writers-guild-of-albertaIn conjunction with the Writers’ Guild of Alberta (WGA), The City of Calgary is preparing to celebrate another successful year with The City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize. Writers from The City of Calgary and their publishers are invited to check out and submit to this year’s award. The Calgary Awards recognizes outstanding achievements and contributions by individuals and organizations in the community. 

Submissions are evaluated on originality, creativity, and quality of writing, as well as appropriate fit within the category.

The City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize is awarded in honour of acclaimed Calgary writer W.O. Mitchell and recognizes literary achievement by Calgary authors. The prize was established in 1996 and is coordinated through a partnership between The City of Calgary and the Writers’ Guild of Alberta. The $5000 prize is awarded annually for an outstanding book of fiction, poetry, nonfiction, children’s literature or drama published in the preceding year. Entries are judged by an independent jury recruited by the Writers’ Guild of Alberta.

The Writers’ Guild of Alberta is a non-profit organization that represents both professional and emerging writers in Alberta. Their mission is to inspire, connect, support, encourage and promote writers and writing, to safeguard the freedom to write and to read, and to advocate for the well-being of writers.

The 2015 recipient was Eugene Stickland for his book titled The Piano Teacher.

paino-teacherThe Piano Teacher touches on a number of themes. But, at its heart, Stickland says it is meant to convey the isolation that can come with the life of an artist. Thanks to a strange fluke, the novel’s protagonist is actually a millionaire. One of the compositions he wrote as a young man became a hit after it was covered by a British punk band. Later, the song was used in a dog-food commercial. It was a lucrative turn of events for the narrator, but his financial comfort came at a cost. Despite his skills as a concert pianist,  most in the classical-music world look down their nose at him because of the less-than-refined nature of his early windfall. He becomes a recluse, but is drawn back into the world by teaching piano to a seven-year-old and eventually prepares to return to the concert stage and perform that Rachmaninoff concerto. (quoted from an article by Eric Volmers from the Calgary Herald)

About Eugene Strickland

eugene-stricklandEugene Strickland, best known as a playwright, was born in Regina,Saskatchewan in 1956. He studied theatre at York University, graduating with a Masters in Fine Arts. In Toronto he worked at Act IV Theatre Company, which premiered several of his early plays: Darkness on the Edge of Town (1987, dir. DD Kugler); Quartet (1985, dir. Jennifer Stein, Mark Owen, Keith Kemps, Larry Lewis); The Family, (1984, dir. Lewis). In 1989 he returned to Regina and co-founded Laughing Dog Theatre.

Since 1989 Stickland has lived in Calgary, where he was playwright-in-residence at Alberta Theatre Projects until 2004. During this time, Eugene looked after the educational programming at ATP, including the Student Writers Group and the Theatreblitz! Festival, and was the Canadian delegate to the World Interplay Festival for young playwrights in Australia.

Many of his plays have premiered at the ATP playRites Festival: Some Assembly Required (1994, dir. DD Kugler) has been produced more than thirty times. It has been translated (as Noël de force) and was part of the 1999-2000 season of the Compagnie Jean-Duceppe. It was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award in 1995.

A Guide to Mourning (1998, playRites, dir. Bob White) was produced in 1999 at the Belfry Theatre, in 2000 at Theatre Network, and in 2001 for the regular season of ATP, and it has had seven more subsequent productions. It was awarded the Betty Mitchell Award for Best New Play.

Other ATP premieres include Sitting on Paradise (1996, dir. White); Appetite (2000); Midlife (2002); and All Clear (2004). Excavations premiered at Theatre Network in 2002 and won the 1995 Alberta Playwriting Award.

A full-length version of his one-act play, Closer and Closer Apart, a study of Alzheimer’s disease, which premiered in 1999 at Lunchbox Theatre, opened at Theatre Network in Edmonton in 2007 season. His “unabashed comedy,” Writer’s Block opened at Calgary’s Ground Zero Theatre in 2008 (dir. Bob White). Writer’s Block is a comedy about an financially-challenged playwright-in-residence at a large Canadian theatre company, who files a claim for workers’ compensation with the theatre’s insurance company on the grounds that he has writer’s block. Then he is inspired to write a play.

The Urban Curvz production of his two-hander with cello, Queen Lear opened at Calgary’s Joyce Doolittle Theatre in the Pumphouse in February, 2009. It was written as an 80th birthday present for Joyce Doolittle, who undertook the lead role. The play has been translated into Turkish, and has played in Istanbul and Cypress.

Eugene Strickland’s plays are characterized by black humour and an absurdist philosophy. They often consider the farcical conundrums of dysfunctional families, failed relationships, and endgame scenarios, and satirize the materialist, corporate culture of Alberta.

He is also a teacher and mentor. He was appointed writer-in-residence at St. Mary’s University College in Calgary, and has led playwriting workshops across the country and internationally. For five years he wrote a column on the Calgary arts scene for The Calgary Herald.

The Piano Teacher (B House Publications), his first novel, explores the creative life of a pianist, written in first-person diary form. He was awarded the City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize for the Piano Teacher in September 2016.

Profile by Anne Nothof, Athabasca University

The City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize Submission Guidelines

  • Eligible books have been published anywhere in the world between January 1 and December 31, 2016.
  • The author must be a Calgary resident for a minimum of two years, as of December 31, 2016.
  • The following types of writing are eligible: fiction, poetry, nonfiction, children’s literature, and drama.
  • Self published books are eligible for this award as long as they have an ISBN (i.e. the book is commercially available).
  • The following types of works are not eligible: multi-author anthologies, cookbooks, guidebooks, textbooks, technical manuals, bibliographies or works of a purely academic or scholarly nature.
  • Books of less than 48 pages (except children’s literature), books that are not written in English or French, multi-authored books (if any one of the authors is not a Calgarian), reprints or new editions of previously published books are also not eligible.
  • If, in the opinion of the judges, no work in this competition merits an award, no award will be given. In all cases, the judges’ decision is final.


About W. O.  Mitchell

wo-mitchellW.O. Mitchell–writer, performer, and teacher–is best remembered for Who Has Seen the Wind and the Jake and the Kid stories which grew out of and defined Saskatchewan prairie. Mitchell was born on March 13, 1914 in Weyburn, Saskatchewan and died in Calgary on February 25, 1998. Two events in his early life indelibly marked him and, he claimed, made him a writer.

When he was seven his father died, and his memory of this event was the genesis for his first novel, Who Has Seen the Wind, a lyrical, episodic work knit together by recurring motifs of birth and death. A deep sense of man’s mortality lies behind all of Mitchell’s writing although his vision of life is fundamentally optimistic.

The second pivotal event occurred in 1926 when he contracted bovine tuberculosis of the wrist and was withdrawn from school. Forced in upon himself, he often wandered alone on the prairies becoming acutely attuned to the “poetry of earth and sky.” Out of this grew his remarkable ability to describe the prairie in all its moods and sensuous particularity. As one of the first Canadian writers to valorize his own region, he paved the way for others to write about their own place and people. The prairie landscape and what he called “the energy of death” are central to his exploration of loneliness, the quest for “how to be,” and, most importantly, the bridging of one human to another.

Read more about W. O. Mitchell at: http://www.womitchell.ca/biography.htm

Interested in submitting your publication for the next City of Calgary W. O Mitchell Book Prize? The deadline for submissions is December 31, 2016. The winner will be announced at The Calgary Awards in the spring of 2017.

See more about the award and submit publications for consideration at: https://writersguild.ca/awards-entry