Celebrating the 2021 Canada Council for the Arts Molson Prize Winners: Gordon J. G. Asmundson and M. NourbeSe Philip
The 2021 Canada Council for the Arts Molson Prize winners are psychologist and mental health researcher Gordon J. G. Asmundson in the social sciences and humanity category, and poet, essayist, novelist, and playwright M. NourbeSe Philip in the arts category.
Every year, the Council awards two Molson prizes of $50,000 to distinguished Canadians—one in the social sciences or humanities and the other in the arts. Funded from the income of a $1 million endowment given to the Council by the Molson Family Foundation, the prize encourages recipients to continue contributing to the cultural and intellectual life of Canada. The Canada Council administers the awards in conjunction with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).
We asked this year’s winners to reflect on their work—crucial career lessons, the advantages of risk taking, sources of inspiration, and more.
Gordon J. G. Asmundson
The Canada Council for the Arts awarded a 2021 Molson Prize to Gordon J. G. Asmundson for his distinguished career as one of Canada’s most influential mental health researchers.
I learned that it is possible to find a balance that facilitates both a productive career and a happy and fulfilling life.
Gordon J. G. Asmundson
He is a Registered Doctoral Psychologist, Full Professor of Psychology at the University of Regina, and Co-Director of the Psychology of Pandemics Network. He is also Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Anxiety Disorders and Clinical Psychology Review.
Recently, Asmundson has focused his work on understanding and developing evidence-based interventions regarding the mental health consequences of COVID-19—for which he has already gained international renown.
What crucial lesson from your career has made a big difference?
I was fortunate to have mentors early in my training who strongly encouraged me to strive for balance in my work and non-work activities. They told me that this would ultimately lead to greater enjoyment, productivity, and longevity. They were right! I learned to work hard and with focus so that I could have ample, stress-free time for other important aspects of my life— my family, my friends, my health, my favourite TV shows, and so forth—and I learned that it is possible to find a balance that facilitates both a productive career and a happy and fulfilling life. I think it is critical for others to know that, despite the pressures of their work, balance across all important areas of life is possible and beneficial to career success.
Risk-taking is another thing that’s often connected to career success—have you taken any risks that were essential to your success?
As I was finishing up the second year of my postdoctoral training, which extended my earlier training and focus on the anxiety disorders, several different job opportunities presented. I chose the one least related to my training, assuming the role of Research Director in a centre that focused primarily on physical injury, acute and chronic pain, and rehabilitation. I had always wanted to be a Research Director in a health care setting; so, I took the leap, despite some mismatch with my training. I was soon asking myself, “What is an anxiety disorders researcher going to do in a pain and rehab setting?” I quickly began to see linkages between those seeking treatment for their injury-related pain and those with anxiety-related conditions, began collecting data, and soon developed innovative models that bridged the gap between what had previously been viewed as completely distinct conditions. This risk paid off, forging a new research path and yielding knowledge that improved treatment options and outcomes for many.
M. NourbeSe Philip
The Canada Council for the Arts awarded a 2021 Molson Prize to M. NourbeSe Philip for her invaluable contributions to literature.
Working in and with a mother tongue, English, that is simultaneously a father tongue, creates a dynamic and tension that fuels my creative life
M. NourbeSe Philip
A former lawyer, M. NourbeSe Philip’s published works include the award-winning YA novel Harriet’s Daughter, the seminal poetry collection She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks, the speculative prose poem Looking for Livingstone: An Odyssey of Silence, and her genre-breaking book-length epic Zong!
NourbeSe Philip is a Guggenheim and Rockefeller Fellow (Bellagio), and in 2020 she was the recipient of PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature.
What inspires you in your art practice?
For me it has not so much been inspiration as being chosen by a project, which has engaged much of my writing life: that project is language and all that flows from it. Working in and with a mother tongue, English, that is simultaneously a father tongue, creates a dynamic and tension that fuels my creative life.
What obstacles have you had to overcome in your work?
The primary obstacle I’ve had to overcome was Canadian racism in its myriad forms, the subtle and the not so subtle, which would have destroyed me as a writer. Fortunately, I was able to establish an audience in the United States.
What advice would you give to emerging writers?
Learn how to trust their gut instincts about their own work—sometimes the critics are wrong; be willing to risk—failure or success; and have someone in your life who loves what you do and will critique your work honestly.
Help us celebrate this year’s winners of the #MolsonPrize
Join us in congratulating the 2021 winners—and help us celebrate this milestone in their careers by sharing this news of the #MolsonPrize winners on social media and beyond.