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Recipient of the Gabrielle Roy Prize 2008

Reinhold Kramer

Mordecai Richler: Leaving St. Urbain, published by McGill-Queen’s University Press

The Association for Canadian and Quebec Literatures (ACQL) is pleased to award the Gabrielle Roy Prize (English Section), which each year honours the best work of literary criticism published in English, to Reinhold Kramer for Mordecai Richler: Leaving St. Urbain, published by McGill-Queen’s University Press. The book was chosen unanimously by a jury composed of Cynthia Sugars (University of Ottawa), Jolene Armstrong (Athabasca University) and Domenic A. Beneventi (Université du Québec à Montréal) from among the 15 books submitted this year.

Reinhold Kramer’s magnificently researched work examines the intersections between the life and art of one of Canada’s most notable and renown writers both here and abroad, an “unequaled poet of the colloquial” (3) who managed to raise both ire and praise from all religious, linguistic, cultural, and political affiliations. This sizeable volume of almost 500 pages eloquently traces Richler’s life from his ancestral familial history in the Jewish migration out of Eastern Europe, to his childhood in the 1930s and 1940s on St. Urbain street in the Mile End district of Montreal — forever mythologized in his novels and short stories — to his flirtation with bohemian life in Europe in the 1950s, his travels through Spain, Paris, Israel, Hollywood, London, and back home to Montreal. Kramer analyzes the personal and intellectual evolution of a pre-eminent Canadian writer, commentator, and thinker – from Richler’s early struggles to publish to his later years as an established man of letters, discussing his incendiary relationship to the Montreal Jewish community, his troubled personal relationships, religious faith, his rebellion against all forms of orthodoxy, and his engagement with all quarters of the political spectrum becoming the “enfant terrible of Canadian nationalism” (168). Reinhold Kramer deftly shows how Richler drew on his familial dramas and those of the larger Jewish community of Montreal for his writing, and how the social and political events of the day impacted upon his politically motivated writing, most notably the holocaust, the Spanish civil war, the emergence of the state of Israel, and the social, linguistic, and political strife of Quebec separatism. Kramer leaves no stone unturned in this important analysis and contextualization of Richler’s life and sizeable production of novels, short stories, essays, screenplays, children’s writing, radio plays, and his work in journalism, magazines, and film.

The jury would also like to congratulate the two shortlisted finalists in this year’s contest;
Nora F. Stovel for Divining Margaret Laurence: A Study of Her Complete Writings, published by McGill-Queen’s University Press, and Deena Rymhs for From the Iron House: Imprisonment in First Nation’s Writing, published by Wilfrid Laurier University Press. Nora F. Stovel’s volume provides an incisive study of Margaret Laurence’s life and work, notably insightful analysis of her children’s fiction and her African texts that provide a new contextualization of Laurence’s work. Deena Rymhs book is a groundbreaking discussion of the emerging field of prison writing in Canada, focusing particularly on the double-imprisonment of natives in prisons and residential schools through theappropriationof voice and an engaging discussion of the complexities raised by autobiographical collaboration.