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Wilfrid Laurier University Leaf
September 25, 2017
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John Leigh Walters wins 2010 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction

Communications, Public Affairs & Marketing

Oct 12/10| For Immediate Release


Dr. Tanis MacDonald, Associate Professor
Department of English and Film Studies
519-884-0710 ext. 2931 or


Kevin Crowley, Director, Communications & Public Affairs
Wilfrid Laurier University
519-884-0710 ext. 3070 or

WATERLOO – John Leigh Walters has won the 2010 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction for A Very Capable Life: The Autobiography of Zarah Petri. A reception for Walters will take place November 10 at 7:30 p.m. in the Paul Martin Centre on the Waterloo campus of Wilfrid Laurier University.

Walters reshapes the autobiographical impulse by writing in the first-person voice of his mother, the sweetly acerbic Zarah Petri. Walters’ use of Petri’s colloquial and engaging narration makes the book part oral history, part memoir and part re-imagination of the events of the twentieth century.

Speaking on behalf of this year’s jury, Laurier associate professor Tanis MacDonald said, “Walters offers the story of his mother’s journey from Hungary to Canada as a feminine picaresque with the indomitable Zarah in the dual roles of heroine and storyteller. In recreating his mother as a resourceful and often hilarious character, Walters’ sustained act of literary ventriloquism captures the ingenuity and passion of the diasporic narrative in Canadian cultural history.”

Walters spent a lifetime writing, producing and hosting television programs in both the United States and Canada, most recently producing and hosting interview programs for CTV in Waterloo. He lives in Kitchener, Ontario, where in retirement he has turned his attention to writing memoir. A Very Capable Life is his first book.

In addition to A Very Capable Life (Athabasca University Press), the shortlist for the 2010 Edna Staebler Award also included: Lakeland: Journeys into the Soul of Canada (Greystone Books) by Allan Casey and Smiling Bears: A Zookeeper Explores the Behaviour and Emotional Life of Bears (Greystone Books) by Else Poulsen.

The jurors said the books shortlisted for this year’s award distinguish themselves not only through the understanding that the authors show for their subjects, but also by their humour and their respect for non-fiction books as vehicles driven by passionate attention to a subject that has been misunderstood or neglected. Though the authors direct that attention towards three very different subjects, all of the shortlisted books exhibit an admirable social consciousness mixed with a poetic sense of story.

The Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction was launched in 1991 and is administered by Wilfrid Laurier University, the only university in Canada to bestow a nationally recognized literary award. The $10,000 award encourages and recognizes Canadian writers for a first or second work of creative non-fiction that includes a Canadian locale and/or significance.


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