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Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction

Winner: $60,000; Finalists: $5,000


Writers of nonfiction books begin with a single puzzle piece – a discovery, a belief, an idea – and build their picture out of words and story. The Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction celebrates the best in Canadian nonfiction writing, from history to biography, essay to memoir, and commentary to criticism.

2016 Winner


2016 HIlary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction finalist Deborah Campbell (Vancouver, BC) for A Disappearance in Damascus: A Story of Friendship and Survival in the Shadow of War, Knopf Canada
Deborah Campbell
A Disappearance in Damascus: A Story of Friendship and Survival in the Shadow of War 
Knopf Canada

Deborah Campbell (Vancouver, BC) for A Disappearance in Damascus: A Story of Friendship and Survival in the Shadow of War, Knopf Canada 

"In a seamless blend of storytelling and reportage, Deborah Campbell’s A Disappearance in Damascus draws us into the struggles of Iraqi refugees settled in Syria after the fall of Baghdad. The principal character, an Iraqi 'fixer' who is also a grieving mother and a nurturing humanitarian, is taken by secret police. Campbell’s account of the search to find her, written with compelling prose, nuanced context, and intimate narration, illuminates the dangers of life and work in a conflict zone through a riveting tale of courage, loss, love, and friendship."

- 2016 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction jury Carolyn Abraham, Stephen Kimber, and Emily Urquhart.

About the Book

The story begins in 2007 when Deborah Campbell travels undercover to Damascus to report on the exodus of Iraqis into Syria following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. There she meets and hires Ahlam, a refugee working as a “fixer”—providing Western media with trustworthy information and contacts to help get the news out. Ahlam, who fled her home in Iraq after being kidnapped while running a humanitarian centre, not only supports her husband and two children through her work with foreign journalists but is setting up a makeshift school for displaced girls. She has become a charismatic, unofficial leader of the refugee community in Damascus, and Campbell is inspired by her determination to create something good amid so much suffering. Ahlam soon becomes her friend as well as her guide. But one morning Ahlam is seized from her home in front of Campbell’s eyes. Haunted by the prospect that their work together has led to her friend’s arrest, Campbell spends the months that follow desperately trying to find her—all the while fearing she could be next.

About the Author

Deborah Campbell has spent more than a decade reporting from such places as Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, the UAE, Israel-Palestine, Mexico, Cuba, and Russia. Her writing has appeared in Harper’sThe EconomistThe GuardianNew ScientistForeign Policy, and The Walrus, and she is the recipient of three National Magazine Awards. Campbell teaches at the University of British Columbia and lives in Vancouver.

2016 Finalists

Ian Brown (Toronto, ON) 
for Sixty: A Diary of My Sixty-first Year: The Beginning of the End or the End of the Beginning?
Random House Canada

Matti Friedman (Jerusalem) for Pumpkinflowers: An Israeli Soldier’s Story, Signal/McClelland & StewartMatti Friedman
for Pumpkinflowers: An Israeli Soldier’s Story
Signal/McClelland & Stewart

Ross King (Oxford, UK) for Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies, Bond Street Books/Doubleday CanadaRoss King
 (Oxford, UK) 
for Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies
Bond Street Books/Doubleday Canada

Sonja Larsen (Vancouver, BC) for Red Star Tattoo: My Life as a Girl Revolutionary, Random House CanadaSonja Larsen
 (Vancouver, BC) 
for Red Star Tattoo: My Life as a Girl Revolutionary
Random House Canada

On sale now: Get your copy of each shortlisted book at Indigo.ca's Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction shop.

2016 Jury

2016 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction jurors

Carolyn Abraham 
is the author of two books, Possessing Genius and The Juggler’s Children, both of which were finalists for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Nonfiction. She is a journalist who was the science writer for The Globe and Mail for 14 years, and before that wrote for the Ottawa Citizen. Born in England, Abraham moved to Canada as a child and currently lives in Toronto.
Stephen Kimber is a professor of journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax and an award-winning writer, editor, and broadcaster. He is the author of a novel and nine books of nonfiction, including What Lies Across the Water, which won the 2014 Evelyn Richardson Memorial Award.

Emily Urquhart
’s writing has appeared in Reader’s Digest, The Walrus,and elsewhere. Herfirst book,Beyond the Pale, based on her National Magazine Award-winning story, was a Maclean’s bestseller, a finalist for the BC National Award for Canadian Nonfiction, and a 2015 Globe and Mail Best Book. After ten years dividing her time between St. John’s and Victoria, Urquhart recently moved to Kitchener, Ontario.

About the Honourable Hilary M. Weston, CM, OOnt

Hilary Weston

The Hon. Hilary M. Weston served as the 26th lieutenant-governor of Ontario from 1997 to 2002. As the Queen’s representative in Ontario, Mrs. Weston was responsible for the Crown’s constitutional and representational roles in the province. Since leaving public office, Mrs. Weston has continued to pursue her diverse interests. She led Renaissance ROM, the largest fundraising campaign in Canadian cultural history, transforming the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. She is a trustee of St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle and serves on the board of the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Aga Khan Museum. She is also Chair of Prince’s Charities Canada.

Mrs. Weston is a director of Wittington Investments, the family holding company, and Selfridges Group; and is a member of the International Advisory Board of Sotheby’s. She has served as deputy chair of the board of Holt Renfrew, promoting Canadian designers in the retailing business.

Mrs. Weston founded the Ireland Fund of Canada and remains a patron of this non-denominational organization promoting peace in Ireland. Her interests in homes and gardens resulted in the publication of In a Canadian Garden (1989) and At Home in Canada (1995). She served as first Chancellor of the Order of Ontario and was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in 2003. She received the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002 and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012. Mrs. Weston was invested by the Queen as a Commander in the Royal Victorian Order in October 2015 and is the recipient of several honorary degrees. 

About the Prize

The prize is awarded for literary excellence in the category of nonfiction, which includes, among other forms, personal or journalistic essays, history, biography, memoirs, commentary, and criticism, both social and political. Finalist works will, in the opinion of the jury, demonstrate a distinctive voice, as well as a persuasive and compelling command of tone, narrative, style, and technique. This award succeeds the Writers’ Trust Nonfiction Prize, which was established in 1997.



Woodcock Fund


Writers' Trust Fellowship


April 27, 2017

Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction
Second Deadline

May 24, 2017

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