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The Ross and Davis Mitchell Prize for Faith and Writing


In A Secular Age, Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor writes that many modern people have imagined the gods away and so live in a disenchanted world. Yet despite this, they continue to be haunted by moments of wonder (or fear) that tempt them towards belief. Could there be something more to the world than meets the eye?

Of course, many  Canadians have an idea about what this something might be. And they live their lives within communities that have sought to understand it, share it, live according to it, and pass it on to their children and grandchildren. These are the thousands of Canadians of faith communities, Canadians who participate in the myriad of religions that make up the social landscape of Canada.

Yet it’s sometimes easy to forget about all these individuals and communities of faith, and to imagine Canada as one increasingly "secular" - by which we often mean irreligious - nation. The Ross and Davis Mitchell Prize for Faith and Writing is designed to help give voice to these individuals and communities and to help re-awaken Canadians to the powerful truth, goodness, and beauty that belief brings into our shared lives. Poetry and fiction that draw from the deep wells of religious tradition can provide those brief moments where the familiar world becomes strange, and those strange gods become familiar.

But this prize is not designed to paper over conflict or erase distinctions. There are important distinctions between Muslims and Christians, Hindus and Orthodox Jews, and others that should not be erased, but understood. In fact, another goal of this prize is to encourage a posture of charitable listening which does not discourage disagreement or persuasion; rather, it hopes to make it more robust within the boundaries of mutual respect. If we are to live together in difference, we must allow difference the room to flourish.

Finally, this contest does not want to ignore the deep wounds given and received by the religious communities in Canada. Such wounds often fester quietly under the surface of communities who have been oppressed, alienated, and left out of the public life. This prize encourages poets and writers to share these stories as well lest the oppression continue through their silence and absence.

If you are a writer who is Canadian or you currently reside in Canada, we warmly invite you to read the guidelines for submission and submit an entry before our June 30th 2017 deadline. Deadline for submissions has passed.


  1. There will be $25,000 CAD of Prize money awarded.
    1. 1st place for short story: $10,000
    2. 1st place for suite of poems: $10,000
    3. 2nd place for short story: $2,500
    4. 2nd place for suite of poems: $2,500
  2. Also: All the shortlisted nominees will have their work published in an anthology to be published in 2018.
  3. Results will likely be announced in September 2017, and a Prize Gala will be held October 30, 2017, at the Aga Khan Museum to honour the shortlisted authors and Prize recipients.


All submissions must adhere to the following guidelines in order to be considered.

  • Submissions for the poetry prize must come in the form of a suite of poems connected to the prize theme (see “Purpose of Prize”) ranging between 300 and 500 lines. (NB: Poetry prizes are for the entire suite, NOT the best poem within the suite.)
  • Submissions for the short story prize must be connected to the prize theme (see “Purpose of Prize”) and be within the 6,000-word limit.
  • All submissions must be fiction, but can be based loosely on reality without depicting real people, events, etc.
  • Writers do not have to have been previously published.
  • All submissions must be original, previously unpublished work. (NB: “published” work refers to anything found in a print or online publication, which includes magazines, newspapers, collections, chapbooks, or blogs. Exception will be made for personal blogs.)
  • Writers retain ownership of all submitted material, but there may be no simultaneous submissions (submissions for this prize may not be submitted as entries for other publications or prizes during this time).
  • All entries must be submitted in English.
  • All entrants must be Canadian citizens or currently reside in Canada.
  • Entrants must have their material submitted by midnight of June 30, 2017.No late entries will be accepted.
  • There is a $10 flat rate for submissions to either category that must be paid upon submission.


Randy Boyagoda

Dr. Randy Boyagoda is President of PEN Canada, the national writers’ organization that celebrates literature and defends freedom of expression at home and abroad, and is Principal and Vice President of the University of St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto. He teaches in the Faculty of Arts and Science's Christianity and Culture program, and has been named to the inaugural Basilian Chair in Christianity, Arts, and Letters at the University of St. Michael's College. Randy is also a Professor in the English Department at the University of Toronto.

Born in Oshawa, Ontario in 1976 to Sri Lankan-Catholic parents, Professor Boyagoda earned his Bachelor of Arts in English at the University of Toronto (1999), and received his Masters (2001) and PhD (2004) in English from Boston University. In 2005, Professor Boyagoda was a postdoctoral fellow with an institute for advanced studies at the University of Notre Dame, where he was concurrent Assistant Professor of English. In 2006, Professor Boyagoda accepted a position as Assistant Professor of American Studies in the English Department at Ryerson University; that same year, he published his first novel,Governor of the Northern Province, which was a finalist for the ScotiaBank Giller Prize. He also began contributing essays, book reviews, and cultural commentary to a series of publications, including the New York TimesWall Street JournalGlobe and Mail, National Post, Financial Times (UK), Guardian, Harper’s, First Things, Commonweal, Paris Review, and New Statesman, in addition to appearing regularly on CBC Radio. Professor Boyagoda received early tenure in 2009 at Ryerson University, following the publication of his book Race, Immigration, and American Identity in the Fiction of Salman Rushdie, Ralph Ellison, and William Faulkner. In 2011, he published his second novel,Beggar’s Feast, which has since been published around the world to international acclaim, named a New York Times Editor’s Choice selection, and also nominated for the 2012 IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize.

