Just the Stats: Diversity in Canadian Poetry Prizes (1981 – 2015) [Updated]

Screenshot 2015-03-01 11.26.16Following  the announcement that VIDA will include a “Women of Color VIDA Count” as part of their annual data, Canadian poet Colin Fulton is working on a damning piece of research that reveals the racial uniformity of poetry prize-winners in Canada. We’ll let you guess who comes out on top.

In such a culturally diverse country, it’s disappointing that such a bias still exists. Fulton’s research also shows the effect of such a bias: the majority of the judges of Canada’s most prestigious prizes are also white.

As long as prizes beget prestige, and prestige turns writers into gatekeepers, the bias is likely to continue, unconsciously or not.  Fulton’s research is still ongoing. We’ll update you as it progresses.

(March 2, 2015) We’ve updated the post with a preface by Fulton.

 

The image presented by this simple and cursory list – that prize culture in Canadian Poetry is explicitly white supremacist – should be unsurprising. It’s only been a week since I started to compile the opaque histories of poetic ‘excellence’ and its evaluation in this country, but carefully typing out white winner, white shortlist, white judge over and over again while trying to resist that confirmation becoming automatic makes the research slow-going. The suffocating ephemerality of this ‘excellence,’ decaying or lost in unmaintained lit-journal websites and cached press releases, is just as obvious as its whiteness. At the same time the names are very present in contemporary Canadian poetry. It’s difficult to name a ‘successful’ Canadian poet who hasn’t had some kind of contact with prize culture.

Yesterday I posted the beginnings of the list to my Facebook page and since then it has been shared, reposted, spread through Twitter, etc., in a manner reminiscent of work done by CWILA with gender and reviewing in the Canadian poetry context. Responses to the list from a variety of different audience (mostly white, like me) have seemed copy-pasted from that moment too. (The judge says: “Well most of the people submitting were white, so it’s no surprise the winners were white! We’re not racist, submissions are read blind!” The cynic says: “Well prize culture is inherently problematic anyway! I already knew about this. Get rid of awards and you get rid of the issue.” The reformer says: “Well all we need to do is attribute more value to diversity and tone down this false rhetoric of universality and absolute judgement, as allies.”)

I’m not interested in combatting pre-readings, and honestly part of the project was to draw them out. But some clarifications might help. First, not all of the prizes I’ve gotten around to looking at are open to submission, and not all of them make judges and the method of judge selection public. Second, the limitations (and ridiculousness) of the list’s ‘white/non-white’ categorization, the elision of names therein, is again part of the questions the project is trying to raise. Third, the image of prize culture’s racial purity should not be disentangled from wider issues concerning the way prizes are ‘necessary’ to finance austerity-struck publications, the way the university workshop system exists as a feeder into prize culture, and so on. All this aside, the bottom line is that these venues for poetry, especially longstanding awards that have NEVER had a non-white winner, nominee or judge, would be left unchanged if they blatantly stated “whites only” on the eligibility page. Would anyone notice if they did?

The list first and foremost articulates a game called “white people giving other white people money,” sometimes called ‘the Canadian poetry prize,’ which is undeniably a benchmark of the production of literary value and career-building. Not much more commentary than this is needed: it isn’t about poetry contests, and it’s not about moving towards an image of poetry more palatably diverse to a white audience – it’s about who gets to exist and who doesn’t, about who they exist for and who decides.

-CF

Griffin Prize (Canadian winners)

2015 – Judges: All White, Winner TBD
2014 – Shortlist: All White, Winner: White, Judges: All White
2013 – Shortlist: 2/3 White, Winner: White, Judges: 2/3 White
2012 – Shortlist: All White, Winner: White, Judges: All White
2011 – Shortlist: 2/3 White, Winner: Non-White, Judges: All White
2010 – Shortlist: All White, Winner: White, Judges: 2/3 White
2009 – Shortlist: All White, Winner: White, Judges: All White
2008 – Shortlist: All White, Winner: White, Judges: All White
2007 – Shortlist: 2/3 White, Winner: White, Judges: All White
2006 – Shortlist: All White, Winner: White, Judges: All White
2005 – Shortlist: All White, Winner: White, Judges: All White
2004 – Shortlist: All White, Winner: White, Judges: All White
2003 – Shortlist: 2/3 White, Winner: White, Judges: All White
2002 – Shortlist: All White, Winner: White, Judges: 2/3 White
2001 – Shortlist: All White, Winner: White, Judges: All White

Matrix Litpop Award (Poetry)

