PhD candidate Kyo Maclear wins $20,000 Trillium Book Award for Birds Art Life memoir

Faculty of Education PhD candidate Kyo Maclear has won the prestigious Trillium Book Award in the English-language prose category for her non-fiction memoir Birds Art Life. The award was presented at a ceremony held in Toronto on June 21.

Kyo Maclear being presented with the Trillium Book Award for her memoir Birds Art Life.

The annual book prize, sponsored by the Government of Ontario and administered by the Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC), was established in 1987 to increase public awareness of the quality and diversity of Ontario writers and their work. Past recipients of the award include Margaret Atwood, Thomas Kina and Austin Clarke.

Birds Art Life tells a nature story set within a bustling city and tells a story of loss and hope. Maclear says that her incentive for writing the memoir stemmed from a chance meeting with a local musician who had lost his heart to birds. “I decided to follow him on a year-long journey following the seasonal shifts and migrations of birds in Toronto.  There is a presumption that birding appeals to the part of us that covets the rare and ‘exotic’. I wanted to make a case for ‘common birds’ and non-pristine settings and challenge the idea of the extreme odyssey as the only journey worth chronicling.” “The book also offers a meditation on the nature of creativity and the quest for a good and meaningful life”.

The overall theme of the book is related to Maclear’s doctoral research at York University that looks at how one begins to grapple with grief that accompanies the slow, chronic decline of climate change.

“I’ve become increasingly interested in smaller stories, stories that afford a more intimate approach,” says Maclear. “It’s important to keep our minds and hearts connected to the specific and granular character of environmental loss, particularly as experienced at the micro-level of the most vulnerable. In the book, I am making a point about the value of becoming better witnesses and noticers—alert to shifting ecological baselines, mindful of the specific and small.”

Presently in the fourth year of her PhD in York’s Graduate Program in Education, Maclear credits the program with influencing the book. “My creative writing occupies a separate track in some ways but there has definitely been some cross-pollination,” she says. “I’ve learned so much from my mentors professors Aparna Mishra Tarc, Mario DiPaolantonio and Steve Alsop. They’ve also affirmed my belief that art can be a work of thinking—not just an inert object of study.”

“As a mixed race, immigrant woman embedded in pressing care relations, I’m interested in extending the boundaries of ‘environmental writing’,” says Maclear. “I hope my book provokes questions about what nature is; who does it and who/what it’s for.”