Nêhiyaw writer Emily Riddle first ever winner of $10K Canadian First Book Prize for debut poetry collection
CBC News | May 18, 2023
The new prize was established by the revamped Griffin Poetry Prize
Catherine Zhu · CBC Books · Posted: May 18, 2023 9:00 AM EDT | Last Updated: May 18
The nêhiyaw writer who is a member of the Alexander First Nation (Kipohtakaw) in Treaty Six Territory will receive $10,000 and a six-week residency in Italy, in partnership with the Civitella Ranieri Foundation.
The inaugural prize is awarded for a Canadian first book of poetry to a Canadian citizen, or permanent resident, for a first book written in English. It was established by the revamped Griffin Poetry Prize as part of its two-decade anniversary celebration this year.
Riddle's The Big Meltis rooted in nêhiyaw thought and urban millennial life events. It examines what it means to repair kinship, contend with fraught history, go home and contemplate prairie and utopia in the era of late capitalism and climate change.
Part memoir, part research project, the collection draws on Riddle's experience working in Indigenous governance and her affection for confessional poetry in crafting feminist works that are firmly rooted in place. It is about inheriting a Treaty relationship just as much as it is about breakups, demonstrating that governance is just as much about our interpersonal relationships as it is law and policy.
This year's winner was selected from a jury comprised of Canadian poet Gregory Scofield, American poet Natasha Trethewey and Macedonian poet Nikola Madzirov. They each read 58 Canadian First Book Prize entries.
"Emily Riddle's The Big Meltis nêhiyaw governance, Cree governance, at its single most personal form of self-autonomy. The governance of heart and history, language and landscape, nêhiyaw-askiy, Cree earth/land, is embedded in these warrior-women poems. If there is a trail back to our ancestors and forward to ourselves, these poems call us to be still, and to listen to a new generation of storytellers," the jury said of the winning book of poetry.
Riddle is is the senior advisor of Indigenous relations at the Edmonton Public Library and has been published in various publications such as The Washington Post, The Globe and Mail, Teen Vogue, The Malahat Review and Room Magazine. She received the 2021 Edmonton Artists' Trust Fund award and is a dedicated Treaty Six descendant who believes deeply in the brilliance of the Prairies and their people.
Founded in 2000 by Canadian entrepreneur and philanthropist Scott Griffin, the annual Griffin Poetry Prize previously awarded $65,000 to two works of English-language poetry from the previous year — one Canadian and one international.
This year, the Griffin Poetry Prize will combine its existing Canadian and international categories into a single $130,000 award. It currently stands as the world's largest international prize for a single book of poetry written in, or translated into English.
The 2023 winner will be announced on June 7 at Koerner Hall in Toronto. The gala event will also feature readings from all the finalists before the big reveal.
The shortlisted titles this year are: Exculpatory Lilies by Canadian poet Susan Musgrave, The Threshold by Egyptian Canadian poet Iman Mersal, The Hurting Kind bycurrent U.S. poet laureateAda Limón, Best Barbarian by American poet Roger Reeves and Time is a Mother by Vietnamese American poet Ocean Vuong.
As the recipient of the Canadian First Book Prize, Riddle will be invited to participate in the readings to read from The Big Melt.
The recipient of a $25,000 lifetime recognition award will also be announced, bringing the total of the new prize fund to $205,000.