2020 awards were only announced earlier this month. And the winners for all 14 award categories will be revealed on June 1.

The finalists and winners for the 2021 year will be made public this fall.

The Peer Assessment Committee which will determine the Fiction winner is made up of three individuals.

“The nice thing is I have no control over it,” King said, explaining those jury members will decide which book should be deemed the category winner. “It’s not a matter of good, better or best. In the end, it’s a judgement call.”

King’s book is up against the works of two other Indigenous writers in the category, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, a member of Alderville First Nation in central Ontario, and Michelle Good, a member of Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan.

Simpson is nominated for her novel Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies, which is her response to the 1852 Susanna Moodie book called Roughing It in the Bush.

Good’s book, titled Five Little Indians is about children who are taken from their families and sent to a residential school.

The two other finalists in the Fiction category are Francesca Ekwuyasi and Lisa Robertson.

Ekwuyasi wrote Butter Honey Pig Bread, which tells the stories of three Nigerian women. And Robertson is nominated for her debut novel The Baudelaire Fractal, which is about an individual who unexpectedly writes the entire works of acclaimed French poet Charles Baudelaire.

Indians on Vacation follows the travels of a couple named Bird and Mimi. The husband Bird is the book’s narrator.

He details the couple’s trip through various European cities, including Paris, Amsterdam and the couple’s final stop in Prague.

The journey, inspired by Mimi’s desire to travel abroad, is planned in an effort to find any trace of her Uncle Leroy’s time in various European cities where he traveled almost a century earlier.

Uncle Leroy had participated in Wild West shows, travelling vaudeville performances. He sent postcards back to his North American relatives from European cities he visited.

Bird and Mimi’s trip takes them to 10 locations in Europe from which Uncle Leroy had sent postcards. They are also keen to find any trace of the family medicine bundle Uncle Leroy had taken abroad with him.

“They’re hoping to find a Blackfoot Indian in Prague who would have noticed something,” King said. “There’s no hope they’re going to find anything. The book though is partly a travelogue and partly a look at historical Indigenous policy.”

Earlier this month King learned Indians on Vacation is also one of three books shortlisted for the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour. It is one of 10 nominated books up for the award, the winner to be revealed on June 4.

King said he doesn’t place any greater value on his two nominations.

“All the prizes are equally welcome,” he said. “But I’ve never been shortlisted or nominated for the Leacock award before. So that’s kind of nice.”

By Sam Laskaris, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,,

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