Rosemary Sullivan wins $25K RBC Taylor Prize
Author Rosemary Sullivan is shown in an undated, handout photo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / ho-Juan Opitz)
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, March 7, 2016 1:57PM EST
Last Updated Monday, March 7, 2016 4:05PM EST
TORONTO -- Joseph Stalin's daughter lived a tragic and complex life in the shadow of her Soviet dictator father.
But these days Svetlana Alliluyeva is getting a huge spotlight of her own, thanks to Toronto biographer Rosemary Sullivan's hit book on her, which has now won three major literary prizes.
"Stalin's Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva" won the $25,000 RBC Taylor Prize on Monday. It previously won the $40,000 British Columbia National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction and the $60,000 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction.
"I cannot believe that I've actually hit a triple home run," Sullivan said in an interview after her latest win.
"I suppose maybe it's a testament to Svetlana, who led such a courageous life, and to people's passionate interest in all things Russian at the moment."
The book, from HarperCollins Publishers, traces Alliluyeva from her childhood inside the walls of the Kremlin to her quest for asylum in Switzerland and her defection to the U.S., where she raised a daughter.
"She was at the centre of the hierarchy of power, the daughter of the dictator, but in no way invited into the inner circle," said Sullivan. "Her mother committed suicide when Svetlana was six and a half, her favourite aunt and uncle were arrested in '37 and executed in '41, her brother died in a German POW camp, two of her aunts were sent to solitary confinement in 1947."
In her acceptance speech, Sullivan thanked Alliluyeva -- who died in 2011 at age 85 -- for reminding us "never to accept the projections of cliches that people impose on us."
She also thanked Chrese Evans, Alliluyeva's American-born daughter who gave her permission to quote from her mother's unpublished books and letters.
"She treasured that child and I think Chrese kept her in the world," said Sullivan. "There would have been reasons for her to have taken a ticket out if it hadn't been for her daughter."
This year's Taylor Prize jury members -- Joseph Kertes, Susanne Boyce, and Stephen J. Toope -- read 121 books before choosing a short list of five. They praised Sullivan's book for its "exacting research with brilliant storytelling."
"Rosemary Sullivan has just pulled off something really difficult, which is winning the three major non-fiction awards in this country," said Taylor Prize founder Noreen Taylor.
"This is a three-peat. It rarely happens in sports, it rarely happens in writing. That is remarkable, that three different juries have found her book to be the best of a very, very fine crop of writers."
This year's other Taylor Prize finalists were: Toronto journalist Ian Brown for "Sixty: The Beginning of the End, or the End of the Beginning?" (Random House Canada); Toronto novelist Camilla Gibb for "This Is Happy" (Doubleday Canada); CBC personality-turned-political candidate Wab Kinew of Winnipeg for "The Reason You Walk" (Viking Canada); and Ottawa's David Halton for "Dispatches from the Front: The Life of Matthew Halton, Canada's Voice at War" (Penguin Random House Canada).
The short list highlighted the growing trend of literary non-fiction, in which authors are writing more personal, narrative-driven books. Taylor said publishers are now putting out such titles in the key fall season and "they're becoming bestsellers."
"And it is not the 40-year-old male executive who is a lawyer or a doctor reading this. This is everybody, from kids in university, this is ladies in book clubs adding non-fiction titles to their lists. This is the general reading public and this is news."
Established in 1998, the prize is named after the late Canadian essayist Charles Taylor.
Last year's winner was Toronto writer Plum Johnson for "They Left Us Everything."