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May 26, 2022

Celebrating the 2022 Molson Prize Winners: Cecilia Benoit and H. Nigel Thomas

May 26, 2022

The 2022 Canada Council for the Arts Molson Prize winners are sociologist Cecilia Benoit in the social sciences and humanities category, and novelist, poet, and literary critic H. Nigel Thomas in the arts category.

Every year, the Canada 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. 

Cecilia Benoit

The Canada Council for the Arts awarded a 2022 Molson Prize to Cecilia Benoit for her distinguished career as one of Canada’s most influential sociology researchers.

Cecilia Benoit photo
Photo: University of Victoria

I have learned the important role the discipline of sociology can make in shedding light and offering solutions on real-world social problems.

Cecilia Benoit

Cecilia is currently a professor emeritus in the Department of Sociology and a scientist at the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, both at the University of Victoria, B.C.

Throughout her career, she has pioneered academic inquiry on intersections of gender, class, and Indigeneity. She conducted ground-breaking research showing the contributions of midwifery as a profession to the care of pregnant women and families.

In 2020, Cecilia was awarded the Killam Prize in Social Sciences as well as the senior researcher Trailblazer Award in Population and Public Health Research from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

What professional achievement are you most proud of?

Thirty years ago, in Canada, women were being criminally charged for practicing midwifery without a license. My research and that of my colleagues showed that trained midwives could provide a safe, non-medical care option for the majority of birthing women, whether Indigenous or non-Indigenous. The subsequent legalization and public funding of midwifery in most regions of Canada is an amazing achievement in my lifetime.

Risk-taking is another thing that’s often connected to career success—have you taken any risks that were essential to your success?

Early in my academic career, I received a request from a local organization to help them design a research project aiming to learn about the working conditions, health status and exiting experiences of people in sex work. Although at the time I knew nothing about how this activity was organized, I agreed to help. I drew on my knowledge of other types of gendered care work and the struggles of marginalized workers for public recognition and decent working conditions. The project was funded, and I accepted a second invitation to help carry out the study.

Twenty-five years later, I am still conducting research with sex workers across the country as co-researchers, bringing attention to the social inequities embedded in laws and practices limiting sex workers’ lives.

H. Nigel Thomas

The Canada Council for the Arts awarded a 2022 Molson Prize to H. Nigel Thomas for his invaluable contributions to literature.

H. Nigel Thomas photo
Photo: Marc Robitaille

I am proud that I remained faithful to my artistic vision and defied the allurements of the literary marketplace.

H. Nigel Thomas

H. Nigel Thomas is the author of six novels: Easily Fooled, Fate’s Instruments,No Safeguards, Return to Arcadia, Behind the Face of Winter and Spirits in the Dark; three collections of short fiction: Lives: Whole & Otherwise, When The Bottom Falls Out And Other Stories, and How Loud Can the Village Cock Crow? And Other Stories; and two collections of poems: Moving through Darkness and The Voyage.

He is a recipient of the The Montreal Association of Black Business Persons and Professionals’ Jackie Robinson Professional of the Year Award (2000); Université Laval’s Hommage aux créateurs; the Black Theatre Workshop’s Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award; and the Quebec Writers’ Federation Judy Mappin Community Award. 

What obstacles have you had to overcome in your work?

In my birthplace, St Vincent, I had to overcome childhood poverty and persecution for exhibiting what the community interpreted as gay tendencies. In Montreal and Quebec City, racism and anti-immigrant sentiment have been the major hurdles.

Unlike most beginning writers, I had no trouble publishing my first novel. Once published, however, it was mostly ignored. I suspect that it did not conform to what Occidentals required from Black writers – it did not reify the dominant Occidental narratives. In the 1990s and 2000s literary agents routinely informed me (and other Black writers) that publishers were loath to publish Black authors because their books didn’t sell. The gay characters in my works were an additional complication. Heinemann, the co-publisher for my first novel, warned me that the Caribbean and Black audience would be hostile to my work because of its gay content. They were right. I’m grateful, therefore, to Mawenzi House and Guernica Editions for publishing my last nine books. 

What advice would you give to emerging writers?

I would advise beginning writers to do in-depth readings of the best fiction and poetry available, to follow their imaginations, to write and rewrite, and to ignore the demands of the marketplace. (I skipped the first chance to publish Spirits in the Dark, my first novel, because I felt it hadn’t achieved what I wanted).

Help us celebrate this year’s winners of the #MolsonPrize

Join us in congratulating the 2022 winners—and help us celebrate this milestone in their careers by sharing this news of the #MolsonPrize winners on social media and beyond.