Charles R. Saunders Prize
One prize ($1,000 cash and a $3,000-value 5-month literary mentorship through the Alistair MacLeod Mentorship Program) is awarded each year to an emerging writer with an in-progress work in speculative fiction or in nonfiction that shows promise and career-advancing merit.
Priority is given to writers of marginalized backgrounds, including but not limited to writers marginalized on the basis of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or (dis)ability.
Introduced in 2023, the Charles R. Saunders prize provides the recipient with time, space, and one-on-one mentorship as they complete, revise and edit, and/or submit work for publication.
The endowment for the prize was established in memory of Charles R. Saunders (1946 – 2020), a speculative fiction author and journalist, by his colleagues, literary friends, and readers.
The genres eligible for this prize reflect Charles’s prolific creative output in both speculative fiction and nonfiction:
- Speculative fiction — with subgenres such as fantasy, science fiction, horror, alternate history, and more — is an extensive and varied genre that freely explores possibility and impossibility alike. Saunders’s speculative fiction, particularly his Imaro series, was built on Black heroes and African themes.
- Nonfiction, by contrast, is writing about real events and facts. In books such as Black and Bluenose (Pottersfield Publishing, 1999) and Sweat and Soul (Lancelot Press, 1990), Saunders wrote about Black Nova Scotian history, boxing, and the historic community of Africville.
The Charles R. Saunders Prize facilitates the recipient’s literary endeavours for 5 months—the January through May following the submission deadline—during which time they work with a literary mentor. As an apprentice writer, the recipient meets with their mentor in person or remotely every two weeks (for 8 to 10 sessions in total), with follow-up exchanges conducted via email.
Literary activities during the prize period may include drafting new writing, revising existing writing, contracting and working with an editor, submitting writing for publication, undertaking additional creative mentorships or professional training, and other relevant activities.
In addition to bi-weekly meetings and email follow-ups, the recipient and their literary mentor participate in the full Alistair MacLeod Mentorship Program, including three virtual group meetings: the first in early December (to review program details, build a supportive writing group, and prepare to begin work in January), the second in late February (to check in at the program’s mid-point and share challenges and successes), and the third in late April (to prepare for public readings and address any last questions.) The mentorship program concludes in early June with in-person and video readings by apprentice writers, performed as part of the WFNS’s annual Celebration of Emerging Writers. WFNS promotes this reading and the mentorship participants widely in order to encourage public engagement with new writers and showcase the program’s role in building capacity in Nova Scotia’s writing community.
If the recipient of the Charles R. Saunders Prize undertook a MacLeod Mentorship in a previous year, they cannot be awarded a second MacLeod Mentorship. In lieu of mentorship, their Saunders Prize will consist of $1,000 cash, a $500-value one-week residency at Jampolis Cottage, and approximately $200 in advisory sessions through the Coffee Chats program.
Charles Robert Saunders (1946 – 2020) was a Black author and journalist and the founder of the “sword and soul” literary genre with his Imaro novels. During his long career, he wrote novels, non-fiction, screenplays, and radio plays.
Born in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, US, in 1946, he earned a psychology degree from Lincoln University. In 1969, when the US draft summoned him to fight in Vietnam, he instead moved to Ontario, Canada.
The experience of exile led him to create Imaro, his hero of an alternative Africa called Nyumbani, and he published three Imaro novels with DAW Books in the 1980s. In 1985, Hal-Con invited Charles as a starring writer in their sci-fi and fantasy convention in Halifax. Charles quickly felt at home with the African Nova Scotian community and relocated to Halifax that same year.
When Charles’s publisher cut off the Imaro series after three of the planned five books, he turned his talents to writing nonfiction about his new home. Starting in 1989, he began working for Halifax Daily News, first as an editor, then as a columnist focusing on Black issues. Throughout the 1990s, he produced journalism and books about Black Canadians, educating white readers as he gave a new voice to his adopted community.
He continued to work on his fiction in private, completing the Imaro series and breaking new ground with other books. He wrote two novels in the Dossouye saga of a woman warrior fighting for acceptance in her own alternate Africa, as well as Damballa, his first book in the style of a 1930s pulp novel to star a Black cast. His Abengoni series explored a world where white and Black civilizations meet as equals and become partners.
When Halifax Daily News closed suddenly in 2008, Charles retreated into private life. With a small team of friends and colleagues in the US, he republished the Imaro series up to book four, both Dossouye novels, and many other works.
During the COVID-19 lockdown in May, 2020, Charles died alone in his Dartmouth apartment. He was buried in an unmarked grave at an unknown location. When friends learned of this, they searched for him across Nova Scotia and found his remains at the Dartmouth Memorial Gardens. Thousands of dollars were raised to install a bronze grave marker for Charles and a stone monument engraved with the image of Imaro.
His impact as a writer continues to grow after his death, as new generations discovers his work and find it to be life-changing.
The Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia thanks Jon Tattrie for providing details on Charles R. Saunders’s life & work and for spearheading the endowment for the Charles R. Saunders Prize.