Mavis Gallant Writing Awards

The Mavis Gallant Writing Awards is an initiative of the Estate of Mavis Gallant and the School of Arts and Social Sciences at Cape Breton University. The awards were offered for the third time this year, 2019. This is the only Mavis Gallant Award sponsored by the Estate of Mavis Gallant.

The award was established to honour a brilliant, courageous, friend and master storyteller whose art in fiction and non-fiction was shaped by her lifelong search to understand 20th century experience. It is in the spirit of Gallant’s single-minded resolve to live autonomously as a writer that her Estate wishes to recognize excellent writing by CBU students enrolled in any area of study.

There are two categories in which a $1000 prize is awarded: The first is available to students in 1st or 2nd year, and the second is awarded to a student in 3rd or 4th year.

To apply, students were required to submit one of their essays to the Cape Breton University Awards Office for consideration.


The estate has chosen to establish the award here at CBU because of Mavis’ affinity for Cape Breton Island. Mavis began her friendship with Cape Breton in 1984 when she accepted an invitation from Mary K. MacLeod to read at CBU and Mabou High School in Inverness County. In a letter after these events, she remembered the students of Mabou as the most prepared and attentive of her many audiences – curious, inquisitive and so present to her words. She never forgot the Mabou Ceilidh, the priest fiddling, the Rankins playing and students sitting close to her asking questions. Some students later sent their own work to her in Paris. She always replied.

For over 30 years, Mavis nurtured her friendship with Cape Breton. After leaving Montreal in 1950 she settled in France but was often on the move, excited by travel, always searching, observing and writing. Travelling to new places around the world filled her with hope and anticipation, but the one place she loved to return to most of all was Cape Breton.

She was awarded an honorary doctorate from CBU and cherished it greatly.

Mavis Gallant is one of Canada’s most significant cultural and literary figures. After her death in 2014 she was celebrated and remembered internationally for her stunning writing and indomitably spirit.  Michael Ondaatje put it this way: “I just adored her writing. Hers are the great stories of our time. So subtle, dangerous, hilarious. The full human condition. My hero.” Her hundreds of stories, essays and works of non-fiction were published in countless major European and North American literary magazines and journals. Her work has been translated and anthologized in several languages.

In recognition of her outstanding contribution to literature Mavis Gallant has been the recipient of many honours and awards. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a Foreign Honourary Member of the Academy of Arts and Letters, a recipient of the Washington College Literary Award, and the Governor-General’s Award for Fiction and the Canada-Australia Prize. In 2006 she was the first author writing in English to receive the Priz Athanase-David from the government of Quebec. She was a companion of the Order of Canada.

CBU Professor and Chair of the Mavis Gallant Writing Awards, Dr. Jan Curtis has always had a special respect for Gallant’s work and life as a writer, and focused her Sabbatical Research on the writer’s unpublished journals and collections.

Mavis Gallant’s unpublished journals consist of 50 mostly handwritten notebooks and binders dated between 1952 and 2010. Her art collection consists of about 40 original paintings, signed lithographs, etchings and small sculptural pieces by artists from around the world. The journals and the art collection have literary and historical significance. Beginning in 1950, Gallant travelled throughout Europe, observing, seeking and filling her notebooks. The journals tell of Gallant’s evolution as a writer, and her thoughts on style, writing and art.

For more information contact Jan Curtis at