Meet the contenders: 2023 W.O. Mitchell Book Prize Shortlist announced

If you are looking for your next great read, look no further than this year’s W.O. Mitchell Book Prize finalists:

  • Making Love with The Land by Joshua Whitehead
  • People Change by Vivek Shraya
  • The Sleeping Car Porter by Suzette Mayr

Each spring The City of Calgary and the Writers’ Guild of Alberta celebrate Calgary’s thriving and diverse writing community through the W.O. Mitchell Book Prize.  

Established in 1996, the W.O. Mitchell Book Prize pays honour to Calgary’s beloved storyteller W.O. Mitchell, author of many short stories, plays and books including Who Has Seen the Wind, which sold close to a million copies. 

The prize is part of the annual Calgary Awards, honouring incredible Calgarians in 13 categories. The final recipient will be announced June 14, 2023, during the Calgary Awards ceremony.

There were 42 submissions for the prize. Jury members considered visual style, depth, storyline structure, ability to engage the reader, and themes that resonate with the audience. 

The three finalists will provide a reading from their book and discuss the background and cultural context of their writing at a public reading April 13, 7 p.m., at Shelf Life Books, 1302 4 Street S.W. 

More information on the finalists can be found below and at the The Calgary Awards website.  Information on the reading is available at the Writers’ Guild of Alberta.

The Sleeping Car Porter, Suzette Mayr Coach House Books


Suzette Mayr takes readers on a deliriously visceral journey into the life of R.T. Baxter, a sleeping car porter, in 1929. When a mudslide strands a train, Baxter, a queer Black sleeping car porter, must contend with the perils of white passengers, ghosts, and his secret love affair.

The Sleeping Car Porter brings to life an important part of Black history in North America, from the perspective of a queer man living in a culture that renders him invisible in two ways. Affecting, imaginative, and visceral enough that you’ll feel the rocking of the train, The Sleeping Car Porter is a stunning accomplishment.

Baxter’s name isn’t George. But it’s 1929, and Baxter is lucky enough, as a Black man, to have a job as a sleeping car porter on a train that crisscrosses the country. So, when the passengers call him George, he must just smile and nod and act invisible. What he really wants is to go to dentistry school, but he’ll have to save up a lot of nickel and dime tips to get there, so he puts up with “George.”

On this trip out west, the passengers are more unruly than usual, especially when the train is stalled for two extra days; their secrets start to leak out and blur with the sleep-deprivation hallucinations Baxter is having. When he finds a naughty postcard of two queer men, Baxter’s memories and longings are reawakened; keeping it puts his job in peril, but he can’t part with the postcard or his thoughts of Edwin Drew, Porter Instructor.

Making Love with the Land, Joshua Whitehead Penguin Random House Canada

image for Making Love with the Land - Joshua Whitehead

In the last few years, following the publication of his debut novel Jonny Appleseed, Joshua Whitehead has emerged as one of the most exciting and important new voices on Turtle Island. Now, in this first non-fiction work, Whitehead brilliantly explores Indigeneity, queerness, and the relationships between body, language, and land through a variety of genres (essay, memoir, notes, confession). 

Making Love with the Land is a startling, heart-wrenching look at what it means to live as a queer Indigenous person "in the rupture" between identities. In sharp, surprising, unique pieces—several which have already won awards—Whitehead illuminates this moment, in which both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples are navigating new (and old) ideas about "the land." He asks: What is our relationship and responsibility towards it? And how has the land shaped our ideas, our histories, our very bodies?

Here is an intellectually thrilling, emotionally captivating love song—a powerful revelation about the library of stories land and body hold together, waiting to be unearthed and summoned into word.



People Change, Vivek Shraya Penguin Random House Canada

image for People Change  Vivek Shraya

The author of I’m Afraid of Men lets readers in on the secrets to a life of reinvention.

Vivek Shraya knows this to be true: people change. We change our haircuts and our outfits and our minds. We change names, titles, labels. We attempt to blend in or to stand out. We outgrow relationships, we abandon dreams for new ones, we start fresh. We seize control of our stories. We make resolutions.
In fact, nobody knows this better than Vivek, who’s made a career of embracing many roles: artist, performer, musician, writer, model, teacher. In People Change, she reflects on the origins of this impulse, tracing it to childhood influences from Hinduism to Madonna. What emerges is a meditation on change itself: why we fear it, why we’re drawn to it, what motivates us to change, and what traps us in place.
At a time when we’re especially contemplating who we want to be, this slim and stylish handbook is an essential companion—a guide to celebrating our many selves and the inspiration to discover who we’ll become next.