Settle in with Sean Wilson’s book picks for 2019

Ottawa writer Kate Heartfield. Photo: John W. MacDonald

Every year ARTSFILE asks Sean Wilson, the artistic director of the Ottawa International Writers Festival,  to pick some books to read for the new year and he always comes through with an intriguing list. Here’s his lineup for 2019:

It’s early enough in the new year that some of us have not yet given up on our resolutions — if reading more is on your agenda for 2019, here are some forthcoming Canadian books that might entice you away from Netflix and Facebook in the months ahead. 

Sean Wilson

This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list but just the books on my radar.


On the short fiction front, a new collection from award-winner David Bezmozgis is always big news, so it’s great to see that he’s got Immigrant City coming in March – his first in more than a decade. 

Another consistently interesting author, Richard Van Camp, whose novel The Lesser Blessed is rightly considered a modern classic, returns in April with Moccasin Square Gardens. He’s a a proud member of the Dogrib (Tłı̨chǫ) Dene Nation, and his work manages to be as devastatingly funny as it is moving. 

This Spring also marks the launch of VS Books from Arsenal Pulp Press, an imprint curated by Vivek Shraya, author of last year’s bestselling memoir, I’m Afraid of Men. The imprint’s first book is Shut Up You’re Pretty by Téa Mutonji. Catherine Hernandez is a fan, and says “Dulled by the residue of trauma and sharpened by the expectations of the streets, Téa’s characters are painfully and beautifully rendered in these gritty, must-read stories.” 


Given that April is national poetry month, the spring is traditionally a great time to discover new poetry, and there’s a ton of new work to look forward to. 

One of the most exciting things on the horizon is the first full slate of new McCelland & Stewart poetry books under the editorial guidance of the always amazing Dionne Brand. She’s one of the country’s best poets, an acclaimed author and admired editor and mentor, so anything she gets behind is well worth a look. This April she’s presenting Cluster by Souvankham Thammavongsa, Drolleries by Cassidy McFadzean, heft by Doyali Islam and Magnetic Equator by Kaie Kellough. 

April also sees some interesting poetry from House of Anansi Press: The Caiplie Caves by Karen Solie, The Elements by Erin Moure, Dunk Tank by Kayla Czaga, and Twitch Force by Giller Prize Winner Michael Redhill.

Other poetry collections that I’m looking forward to checking out are TREATY# by Armand Garnet Ruffo, Sparks of Phoenix by Najwa Zebian, DISINTEGRATE/DISSOCIATE by Arielle Twist and Tonguebreaker by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha.

You’ll also want to keep your eyes peeled for the latest from the ever astounding Stuart Ross, one of my absolute favourites, whose forthcoming collection is Motel of the Opposable Thumbs.


The always exciting Andrew Pyper returns in February with a novel Lisa Gabriele describes as, “Part macabre family drama, part chilling dystopian nightmare, The Homecoming is the kind of story that could only spring from the darkest imagination.” His new psychological thriller asks, ‘What if everything you knew about the people you loved was a lie?’

February also sees the latest from André Alexis, the Giller Prize winning author of Fifteen Dogs and Childhood. Days by Moonlight is described as “Gulliver’s Travels meets The Underground Railroad.”

Two well known Ottawa journalists dare to step beyond “fake news” and embrace the notion of fiction head on: Kate Heartfield follows last year’s Alice Payne Arrives with Alice Payne Rides this March. These fast-paced slim volumes are fantastic fun and focus on time traveling heroines and their attempts to correct the time-stream and fix the past and the future. Stephen Maher’s latest novel, coming in April, is Social Misconduct, a thriller about a young woman who is the target of a social-media smear campaign. Lee Child calls it “Smart, sardonic, sexy, suspenseful.” 

Rabindranath Maharaj, winner of the Trillium Prize, whose last novel came out just last year, returns in April with Fatboy Fall Down, which is described as “A heartrending novel about one man’s search for meaning in a difficult life.” Given his ability to move seamlessly from pathos to humour, and the focus on “the resilience of the human spirit,” this promises to be worth a read.

April also boasts The Waiting Hours, Shandi Mitchell’s long awaited follow up to her prize winning debut Under This Unbroken Sky. Her second novel focuses on first responders and asks “When you spend your life saving others … who will be there to save you?”


For a century, quantum physics has been the problem child of science, plagued by intense disagreements between its intellectual giants, from Albert Einstein to Stephen Hawking, over the strange paradoxes and implications that seem like the stuff of fantasy. In his latest book, Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution, coming in early April. The Perimeter Institute’s Lee Smolin promises to bring us a step closer to resolving one of the greatest scientific controversies of our age. 

Award-winning broadcaster, Ziya Tong, who hosted Daily Planet on the Discovery Channel, presents a groundbreaking and wonder-filled look at the hidden things that shape our lives in unexpected and sometimes dangerous ways. Her debut book, The Reality Bubble: Blind Spots, Hidden Truths, and the Dangerous Illusions that Shape Our World will arrive at the end of April.


One of the books I’m most excited about is set for a March launch: A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Haudenosaunee writer Alicia Elliott. It promises to be a visceral work that asks essential questions about the treatment of Indigenous people in North America while drawing on intimate details of her own life and experience with intergenerational trauma

Ottawa native and contributor to Maclean’s and The Washington Post, David Moscrop’s debut book is the provocatively titled, Too Dumb for Democracy? While it might be tempting for anyone trying to understand how Trump was elected or dismayed by the looming threat of Brexit and the rise of fascist populism in Europe to just answer, “yes,” and move on, the book’s sub-title offers some optimism and a compelling reason to read this as soon as it hist bookstores in March: Why We Make Bad Political Decisions and How We Can Make Better Ones.

March also heralds the arrival of Woman Enough: How a Boy Became a Woman and Changed the World of Sport by Kristen Worley (with Johanna Schneller). Before the 2008 Olympics, Kristen became the first athlete in the world to submit to the International Olympic Committee’s gender verification process, the Stockholm Consensus. They, and other sports bodies, regarded her testosterone supplements as performance enhancing, when in fact all transitioned female athletes need the hormone to stay healthy and to compete. So Kristen filed a complaint against the sports bodies standing in her way with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. And she won

Yasuko Thanh, whose debut novel Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains, won the Rogers Trust Fiction Prize, returns in April with a memoir, Mistakes to Run With, that chronicles her journey from early childhood to teen years as a sex worker and, finally, to her emergence as an award-winning author. 

Between careers as a lawyer and an acclaimed novelist, Kim Thúy ran a celebrated restaurant called Ru de Nam in Montreal. Now, in her first cookbook, Secrets from My Vietnamese Kitchen: Simple Recipes from My Many Mothers, she combines her beautiful storytelling style with simple and wonderful recipes that are full of flavour. Kim’s writing never fails to delight so this promises to deliver great storytelling and some great ideas for the kitchen.

This May, Joshua M. Ferguson, who made history by becoming the first person to receive a non-binary birth certificate with an X designation in Ontario shares the journey in Me, Myself, They: A Non-Binary Life a memoir that explains what it feels like to never truly fit into the prescribed roles of boy or girl, woman or man.

Share Post
Written by