Canada’s New Weston International Award Goes to Robert MacFarlane

In News by Porter Anderson

The CA$75,000 Weston International Award honors Robert MacFarlane for career achievement in nonfiction.

A production still from ‘River,’ a Robert MacFarlane film directed by Jennifer Peedom and Joseph Nizeti with cinematography of Yann Arthus-Bertrand. Image: Stranger Than Fiction Films

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

MacFarlane Is the Western International’s Inaugural Winner
The British author Robert Macfarlane is the first winner of a new Canadian award for career achievement in a body of nonfiction work.

The Weston International Award is a companion honor to the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction written by a Canadian—in that case honoring a single work rather than career achievement. The name for both of these awards comes from the funding body behind them, the Hilary and Galen Weston Foundation.

Announced on Tuesday (June 20), MacFarlane’s honor pays CA$75,000 (US$56,786), making it another entry among several paying a large purse in nonfiction—others being the Cundill History Prize, the German Nonfiction Prize, the Baillie Gifford Prize, and the British Academy Prize for Global Cultural Understanding. Indeed, not unlike that extended title for the British Academy’s honor, the Weston International says that it’s meant to recognize “nonfiction that broadens global perspectives.”

Robert MacFarlane

Among the Weston International’s eligibility criteria:

  • At least three published books from an author “of outstanding literary merit” in nonfiction, and these can include journalistic essays, memoirs, commentary, social and/or political criticism, history, and biography
  • Work written in English “or widely available in translation”
  • No submission process

Authors eligible for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction (also paying CA$75,000) are not eligible for the Weston International.

‘Human Relationships to Place’

MacFarlane has published six books over 20 years and is, of course, appreciated as a specialist in the relationship between people and nature. He’s at times referred to as a literary archeologist, and he has written both in books and film. His books include:

MacFarlane’s screenwriting credits include Mountain (2018) and River (2023), both directed by Jennifer Peedom with Willem Dafoe narrating, from Stranger Than Fiction Films, and River featuring the cinematography of Yann Arthus-Bertrand (the director behind the 2009 documentary Home).

In naming MacFarlane, the Weston program has opened ticket sales for “An Evening With Robert MacFarlane” at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto on September 18.

In its rationale for the selection of MacFarlane, the jury gets a bit eco-poetic, saying that he writes “in prose as clear and flowing as a mountain stream. He draws on history, science, mythology, biography, and his own travels to interrogate the forces shaping human relationships to place.”

In fact, selection for this first winner of the Weston International required two cohorts of people:

  • An “international advisory committee” comprised Mariella Frostrup; Pico Iyer; and Sam Tanenhaus
  • A Canadian jury seated Kamal Al-Solaylee; Denise Chong; Wayne Grady; Charlotte Gray; and Kate Harris

The organizing body behind this contest regime, the Writers’ Trust of Canada is a charitable organization intended to support Canadian writers and writing through a portfolio of programs that includes no fewer than literary awards, financial grants, career development initiatives for emerging writers, and a writers’ retreat. 

In the course of the year, the trust’s dozen awards are expected to provide more than CA$230,000 (US$174,998) to writers, including funding jurists and finalists.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the many international book and publishing awards in world markets is here, more on nonfiction is here, and more on the Canadian market is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.