2016 Winner

Matt Cohen Award: In Celebration of a Writing Life

Selection Committee Citation

“Brian Brett was born in 1950 in British Columbia, later attending Simon Fraser University until he left in 1970 to devote his time to writing poetry. He has since dedicated his entire life to writing, as a poet, novelist, memoirist, and journalist. His work has appeared in nearly every Canadian newspaper, from the Globe and Mail to the Yukon News. For two years he was poetry editor of the Vancouver Province. He is also the author of 12 books of poetry, two novels, a book of short stories, and three works of memoir.

One of the best — and best loved — writers in Canada, Brian is first and foremost a poet. His 1998 collection, The Colour of Bones in a Stream, which contains most of his food poems, has been highly acclaimed, and his first book of memoir, Uproar’s Your Only Music, is actually a diptych — half prose, half poetry — an account of how he came to write poetry, and of the traumatic experience of growing up between genders with the rare Kallmann Syndrome.

His second, Trauma Farm: A Rebel’s History of Rural Life, which won the Writers’ Trust Nonfiction Prize in 2009, is a celebration of the small farm on Salt Spring Island on which he and his wife Sharon have been living for the past 26 years, and a mediation on our place in the natural world.

The third volume in his memoir trilogy came out last year. Called Tuco: The Parrot, the Others and the Scattershot World, it is about Brian’s long-time relationship with Tuco, his African grey parrot, about which almost every writer in Canada has a humorous story. The book is also about humans’ relationship with animals – which both he and Farley Mowat recognize as ‘the Other’ — and about our fascination with birds in particular. If he had to choose between human and bird intelligence, there is no question which Brian would wish to have.

Brian is also an accomplished novelist and short story writer. He has served as chair of the Writers Union of Canada, inaugurated the BC Poetry-in-the-Schools program, and taught part-time and given workshops in major venues across Canada, including the University of British Columbia, the Banff School of the Arts, the Toronto Reference Library, and the Whitehorse Public Library.

He is, in other words, a renaissance man, something of a rascal, and a consummate example of one who has lived the writer’s life and produced work of the finest quality, and it is with great pleasure that we honour him with the 2016 Matt Cohen Award.”
— 2016 Matt Cohen Award Committee (Patsy Aldana, Graeme Gibson, Wayne Grady, and Don Oravec)

2009 Winner

Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction

for Trauma Farm: A Rebel History of Rural Life

Jury Citation

“In an age increasingly marked by alienation from the natural world, including the natural world of traditional human experience, Trauma Farm comes as a revelation of engagement. Employing a no-nonsense lyricism that draws on a lifetime of farming and writing, as well as a profound sensitivity to the environment, author Brian Brett takes the reader on a vibrant tour of his small west coast island farm. By turns comic and tragic, celebratory and angry, but always impassioned about the importance of maintaining a connection to the hands-on lessons of rural living, Brett's story is a lively, well-researched blend of memoir and socio-political commentary, a rare celebration of youth, age, and the tumultuous, surprising journey between them. -- 2009 Writers’ Trust Nonfiction Prize Jury (Tim Bowling, Anne Hart, and Bruce Meyer)


2011 Juror

Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction

2002 Juror

Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize