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2020 Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writer Prize Winners Announced

June 25, 2020

Canada’s best debut books in Nonfiction, Literary Fiction, and Speculative Fiction have been chosen

Toronto, ON – June 25, 2020 – Today, Rakuten Kobo announced the winners of its sixth annual Emerging Writer Prize, adding three new Canadian authors to its growing list of esteemed and celebrated writers. Debut authors in Nonfiction, Literary Fiction, and Speculative Fiction each received a $10,000 CAD cash prize and promotional, marketing, and communications support from Rakuten Kobo as they navigate their burgeoning careers.

“This year, the prize is being celebrated differently, but its intent remains the same: helping Canadian readers discover new literary talent,” said Michael Tamblyn, CEO of Rakuten Kobo. “Usually the prize is accompanied by a gala event with the shortlist authors, media, various publishers and industry members in attendance. Instead, we set up Zoom calls and surprised the winners with the great news, and had the privilege of being able to capture those moments of shock and joy on video to share with you. Writing and publishing your first book is no easy feat, and we are proud to support them.”

Nonfiction Winner

The Nonfiction prize has been awarded to Jesse Thistle for From The Ashes, published by Simon & Schuster.

About the book: From the Ashes is a remarkable memoir about hope and resilience, and a revelatory look into the life of a Métis-Cree man who refused to give up.

Author Timothy Caulfield, this year’s Nonfiction judge, said of the book: “From the Ashes is a moving and haunting story of struggle and redemption. An incredible journey. I was blown away. It feels like an instant Canadian classic – one that provides unique insight into issues of social justice, addiction and life on the street. Jesse Thistle’s writing is straightforward, uncluttered, engaging and, at all the right moments, powerfully poetic. Both heartbreaking and inspiring, this is a book that everyone needs to read.”

Literary Fiction Winner

The Literary Fiction prize has been awarded to Zalika Reid-Benta for Frying Plantain, published by House of Anansi Press.

About the book: Frying Plantain follows one young girl from elementary school to high school graduation as she navigates the tensions between mothers and daughters, second-generation immigrants and first-generation cultural expectations, and Black identity and predominantly white society.

Author Marissa Stapley, this year’s Literary Fiction judge, said of the book: “This novel brought to mind Alice Munro's Lives of Girls and Women: the writing is similarly assured, the excavation of the inner lives of the characters equally complete, the reading experience wholly satisfying and masterful. There is conviction in Reid-Benta’s prose, and yet this book offers an effortless reading experience — which is no small feat.

There is genuine beauty in the honest simplicity of this story, and, make no mistake: this is not a simple, nor a straightforward, story. Reid-Benta’s writing is both relatable and illuminating, and that is a special kind of alchemy. There is not a single false note or misstep in this debut novel, which is as close to perfect as any I have read. I look forward with eager anticipation to reading whatever Reid-Benta writes next.”

Speculative Fiction Winner

The Speculative Fiction prize has been awarded to J.R. McConvey for Different Beasts, published by Goose Lane Editions.

About the book: The twelve stories in Different Beasts ask what it means to be both human and monster. Shape-shifting waifs, haunted stuffies, scavenging drones, insectoid demon-gods, and mutant angels all come to life in this wildly imagined debut.

Author Andrew Pyper, this year’s Speculative Fiction judge, said of the book: “The twelve stories of J.R. McConvey's Different Beasts are, indeed, different and frequently beastly. This is involving, often surprising, tension-filled short fiction told with a cinematic eye - the kind of storytelling that burns certain images into the reader's mind. McConvey's imagination is curious and ready for travel, which lends suspense to even the collection's quieter tales.

It was a difficult task choosing a winner from this year's shortlist, which is good news for everyone: we can look forward to a number of new voices we'll be hearing from for years to come. J.R. McConvey is one such voice. And I'm confident that readers will find something to their delight - or their horror - in Different Beasts.”

Get to know the winners:

More about the prize

The Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writer Prize is now in its sixth year. The winners were selected from a shortlist of talented Canadian writers. The shortlist was chosen by Kobo’s team of booksellers, with book completion rates, customer ratings, and reviews taken into consideration along with our specialists’ collective gift for spotting unique stories, new voices and under-the-radar talent.

For more details visit the 2020 Emerging Writer Prize Winners page.

The 2020 Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writer Prize Shortlist


Literary Fiction

Speculative Fiction

To be eligible for the 2020 Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writer Prize, entrants must be Canadian citizens or legal residents of Canada who published debut books during the 2019 calendar year in the categories of Nonfiction, Literary Fiction, or Genre Fiction (the genre this year is Speculative Fiction; each year, a different genre is chosen). All submitted books must be available at


About Rakuten Kobo Inc.

Rakuten Kobo Inc. is the world’s only dedicated digital bookseller. Owned by Tokyo-based Rakuten and headquartered in Toronto, Rakuten Kobo enables more than 38 million readers worldwide to read anytime, anywhere, and on any device. With a mission to make reading lives better, Rakuten Kobo connects readers to stories using thoughtful and personalized curation of eBooks and audiobooks, and the best dedicated devices and apps for reading. With the singular focus of making reading lives the best they can be, Kobo’s open platform allows people to fit reading into more moments in their busy lives.

To learn more about Rakuten Kobo, visit

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