Selection Committee Citation
“Sylvia Fraser is one of Canada’s best known and most admired writers. Born in Hamilton in 1935, she moved to Toronto and worked at the Star Weekly until it folded in 1968. Her first novel, Pandora, appeared in 1972, and since then she has written five more novels, including The Candy Factory (1975), A Casual Affair (1978), The Emperor’s Virgin (1980), Berlin Solstice (1984), and The Ancestral Suitcase (1996).
She has also written four books of nonfiction, beginning with My Father’s House, subtitled A Memoir of Incest and of Healing, which appeared in 1987. It was while writing this wrenching memoir that she realized that the dominant themes in much of her writing were the abuse of power, the betrayal of trust, and the different strategies individuals adopt in order to survive in a corrupted world. In 1992 she wrote The Book of Strange, an exploration of the psychic and spiritual revolution, and much of her work since then has been investigations into the spiritual aspect of this and other cultures. In The Rope in the Water: A Pilgrimmage to India (2001), she documents her quest for enlightenment in a continent teeming with humanity; and in The Green Labyrinth: Exploring the Mysteries of the Amazon (2003), she investigates the Peruvian rainforest and the halucinatory properties of ayahuasca. (And anyone who thinks this was a new interest of Sylvia’s should know that the sixth chapter of her first novel was called ‘Opiates.’)
Sylvia is also an accomplished and award-winning journalist. Even before her first novel appeared she had won two Women’s Press Club Awards and the University of Western Ontario President’s Medal for magazine writing. As a contributing editor to Toronto Life, she has won many National Magazine Awards, and has written major profiles of people like Belinda Stronich, June Callwood, and Peter Rosenthal.
In short, as one interviewer has observed, Sylvia has ‘done everything and written beautifully about it,’ and her work is an eloquent tribute to the Writing Life.”
— 2008 Matt Cohen Award Committee (Patsy Aldana, Graeme Gibson, and Wayne Grady)