It was the humour that did it, Thomas King agrees. The winner of the $25,000 RBC Taylor Prize for non-fiction—his second major award in a row, after taking the $40,000 B.C. National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction on Feb. 21—for The Inconvenient Indian, wrote an intricate, anger-fuelled but always wry (and occasionally hilarious) history of the idea of the Native the rest of us carry about in our heads.
King has been up against some powerful competition, notably Graeme Smith’s take on the war in Afghanistan, The Dogs Are Eating Them Now: non-fiction juries in this country have clearly been in a serious mood. “But you have to be able to laugh, even if it’s at your own stupidity,” King says.
That’s why King crafted his idiosyncratic version of Native-European affairs in a way “that people could read it without feeling culpable”—although, he adds, “I could write that version too.” After decades of writing, says the 70-year-old the son of a Greek mother and a Cherokee father, “and decades of yelling and cajoling, I’ve found it’s the best way for me to deal with serious issues: the tragedy sharpens the humour, and the humour deepens the tragedy.”