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Wilfrid Laurier University Leaf
August 30, 2016
Canadian Excellence


2011: Helen Waldstein Wilkes

Helen Waldstein Wilkes won the 2011 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction for Letters from the Lost: A Memoir of Discovery.

At age 60, Waldstein Wilkes opens a small box that was left by her father in their southern Ontario home. The box holds “letters from the lost” – letters from family members left behind in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. The author follows the letters’ trail back to Europe to discover that “the lost” – homeland, past and family – are part of her self. Letters from the Lost weaves letters, imaginary conversations and one woman’s search for answers into a compelling narrative of what it means to be a Jew, a survivor and a family member without a family.

Speaking on behalf of jury, Laurier associate professor Tanis MacDonald said, “Letters from the Lost is a ‘memoir of discovery’ as its subtitle promises, and it is also a memoir about the pain of knowing some stories can never be fully discovered. It is a testament that ranges across continents and decades to affirm what one family lost to atrocity and what the survivor in Waldstein Wilkes finds in her family, past and present.”

After receiving her PhD in French literature, Waldstein Wilkes spent 30 years teaching in Canada and the United States. Her research interests include cross-cultural understanding, language acquisition and neurolinguistics. Now retired and living in Vancouver, she is actively examining her own cultural inheritance and its impact.

The shortlist for the 2011 Edna Staebler Award also included:

  • Jew and Improved: How Choosing to be Chosen Made Me a Better Man (HarperCollins Canada) by Benjamin Errett
  • Adventures in Solitude (Harbour Publishing) by Grant Lawrence