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'A very big deal': Newfoundland author wins Leacock humour medal

'The Leacock Medal for Humour is like a masters class in how to run a gala festival,' Wayne Johnston says after winning 'most prestigious comedy award in Canada'

Accomplished Canadian novelist Wayne Johnston won the prestigious 2023 Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour on Saturday night.

Known for his nationally bestselling novels The Divine Ryans, A World Elsewhere, The Custodian of Paradise, The Navigator of New York and The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, Johnston was awarded the $25,000 prize for his memoir Jennie's Boy, published by Alfred A. Knopf Canada. 

The Goulds, Newfoundland native says he has a better appreciation for the award after spending the weekend in the Sunshine City. 

"This whole town seems to be centred on Stephen Leacock," Johnston said after being announced as the winner at Saturday night's gala at Hawk Ridge Golf Club. "He's a household name in Canada."

Johnston says it's an "honour" to be recognized with an achievement that recognizes Leacock's writing career and the influence he had on other writers. 

Johnston says he will never forget this weekend and how Orillia treated him during his visit.

"The Leacock Medal for Humour is like a masters class in how to run a gala festival," he said. "It's really done with such class and affection to the writers and it shows respect for their time."

Writing Jennie's Boy only took Johnston three months; usually, it takes him three to five years to produce his books. 

"It was a memoir, so I had it all in my head already," he explained. "I had to find a structure for the book and making a list of all of the things that had happened to me in my childhood is how I found a way to move things around, take things out that didn't need to be mentioned, and found an arc which not all memoirs have."

Johnston, who had been nominated for the coveted award twice before, says Jennie's Boy is one of the favourite books he's ever written because of how personal the stories are to his life. He says his fans can expect his next book, which is almost finished, to be just as personal.  

Susan Juby was one of two runners-up for her novel Mindful of Murder, published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. The other runner-up was Zarqa Nawaz for her novel Jameela Green Ruins Everything, published by Simon and Schuster Canada. They both received a $4,000 prize on Saturday night.

"It was a thrill to be here," Juby said. "For a Canadian comedy writer, this is a very big deal. The Leacock honours mean a lot in our world."

Nawaz, a well-known film and television producer, journalist, and former broadcaster, says Leacock's influence on literary humour is bigger than people realize.

"His legacy still carries on," she said. "This is the most prestigious comedy award in Canada. It's a really big deal to be nominated and invited to it."

Stephen Leacock Associates president Mike Hill says literary humour is a niche part of Canadian literature. He adds that the Medal for Humour panel of judges see themselves as the arbiters of what is humorous literature.

"When you look at the people who have won over the years, a lot of them are our greatest writers," he said. "It showcases those people, but it also makes the public aware of some of the lesser-known writers who are humorous as well." 

Hill says Johnston is one of the best writers in Canada and "truly deserves" the honour.

"His book The Colony of Unrequited Dreams is a must-read for every Canadian," he said. "I've read a lot of his other books too; he has a great and original style."

Hill says the humour in Jennie's Boy is very "subtle," making it unlike some of the other winners of the medal from years past.

"It's less in your face and maybe outright funny," he said. "It's a medal for humour, not a medal for comedy, and you will find that the humour in Wayne Johnston's book is witty in places."

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Tyler Evans

About the Author: Tyler Evans

Tyler Evans got his start in the news business when he was just 15-years-old and now serves as a video producer and reporter with OrilliaMatters
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