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The Barbadian Canadian take home $60,000 for ‘The Island of Forgetting’

Jasmine Sealy with her book

Vancouver writer Jasmine Sealy has won the 2023 Amazon First Novel Award for The Island of Forgetting.

The $60,000 prize recognizes the best debut Canadian novel of the year.

Set in Barbados, The Island of Forgetting is a coming-of-age story spanning four generations, each from the perspective of a different family member who must navigate desire, duty, identity and family secrets while running a beachfront hotel. Raw and reflective, Sealy’s novel is about the ghosts of what goes unsaid and the stories we tell ourselves to fill the absence.

The Barbadian Canadian writer completed her MFA in creative writing at the University of British Columbia. Then, she won the 2020 UBC/HarperCollins Best New Fiction Prize for the story she wrote for her master’s thesis. Awarded literary representation and a book publication from HarperCollins, the Vancouver-based writer transformed her thesis into The Island of Forgetting.

“It’s the honour of my very brief and young career, I’m completely overwhelmed! My fellow shortlisted authors are incredible, I’m huge fans of them all,” said Sealy after her win, “I’m still a little bit in shock!”

The other finalists were Billy-Ray Belcourt for A Minor Chorus, Jessica Johns for Bad Cree, André Forget for In the City of Pigs, William Ping for Hollow Bamboo and Kai Thomas for In the Upper Country.

They will each receive $6,000.

The jury was composed of Sharon Bala, author of The Boat People, Kim Fu, author of the story collection Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century, Heather O’Neill, author of Lullabies for Little Criminals and Zalika Reid-Benta, author of the short story collection Frying Plantain.

“You want the younger writers to know there’s a scope of what Canadian literature can be and it’s not just going to look like one thing. So there was a consciousness within putting that list together that it would represent different genres of what is being written in Canada today,” said author and juror Heather O’Neill during the ceremony.

Other past winners include Michelle Good for her novel Five Little Indians, Stéphane Larue for The Dishwasher, Joy Kogawa for Obasan, Rohinton Mistry for Such a Long Journey, Anne Michaels for Fugitive Pieces and Madeleine Thien for Certainty.

The prize also gives out an annual award for a youth short story. Writers between the ages of 13 and 17 are eligible to submit stories under 3,000 words for consideration.