2014 – White Winner, White Judge, White Shortlist
2013 – White Winner, White Judge
2012 – White Winner, White Judge, White Shortlist
2011 – White Winner, White Judge, White Shortlist
2010 – White Winner, White Judge
2008 – White Winner

Robert Kroetsch Award

2015 – Winner TBA, White Judge (White Shortlist)
2014 – White Winner, White Judge
2013 – White Winner, White Judge
2012 – White Winner, Non-White Judge
2011 – White Winner, White Judge
2010 – White Winner, White Judge
2009 – White Winner, White Judge
2008 – White Winner, White Judge
2007 – White Winner, White Judge

Robin Blaser Award

4th Winner: TBD
4th Judge: White
3rd Winner: White
3rd Judge: White
2nd Winner: White
2nd Judges: White

bpNichol Chapbook Award

2014 – White Winner, White Judges
2013 – White Winners, White Judges (^)
2012 – White Winner, White Judges
2011 – White Winner, White Judges (^), White Honorable Mention

AM Klein Poetry Prize

2014 – Winner: White
2013 – Winner: White
2012 – Winner: White
2011 – Winner: White
2010 – Winner: White
2009 – Winner: White
2008 – Winner: White
2007 – Winner: White
2006 – Winner: White
2005 – Winner: White
2004 – Winner: White
2003 – Winner: White
2002 – Winner: White
2001 – Winner: White

Governor General Awards (Poetry)

2014: 4/5 White Shortlist, White Winner
2013: 3/4 White Shortlist, Non-White Winner
2012: White Shortlist, White Winner
2011: 3/4 White Shortlist, White Winner
2010: White Shortlist, White Winner
2009: 3/4 White Shortlist, White Winner
2008: 1/2 White Shortlist, White Winner
2007: White Shortlist, White Winner
2006: 3/4 White Shortlist, White Winner
2005: 3/4 White Shortlist, White Winner
2004: White Shortlist, White Winner
2003: White Shortlist, White Winner
2002: White Shortlist, Non-White Winner
2001: White Shortlist, Non-White Winner
2000: White Shortlist, White Winner
1999: White Shortlist, White Winner
1998: 1/2 White Shortlist, White Winner
1997: White Shortlist, Non-White Winner
1996 to 1981, 14/16 White Winners

Lemon Hound Poetry Prize

2014 – White Winner, White Judge

CBC Canada Reads (Poetry)

2014 – White Winner, 2/3 White Judges
2013 – White Winner, White Judges
2012 – Non-White Winner, White Judges
2011 – White Winner
2010 – (unknown)
2009 – White Winner
2008 – White Winner
2007 – White Winner

Montreal International Poetry Prize

2013 – White Winner, White Judge
2011 – White Winner, White Judge

Bronwen Wallace Award (Poetry)

2013 – Winner: White, Finalists: White
2011 – Winner: White, Finalists: 1/2 White
2009 – Winner: White, Finalists: White
2006 – Winner: White, Finalists: White
2004 – Winner: White, Finalists: White
2002 – Winner: White, Finalists: 1/2 White
2000 – Winner: Non-White, Finalists: White
1998 – Winner: White, Finalists: White
1996 – Winner: White, Finalists: White
1994 – Winner: White, Finalists: White

Malahat Review Prizes

LONG POEM

2013 – Winners both White
2011 – Winners both White
2009 – Winners both White
2007 – Winners both White
2005 – White Winner; other no info
2003 – Winners both White
2001 – Winners both White
1999 – 1/2 Winners White
1997 – Winners both White
1995 to 1988 – Winners all White

FAR HORIZONS

2014 – Non-White Winner, White Judge
2012 – White Winner, White Judge
2010 – White Winner, White Judge
2008 – White Winner, White Judge
2006 – White Winner, White Judge

OPEN SEASON (POETRY)

2014 – White Winner, White Judge
2013 – White Winner, White Judge
2012 – White Winner, White Judge
2011 – White Winner, White Judge
2010 – White Winner, White Judges

Trillium Awards (Poetry)

2014 – Non-White Winner, 1/3 Finalists White
2013 – White Winner, White Finalists
2012 – White Winner, White Finalists
2011 – White Winner, White Finalists
2010 – White Winner
2009 – White Winner
2008 – White Winner
2007 – White Winner
2006 – White Winner
2005 – White Winner
2004 – White Winner
2003 – White Winner

* (^) – the same judge used the following year

[Note: winners and shortlists/finalists within a given year are counted separately.]