Ottawa Book Award for Nonfiction Winner

At the National Library and Archives, Mayor Jim Watson announced that I won the 2011 Ottawa Book Award for Non-fiction, beating out literary and journalistic heavyweights Charlotte Gray, Tim Cook, Roy McGregor and Martin Lawrence.

It was quite an honour to be nominated as a finalist among such a distinguished group, literary icons who’ve published wonderful works on the icons and iconography of this country. I feel incredibly honoured, not to mention lucky, to have won the award.

The jury, consisting of John Geddes, Sarah Jennings and Kerry Pither, said that, in the book, I build “toward a memorable portrayal of the state of modern China. Tamm’s account, which combines vivid travelogue, historic inquiry and personal essay, richly rewards readers with a rare blend of epic sweep and intimate meditation.”

In my acceptance speech, I thanked the citizens of Ottawa for their support of the arts, especially at this gloomy time when the arts are, in fact, especially important. I also thank my partner and my father, who recently passed away. He gave me a passion for history and a flair for storytelling. He lives on in my books.

I also dedicated my award to a fellow writer, Nurmuhemmet Yasin, whom I write about in my book. He is a Muslim Uyghur writer who is about my age from Kashgar, the ancient Silk Road oasis in China’s western frontier. In 2004, he wrote a story titled “Wild Pigeon” for the Kashgar Literary Review. The Chinese government read it as an allegory for their harsh and brutal rule over their Muslim borderlands and imprisoned Yasin for 10 years. Compared to Yasin, my own travails in researching and writing this book are the equivalent of a weekend at Disney World.