The Charles R. Saunders Prize is a new prize created by the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia, which will be awarded annually starting this fall to an emerging writer working in speculative fiction or nonfiction. The prize includes $1,000 cash along with a spot in WFNS’s annual Alistair MacLeod Mentorship Program (valued at $3,000).
The prize is named in memory of Charles R. Saunders (1946 – 2020), a Black author and journalist and the founder of the “sword and soul” literary genre with his Imaro novels.
“Charles loved encouraging new writers. Many people wrote to him first as fans, and he encouraged them to pursue their own writing. His first career in Canada was teaching at a university, and the love for learning about other people’s writing never left him,” says Jon Tattrie, a friend and colleague of Saunders.
The mentorship aspect to the new prize is important, distinguishing it from other prizes for emerging writers.
“We’ve tried to rig it so that Charles would win every time,” Tattrie says with a laugh, explaining why emerging writers in literary genres as diverse as speculative fiction and non-fiction qualify for the prize.
Born and raised in the US, Saunders lived in Halifax, NS, from 1985 onward. He was an editor and columnist at The Daily News in Halifax, working there until the newspaper closed in 2008. He also wrote novels, non-fiction books with a focus on Black history, screenplays, and radio plays.
Tattrie is part of a group of writers, including Lindsay Ruck, Portia Clark, Sherry Ramsey, Paul Bacon, and Sean Bedell, who brought the idea of a prize in Saunders’s memory to the Writers’ Fed last year. Tattrie, editor of Atlantic Books Today, is working on a biography of Charles Saunders called Sword and Soul to be published by McClelland and Stewart.
“When Charles died alone in 2020 and was buried in an unmarked grave, his friends and fans in Canada and the U.S. were devastated. We decided to team up to secure Charles’s legacy and honour his life,” he explains. “Our hope is that (through the prize) Charles can inspire and teach new generations of writers.”
The endowment for the Charles R. Saunders Prize currently totals $15,802. WFNS’s immediate goal is to raise another $10,000, which will make this fund sustainable and ensure the long-term existence of the cash prize at $1,000 a year.
One of the first people to step up in support of the Saunders Prize was Black journalist Sherri Borden Colley, who has committed to making a $120 donation in Saunders’s memory each year:
Contributing to this award is just one way we as a community can carry on Charles’s legacy and open up opportunities for aspiring Black journalists and writers.
Through his newspaper columns focusing on issues in Black communities, Charles got uncomfortable dialogue going about the true reality of race relations in Nova Scotia. And through those columns, his other writing, and his active involvement with the Black Journalists of Nova Scotia, Charles elevated Black voices and served as a mentor to newer Black journalists and journalism students.
Through this prize, Charles will be remembered and his name will continue to be spoken.
To ensure the Charles R. Saunders Prize is sustainable, the Writers’ Federation seeks to raise money for its endowment. Charitable tax receipts will be issued for all contributions $10 and above.
The Charles R. Saunders Prize is one of three Emerging Writers Prizes offered by WFNS. The other prizes include the Elizabeth Venart Prize, for emerging writers who identify as women and/or as other marginalized genders, and the Senator Don Oliver Black Voices Prize, for emerging writers who identify as Black and/or African Nova Scotian.
The Saunders, Venart, and Oliver prizes are open to writers who have published no more than one book-length literary project. Writers eligible for more than one prize will send in just a single submission package and submission fee. Submissions for 2024 prizes are due Oct 20, 2023.