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Wilfrid Laurier University Leaf
September 29, 2016
Canadian Excellence


2010: John Leigh Walters

John Leigh Walters won the 2010 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction for his book A Very Capable Life: The Autobiography of Zarah Petri.

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.

“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,” said Tanis MacDonald, award juror and associate professor in Laurier’s Department of English and Film Studies. “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 lives in Kitchener, Ontario, where in retirement he has turned his attention to writing memoir. A Very Capable Life is his first book.

The shortlist for the 2010 Edna Staebler Award also included:

  • Lakeland: Journeys into the Soul of Canada (Greystone Books) by Allan Casey
  • Smiling Bears: A Zookeeper Explores the Behaviour and Emotional Life of Bears (Greystone Books) by Else Poulsen