2023 Fred Kerner Book Award Winner and Shortlist


Congratulations to all three finalists of the Fred Kerner Book Award:



Sophie Jai, Toronto, ON
Wild Fires (HarperCollins Publishers)

Wild Fires is Sophie Jai’s debut novel. It was the winner of the 2019 Borough Press x The Good Literary Agency Prize. The novel is shortlisted for 2023 Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writer Prize, and was longlisted for the 2019 Bridport Prize Peggy Chapman-Andrews Award. Jai has been a Writer-in-Residence & Visiting Fellow at the University of Oxford and an Artist-in-Residence at Sangam House in India. She is an alumna of the Humber School for Writers where she studied under Olive Senior. She is currently working on her second novel of short stories at the University of Oxford.



Judges’ Comments:

“A Hindu family from Trinidad emigrates to Toronto to start a new life. A clash of personalities living under the same roof in a new country creates a dynamic fictional memoir of bickering and bantering. This is a family that loves and battles with equal enthusiasm. Excellent characterisations and fun to read.”

“A subtle yet powerful book about the ties that bind multiple generations of women along with grief and imperfect memories.”








Catherine Graham, Toronto, ON
The Most Cunning Heart (Palimpsest Press)

Catherine Graham is an award-winning poet, novelist, and creative writing instructor based in Toronto. Her eighth book, Æther: An Out-of-Body Lyric, was a finalist for the Trillium Book Award, Toronto Book Award, and won the Fred Kerner Book Award. The Celery Forest was named a CBC Best Book of the Year and was a finalist for the Fred Cogswell Award for Poetry. Her debut novel Quarry won The Miramichi Reader Award for Best Fiction, an IPPY Gold Medal for Fiction and was a finalist for the Sarton Women’s Book Award and Fred Kerner Book Award. The Most Cunning Heart is included in The Miramichi Reader’s Best Fiction Book of the Year list. She teaches creative writing at the University of Toronto where she won an Excellence in Teaching Award, leads the Toronto International Festival of Authors’ Book Club, co-hosts The Hummingbird Podcast—part of the WNED PBS Amplify app, and is a judge for the CBC Poetry Prize. Put Flowers Around Us and Pretend We’re Dead: New and Selected Poems is her latest book. Visit her online at www.catherinegraham.com and @catgrahampoet.



Judges’ Comments:

“Poetry and a change of scenery from Ontario to Ulster help Caitlin accept the deaths of her parents while embroiling her in the self-centred machinations of a charismatic Irish rogue. Andy Evans, a successful poet, uses cunning to draw Caitlin’s heart into his deceitful life. Finding strength in her mother’s memory, Caitlin overcomes abuse and neglect to re-discover herself. Catherine Graham has added to her impressive poetry collection with another engaging novel.”

“A story of tragedy, triumph, and self-discovery with a journey through beautiful Northern Ireland.”








Dawn Promislow, Toronto, ON
Wan (Freehand Books)

Dawn Promislow was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, and has lived in Toronto since 1987. Her debut short story collection Jewels and Other Stories (Mawenzi House, 2010) was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award 2011 and was named one of the 8 best fiction debuts of 2011 by the The Globe and Mail (Canada). She has had award-nominated poems, short stories, and essays published in literary journals in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K.

Wan, her novel, has been critically acclaimed, was a Hotlist pick in The Quarantine Review, and was named one of the year’s 22 best fiction titles in The Miramichi Reader. CBC Books listed Wan in its top 15 titles for historical fiction in the summer of 2022.



Judges’ Comments:

“A story that worked its way under my skin. I could not put it down. A brooding tale of one white family in South Africa during apartheid. A gentle story, with an undeniable undercurrent of impending violence, leading to betrayal and self-examination. Beautifully written. Excellent work.”

“The huge secret kept by the family in this book keeps the reader intrigued about the courage one must have to face apartheid events.”







The winner was announced at a virtual Fred Kerner Book Award readings event preceding
Canadian Authors’ annual general meeting on June 24, 2023.