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Award History

Selection Committee Citation

“Norman Levine was born in Ottawa in 1923; his father sold vegetables from a cart in the Bytown Market, and Levine helped him until the Second World War, when he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and flew more than 50 missions as a tail gunner. He returned to Canada to study at Carleton College and McGill University with a veteran’s ticket, and in 1950 — along with several other Canadian writers, including Mordecai Richler and Mavis Gallant — he moved to Europe, settling eventually in St. Ives, Cornwall. His first novel, The Angled Road, was published in England in 1952; One Way Ticket followed in 1961; and From a Seaside Town in 1970. But Levine is best known as a short story writer. His lean, sharply observed stories — collected in such volumes as I Don’t Want to Know Anyone Too Well (1971), Why Do You Live So Far Away? and Champagne Barn (both 1984), and Something Happened Here (1991) — strip away life’s outer layers to reveal the pulsing heart beneath. They draw heavily from his own experience. Bernard Levin, reviewing From a Seaside Town in the Sunday Times, calls Levine ‘a true artist, who grinds his bones — and anything else he can lay his hands on — to make his bread.’ And Levine himself has said: ‘All life, once lived, is fiction.’

Levine has been better known in Europe than Canada: many of his stories were published in German — his translator was Heinrich Böll — before they appeared in English, and his unblinking travel book, Canada Made Me, appeared in England in 1958, 21 years before it was published in Canada. In presenting Norman Levine with this award, we hope in part to redress that imbalance. For there is no doubt that Norman Levine is one of the most accomplished and important writers that Canada has made.”
— 2001 Matt Cohen Award Committee (Patsy Aldana, Graeme Gibson, and Wayne Grady)