Trish Salah was a finalist for this year’s $4,000 Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBTQ Emerging Writers and will be the writer-in-residence at Berton House from April to June 2019.
I often have a hard time picking favourites, but this year I do have a few.
Little Fish by Casey Plett was far and away my favourite novel published in 2018. I’d been waiting eagerly for it since reading her gorgeous short story collection, A Safe Girl to Love, and Little Fish did not disappoint. From the opening scene of four trans women sitting around in a Winnipeg bar shooting the shit and discoursing on our strange relation to aging and time, I knew I would not put it down until I was done, and not just because I’ve sat in that bar, perhaps with those women. Plett is a mistress of minor key realism, and with Little Fish she gives us an intimately detailed, tonally subtle portrait of a young trans woman and her friends as they live low rent in a prairie town, snow deep in Mennonite history, and negotiate ordinary, sometimes deadly, transphobia, as well as dating and sex work logistics (circa 2015), and life-saving — if not for always — friendships.
Like Little Fish, I’ve been looking forward to Holy Wild by Gwen Benaway for a while now. I’m very much a fan of the passionate and profane truth telling of her second collection Passage and its exquisite mapmaking of relations, both painful and transformative, through her ancestral lands and waters of the Great Lakes. If Passage offers, among many other things, one girl’s approach to transition, Benaway’s Holy Wild manifests a powerful and dynamic, if sometimes vulnerable and tremulous, transsexual Two Spirit womanhood, one deeply conscious of what it is to live the contradictions of this particular “tipping point:” “the balance of this is always violence.” The poems in her collection are confessions and manifestos, callouts and blessings. Beautiful and complicated, and by turns grieving, funny, self-effacing, sexy, and biting, Benaway’s lyrics radiate Two Spirit, Indigenous, and Métis trans subjectivity, desire, and holiness, and light the way to critical and hopeful possibilities for trans feminist love and community.
I liked quite a lot of what little I knew of Tess Liem’s poetry before reading her debut collection, Obits., but I was not prepared for just how powerful, sorrowful, and gorgeous the book is. Liem’s Obits. digs deep into mourning, tenderly excavating its constitutive failures and wandering parts, unsettled remainders, and sidereal lives. This melancholy’s anatomy is deliberately strewn about the plateau, and still waiting on the metro platform. Here, you can glimpse a part, “One evening my grief is glitter in the escalator/ & for a moment I am euphoric” or another “What is the word/ for something that is yours, given/ to you without your asking. ” Throughout the book, Liem writes of loss as mixed and queer woman, not so much focused on the body as a site of identity but as the locus of ongoing yet unpredictable, often violent if sometimes liberatory and swerving, departures.
Finally, but it’s a long way, by frédérique guétat-liviani (trans. by nathanaël), is an achingly beautiful poetic transcription of interviews with people living in the shanties and banlieus of Avignon, people who traveled into precarity across various and incalculable distances and differences. Against what guétat-liviani describes as the normative “inventory of the unnamed,” in which we can read the receipts of racial capitalism, border securitization, and other regimes of exclusion, but it’s a long way renders human voices in their haunting specificity, as chorus and long poem against a collective erasure. The work is as devastating as it is moving, and the French is included after the English, as is an illuminating interview/essay on the conditions of composition for this multi-voiced and interlingual text. Like the others on this list, it is a book I’ve already returned to, and one I anticipate keeping close for some time to come.
Of course, perhaps inevitably, some of my favourite reads of this year were actually books from 2017 that I was slow to pick up: Zoe Leigh Peterson’s Next Year for Sure, David Chariandy’s Brother, Omar Akkad’s American War, Sina Queyras’ My Ariel, Joshua Whitehead’s Full Metal Indigiqueer... but that is another list.