The Matt Cohen Award recognizes a lifetime of distinguished work by a Canadian writer working in poetry or prose in either French or English. The prize was established in celebration of the life of Matt Cohen, a founding member of the Writers’ Union of Canada, and is generously sponsored by Marla and David Lehberg.
Selection Committee Citation
“David Bergen is a writer trying to work things out that interest him. You feel like something important is about to be arrived upon in every paragraph, and when you read his characters and what they are doing and thinking, you realize the core of a story is never what the story is really about.
The motivation to begin a book might exist as a dramatic thread through a story, and that motivation or plot may appear on the back cover to satisfy reviewers and booksellers and book buyers, but when you are in the middle of a Bergen book you are somewhere else entirely. A man and a woman may be trying to sleep with each other in rural Canada but one of them is thinking of a mare being inseminated then whipped with horseshoes in southern Egypt. This image and its residual feeling in a character’s memory suggests the larger world within the intimate one David Bergen’s characters are living in as they learn to love and hate and love each other again.
Bergen’s material is both mundane and wild, tactile and complex, and he combines techniques of craft and style such as compressing and elongating time, having opposites collide, using flat surfaces with complex patterns of the psyche, suggesting cause and effect, layering dialogue, back story, humour, drama, passive and active writing, not answering questions, using delay and allowing a part to represent a whole – all these devices to create a modulation in tone and action that carries us through the narrative. These are, of course, classic postures to take with writing to create a modern world, the world as our author sees it, which happens to be a way none of us have ever thought of seeing it before.
We believe in a David Bergen world even after stepping back from the story to realize it’s all rather hard to believe. How does he do it? How does he apply his interests and subject matter, so varied and widespread, so fantastic in ways, erotic and psychological, and make them our concerns? This mystery is at the heart of a very well crafted realism, and David Bergen is, simply put, one of our best modern writers.”
— 2010 Writers’ Trust Engel/Findley Award (Diane Schoemperlen, Rudy Wiebe, and Michael Winter)
About Matt Cohen
A founding member of the Writers’ Union of Canada, Mr. Cohen was a celebrated and prolific writer who died in 1999 at the age of 56. This prize was established in his name by a group of anonymous donors.
“Winning the Matt Cohen Award is a really significant and profoundly touching life-changing honour, and I thank you incredibly much.”
— Richard Wagamese
2015 Matt Cohen Award winner