Matt Cohen Award: In Celebration of a Writing Life

Winner: $25,000
Sponsored by Marla and David Lehberg

2017 Winner

Diane Schoemperlen 

Diane Schoemperlen


Selection Committee Citation

From the publication in 1984 of her first book, Double Exposures—a story told through words and photographs—Diane has pushed the boundaries of form. In early collections of short fiction from 1986 to 1991—including The Man of My Dreams, Hockey Night in Canada, and Frogs and Other Stories—she experimented with the genre, defying convention, refusing to be shackled by tradition but at the same time holding herself to the highest standard. 

She brought the same imagination and rigour to her debut novel, In the Language of Love, in which each of its 100 chapters is based on a word in the Standard Word Association Test, used to measure sanity. Talk about bold: her novel, Our Lady of the Lost and Found, published in 2001, is narrated by the Virgin Mary herself. In her 2008 novel, At a Loss for Words, her character, a writer with writer’s block, turns to the random words around her—horoscopes, fortune cookies, emails and self-help manuals—to express a love that cannot be realized in any other way. In Names of the Dead: An Elegy for the Victims of September 11 she lists the names and stories of everyone killed on that era-ending day to present a meditation on terror, grief, and the everydayness of tragedy and loss. And last year, she turned her unique, unsparing lens on herself in her first work of literary nonfiction—This Is Not My Life: A Memoir of Love, Prison, and Other Complications—in which she recounts the fall-out from her relationship with an inmate of Kingston Penitentiary.

This year, her early and uncollected short stories have been gathered and published in a single, magnificent volume, entitled First Things First.

Although never at a loss for words herself, she at times incorporates illustrations in her stories, fusing words and images to create a language of her own in works such as Forms of Devotion and By the Book. She is now creating single works of word-and-image collage.

Through her 33 years as a writer, Diane has definitely lived the writer’s life. In the process, she has dissected not only genres but words themselves, penetrating the arcane elements of language as a means of getting at what is fundamental to the human heart.

– Award committee members Patsy Aldana, Graeme Gibson, Wayne Grady, and Don Oravec

Select Publications

First Things First (2017)
This is Not My Life (2016)
By the Book (2014)
At a Loss for Words (2008)
Our Lady of the Lost and Found (2001)
Forms of Devotion (1998)
In the Language of Love (1994)
The Man of My Dreams (1990)
Double Exposures (1984)

Diane Schoemperlen

About the Author

Diane Schoemperlen was born and raised in Thunder Bay, Ontario. She has published several collections of short fiction and three novels, In the Language of Love, Our Lady of the Lost and Found, and At a Loss for Words. Her 1990 collection, The Man of My Dreams, was a finalist for both a Governor General’s Literary Award and a Trillium Book Award. Her collection, Forms of Devotion: Stories and Pictures won the 1998 Governor General’s Literary Award and inspired a sequel, By the Book: Stories and Pictures, published 16 years later. In 2008, Schoemperlen received the Marian Engel Award from the Writers’ Trust of Canada. Last year she published This Not My Life: A Memoir of Love, Prison, and Other Complications, which was a finalist for the RBC Taylor Prize. Earlier this year Biblioasis published First Things First, a book of early and uncollected stories. Schoemperlen lives in Kingston, Ontario.

About the Selection Committee

Patsy Aldana founded Groundwood Books. She is past president of the National Reading Campaign and the International Board of Books for Young People, and president of the Hans Christian Andersen Awards jury. She lives in Toronto.

Graeme Gibson is a founding member of the Writers’ Trust of Canada. He is the author of the novels Five Legs and Perpetual Motion and the illustrated volumes The Bedside Book of Birds and The Bedside Book of Beasts. Gibson lives in Toronto.

Wayne Grady is the author of Emancipation Day, for which he won the 2013 First Novel Award. He has written numerous science and nature works and translated 16 works of fiction from French. Grady lives in Kingston, Ontario.

Don Oravec is a past executive director of the Writers’ Trust of Canada. He is the president of the board of Project Bookmark Canada and sits on the board of directors of Word on the Street. Oravec divides his time between Toronto and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

About the Prize

Matt CohenEstablished by a group of anonymous donors, the Matt Cohen Award recognizes a lifetime of distinguished work by a Canadian writer, working in either poetry or prose in either French or English. 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.

The recipient of the prize is announced at the Writers' Trust Awards.

Gallant_Mavis.jpg “I look upon it as one of the greatest honours of my career, because it perpetuates the writing life of someone who was, I believe, nothing else than a writer.”  Mavis Gallant Winner, 2001 Matt Cohen Award: In Celebration of a Writing Life



Woodcock Fund



Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing


September 19 for books published between June 20 and September 18, 2018


Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction
and Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize


July 18 for books published between May 16 and Sept 30, 2018


Recommended Reading List

We asked some of Canada's finest writers about what they are reading this summer.

Read their Recommendations.


E Newsletter Sign Up

Sign-up for our eNewsletter. Get info about Authors and our latest Events.

Sign up now!

Site design & development supported by

ecentricarts inc