Books, Lifestyle

Kingsville Writer Gord Grisenthwaite Shortlisted for Governor General’s Literary Awards

Kingsville Writer Gord Grisenthwaite

Founded in 1936, the Governor General’s Literary Awards are among Canada’s oldest and most prestigious prizes.  

Kingsville writer Gord Grisenthwaite received some wonderful news October 14, 2021 when he learned that his novel “Home Waltz” has been shortlisted in the fiction category for the prestigious Governor General’s Literary Awards for 2021. Notable past winners of these awards include Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro and Michael Ondaatje.

Canada Council for the Arts, which has funded, administered and promoted the awards since 1959, has again this year selected 70 books across 14 categories by authors from across Canada. Winners will be announced on November 17, 2021. The winner in each category will receive $25,000 with the publisher receiving $3,000 to promote the winning book. All finalists receive $1,000.

So, what exactly caught the eye of the judges? Here’s a peek into the story:

“In 1973, fifteen-year old Qʷóqʷésk̓iʔ, or ‘Squito’ Bob, is a mixed-blood Nłeʔkepmx boy trying to find his place in a small, mostly Native town. His closest friends are three nłeʔkepmx boys and a white kid, an obnoxious runt who thinks himself superior to his friends. Accepted as neither Native nor white, Squito often feels like the stray dog of the group and envisions a short, disastrous life for himself …  A story of love, heartbreak, and tragedy, ‘Home Waltz’ delves into suicide, alcohol abuse, body image, and systemic racism. A coming of age story like no other, ‘Home Waltz’ speaks to one Indigenous teenager’s experience of growing up in a world that doesn’t want or trust him.” ~ Palimpsest Press

Kingsville Times had a chance to speak with the author shortly after he received the news.

Kingsville Times:
According to your online profile, you’re a self-described writer, amateur photographer, music lover and Chicago Blackhawks fan. When did you discover that writing was in your blood?

Gord Grisenthwaite:
In truth, I didn’t discover that writing was in my blood. My first-year English instructor Jean Clifford pointed it out to me, suggested I take a creative writing class, and I listened to her.

Tell us more about your life as a writer. Was it difficult to pursue this art form?

Believing that I am a writer took forever. I wrote and sent stories out to contests starting in 2003 and had some success, but I thought it was all flukes. In 2007 a story won the Prism International short story contest and I thought it was a prank. I still have a little trouble believing people actually like my work.

I’m thrilled. Totally and completely. And I love my work. And I wouldn’t want any other job, but I’m not going to lie: love alone doesn’t put food on the table. My wife has made living and working as a writer possible. She encourages and supports me and for the most part, I write for her and because of her.

Did this story come easily to you?

“Home Waltz” started life as a NaNoWriMo entry in 2008. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) takes place in November of each year. The challenge is to write 50,000 words during the month. It’s fun and teaches discipline.

The first half of the book remained similar to the NaNo version, but the second half underwent huge revisions. The writing instilled a daily writing schedule I still maintain. Well, have maintained up until I started grad school.

I workshopped it in Nino Ricci’s novel writing class, part of my undergrad degree at the University of Windsor. And I workshopped the first five pages in Margaret Atwood’s “The First Five Pages” Masterclass. Her responses floored me and scared me to the point where I rewrote the entire book to help ensure the rest of it stood up next to the first five pages. During editing, however, those pages moved to the second section of the book.

The original story had probably lived with me for more than 20 years. Writing it was both easy and difficult. The deeper I got into the story the more difficult it became. I feel an obligation to tell stories like this responsibly and because some of the content is rather risqué, I had to ensure it was thoughtful and respectful.

As to research, I mainly fact-checked details, ensuring the music mentioned was right for the time. I also made sure the nłeʔkepmxcín words were accurate and that I could pronounce them (almost) properly. I shelved it for five years after writing the first draft.

I taught at a private college and had almost zero time to write. And in 2012 my wife urged me to stop teaching to write full-time. Our memories differ with respect to that conversation.

Were there any parts of  “Home Waltz” that were particularly difficult or painful to write or share?

The middle section “Ungodly Hours (2)” was incredibly difficult to write. It looks like date rape but isn’t and earlier versions of the sections were misread, in that some readers thought the narrator got lucky. He never did get (truly) lucky so I had to ensure no one got that sense.

This section was the narrator’s moral turning point, the place in the novel where his life changes trajectory. It’s one of the shorter sections of the story and the whole novel needed it to succeed.

Why was it important for you to tell this story?

The story came to me in a dream, as many of my stories do and it wouldn’t go away. It nagged me into writing it and demanded that I write it correctly. And well. Maybe it wasn’t important so much as self-defence.

Think of Sam Wheat in “Ghost” singing “I’m Henry the Eighth” until Oda Mae contacts his partner Molly. The story nagged me almost exactly like that. So, yeah, I had to write it and I am glad that I did.

You only just learned that you were named a shortlisted fiction writer for the prestigious GG literary awards. What were your initial thoughts when you heard this great news?

Disbelief and wonder. I thought my book was too late to be considered and had put this and any other award out of my head. I still don’t know what I think. The story’s in good company, with Rachel Cusk’s “Second Place” and Sheung-King’s “You are Eating an Orange. You are Naked.” I’m not familiar with the other two finalists but I will be.

Who are your favourite writers and do you have a favourite book or two that you would like to share with our readers?

My favourite writers are Thomas King, Christopher Moore, Louise Erdrich, Harry Robinson, Mary Shelley, and William Blake. Blake’s poems, as selected by Patti Smith, King’s “Indian’s on Vacation,” all of his “DreadfulWater” mysteries, and “A Short History of Indians in Canada.” Erdrich’s “The Night Watchman.” Moore’s “Coyote Blue.”

What can readers look forward to next from G.A. Grisenthwaite?

I have a collection of short fiction called “Tales for Late Night Bonfires” in a few slush piles around the country and the follow-up to “Home Waltz” will be ready to go soon. I haven’t finished any short stories in a while so it will take some time before I have more. In the meantime, I have three novel-length projects ready to write.

His Website:
G.A. Grisenthwaite:
Writer & Photographer (but mostly writer)

To purchase “Home Waltz” please visit:
Biblioasis Bookshop
Palimpsest Press

To see the full list of 2021 finalists:
Visit the Governor General’s Literary Award
Click here to read more about Canada Council for the Arts.


  1. Pingback: G.A. Grisenthwaite interview in Kingsville Times - Palimpsest Press

  2. Julia Burgess

    Such a compelling read – delighted to see your work get the heightened recognition it deserves. And now for the flurry of interviews – congrats to you and Palimpsest!

  3. Great interview!
    Gord appears in a prestigious Spotlight on Indigenous Writing Saturday, October 16 at 7:00 pm as part of BookFest Windsor/
    Festival du Livre Windsor 2021. It’s run by a charity, Literary Arts Windsor.

  4. Gail Stiffler

    Congratulations on making the short list and wishing you success in the final round.

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