Meet the contenders: 2024 W.O. Mitchell Book Prize Finalists announced

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

  • The Bittlemores by Jann Arden 
  • Cantata and The Extinction Therapist by Clem Martini 
  • It Begins in Salt by Natalie Meisner 

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 honours 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 12, 2024, during the Calgary Awards ceremony. 

There were 56 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 10, 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 Bittlemores, Jann Arden 




On mean Harp Bittlemore’s blighted farm, hidden away in the Backhills, nothing has gone right for a very long time. Crops don’t grow, the pigs and chickens stay skinny and the three aged dairy cows, Berle, Crilla and Dally, are so desperate they are plotting an escape. The one thing holding them back is the thought of abandoning young Willa, the single bright point in their life since her older sister, Margaret, ran away. 

But Willa Bittlemore, just turning 14, is planning her own rebellion. Something doesn’t add up in the story she’s been told about her missing sister, and she's beginning to question if her horrible parents are even her parents at all. Just as things are really coming to a head, a bright young police officer starts investigating a cold case involving a baby stolen from a little rural hospital 28 years earlier, and Willa and the cows find out exactly how far the Bittlemores will go to protect a festering secret. 

 Written with Jann’s trademark outrageous humour and full of her down-to-earth wisdom, The Bittlemores is a rural fairytale, a coming-of-age story and a prairie mystery all-in-one, saturated with her observations of the world she grew up in and her deep connection to the animals we exploit. This marvel of a first novel digs into how people come to be so cruel, but it also glories in the miracle of human kindness. 


Cantata and The Extinction Therapist, Clem Martini 



Clem Martini’s award-winning play, Cantata: Rumours of My Crazy, Useless Life provides a window into the experience of people going through the hidden, high-stakes struggles of elder care and mental illness. 

In The Extinction Therapist, Dr. Marshall’s therapeutic practice offers group support to those threatened with extinction including a woolly mammoth, a testy short-eared shrew, the uncompromising smallpox virus, an insecure tyrannosaurus rex They all convene to receive therapy, in an attempt to come to terms with the complicated, volatile feelings associated with their life-and-death circumstances.  


It Begins in Salt, Natalie Meisner 


It Begins in Salt, a book of poems, wanders the halls of an ocean blue-collar life while rummaging the heart spaces of growing up, and evolves into mothering, labours, and loves. The poems explore the ways the heart grows, and the tentacles of complexity grow and evolve “to infinity”. This book of poems is a love letter to those that share the tides of life. It urges us to love harder and give homage to those loved.