Literary Zone

Deepa Rajagopalan wins 2021 RBC/PEN Canada New Voices Award

2 November 2021 at 19:46 | 783 views

Deepa Rajagopalan has won the 2021 RBC/PEN Canada New Voices Award. Her short story, Peacocks of Instagram, was chosen ahead of more than 130 submissions by jurors Donna Bailey Nurse, Kaie Kellough and Thea Lim.

The RBC/PEN Canada New Voices Award supports and celebrates new Canadian writers. Unpublished writers are invited to submit short stories, creative non-fiction, journalism, and poetry to a jury of distinguished PEN Canada members for a chance to win $3,000 and mentorship from a Canadian author. Previous winners include Claire Battershill, Laura Legge, Noor Naga and Em Dial.

The jurors described Rajagopalan’s story as “Painfully vivid” with “a rich nest of subcultures, traumatic past experience returned to haunt the present, and a protagonist both comical and tragic, whom we could not forget.”

“It takes skill, knowledge of craft, and insight to shape such a compelling figure, one who is immediately recognizable, but one who, as the author points out, we don’t know as well as we think. With narrative confidence and considerable charm, the author beguiles us into accepting events at face value, and each time, undercuts our assumptions. Peacocks of Instagram not only questions our stereotypes about the immigrant past, but about the immigrant present as well. This is an original, dynamic voice poised to enrich the culturally varied field of Canadian fiction.”

“I’m honoured to have won this prestigious award and to have my work celebrated by an organization that has done so much for writers and members of the media,” said Rajagopalan. “I want to tell stories about unapologetic characters who don’t feel sorry for themselves. Characters you encounter often but fade into the background. I want to examine what it means to be racialized in a North American context and what it means to be marginalized in a more universal context. Fiction to me is about truth-telling, and I want to get as close to the truth as I can with the stories I tell.”

Rajagopalan is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Guelph, and a graduate of the Creative Writing program from the University of Toronto. She is an editor of Held magazine, and co-host and curator of the Emerging Writers Reading Series in Toronto. She is working on her first book, a collection of short fiction.

The jury shortlisted the following entries. These authors will receive a complimentary PEN Canada membership for one year.

So Indeed It Was by Poonam Dhir

Moving between languages, exercising a rich sonority while nimbly shifting registers, from a lover’s intimate address to trenchant cultural critique, these poems look at love, constructions of beauty, and culture in diaspora.

Missing Teeth by Aila Omar

In language both moving and restrained, Missing Teeth powerfully chronicles the fraught relationship between an aging father and his middle-aged daughter, a woman trapped between filial duty and the desire to pursue her dreams.

Nesting Season by Anna Ling Kaye

This ambitious story links together seemingly disparate strands, to show how its diasporic protagonist is always in more than one place at once, and to thoughtfully provoke the reader into considering our ethical responsibilities to the homes we have left.

Smash the Headlights by Cassandra Myers

This exciting series of poems uses language and imagery that is vibrantly strange, unsettling our sense of normalcy and liberating us to rage along with the speaker.

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