In 2012, Professor Boyagoda became Chair of the English Department, a position he held until he was invited by Ryerson University President Sheldon Levy to become the founding director of Zone Learning, a new university-wide experiential learning program. Modeled on business incubators and accelerators that support the rapid creation of new companies and social organizations, Ryerson’s Zones offer students the opportunity to pursue multi-disciplinary projects. Notable achievements during Professor Boyagoda’s term include Ryerson students crafting a social media strategy for the Vatican, which was presented to the General Secretary of the Pontifical Council on Social Communications; a partnership with St. Michael’s Hospital to create a Zone for innovation and entrepreneurship in Biomedical Science; a successful proposal and design development for a six million dollar advanced fabrication facility, to be housed in Ryerson’s new multipurpose Church Street Development building; and a collaboration with Covenant House that encourages skills development for its young people through their working on urban renewal projects alongside Zone Learning students.

While serving as Director of Zone Learning, Professor Boyagoda continued to pursue research, scholarship and writing that explores modern American experience and the complex relationship between the sacred and the secular. His most recent book is a SSHRC-supported biography of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, which was published in 2015 to wide notice and critical acclaim. He is currently working on a new novel and researching an academic study of the role of novelists and intellectuals in postwar American diplomacy and foreign policy.

He also contributes to the Archdiocese of Toronto’s “Cathedral Block” initiative and to community initiatives at his local parish, Corpus Christi. Together with his wife Anna and their four daughters, Professor Boyagoda lives in Toronto’s East End.

Randy Boyagoda

Short Story
Susan Lynn Reynolds

Susan Lynn Reynolds is a published novelist, an award-winner of poetry and creative non-fiction, and a Masters student at the Frost Centre for Canadian Studies and Indigenous Studies at Trent University. Her thesis is a look at an institutional ethnography of the female units at the Central East Correctional Centre; particularly at the issue of gender responsivity there.

Her first novel was published in 1992 and won the Canadian Library Association’s YA Novel of the Year award.  Her recent literary work has appeared in lichen literary magazine and the short story “Gargoyles in Montmartre” was accepted for the British anthology series Erotic Travel Tales. "Strandia" won the Canadian Library Association’s national award for Young Adult Novel of the Year. She is a three time winner of the Timothy Findley Creative Writing Award for poetry and short stories, winner of the Writer’s Community of Durham Region’s 24 Hour Online Contest, and winner of the WCDR’s Summer SLAM from July 2010.

Her first poetry chapbook skinned—was launched in January 2008 and she is working on her third novel.

She is also a member of the Ontario Association of Consultants, Counsellors, Psychometrists and Psychotherapists.

Susan Lynn Reynolds

Short Story
David Staines

Dr. David Staines was born in Toronto, Ontario, and studied at the University of Toronto, where he obtained a BA in 1967, and at Harvard University, where he obtained an MA in 1968 and a PhD in 1973.

After a career that saw him teach at Harvard, the University of Prince Edward Island, Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, and UMass Amherst, Staines is now a professor of English at the University of Ottawa. Staines specializes in three particular areas: medieval, Victorian and Canadian literatures, with particular interest in the relationship between literature and its social context.

In his studies of medieval literature Staines has examined the evolution of romance traditions, which resulted in a landmark new translation of the classic tales of Chrétien de Troyes: The Complete Romances of Chrétien de Troyes (1990). He is also an authority on Arthurian legends.

He is particularly active in the field of Canadian studies, for example, as editor of the scholarly Journal of Canadian Poetry since 1986 and general editor of McClelland and Stewart's New Canadian Library series since 1988. He has published a number of major essay collections, including The Canadian Imagination (1977), a book that introduced Canadian literature and literary criticism to an American audience, as well as studies on Morley Callaghan and Stephen Leacock.

Staines was awarded the Royal Society of Canada's Lorne Pierce Medal in 1998. He was also member of the jury for the Giller Prize in 1994, 1995, 1996 and 2003. In 2005, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. In 2011, he was awarded the Order of Ontario for helping to establish the Giller Prize, Canada's highest award for fiction, and the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction. In 2011, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada "for his contributions as a champion of Canadian literature and mentor to young writers."

David Staines

Short Story
Deborah Bowen

I grew up in England in a house full of books, with five or six newspapers delivered daily, and both parents as professional writers. Not surprisingly, I was an avid reader and writer from a young age, and eventually studied English Language and Literature at Oxford University.

My husband and I actually came to Canada as missionaries with Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, called to work with university students first in Toronto and then in Ottawa. It was in my new country that I earned my PhD and taught English at the universities of Ottawa and Montreal, before coming to Redeemer in 1996. It’s with a strong sense of calling that I’ve always kept a foot in both Christian and non-Christian academic circles.

The notion of common grace—that every good gift comes from God (James 1:17)—is central to my research and teaching. Of course writing is a gift given at least as richly to non-Christian writers as to Christian ones, and it is important for me to help students at Redeemer to recognize and appreciate these gifts. And because I feel called to keep connected with what God is doing in the wider university scene, I try to present at one public and one specifically Christian academic conference each year, sometimes in Canada and sometimes in the U.S. or Europe. I also try to publish articles in both Christian and secular academic journals. And I am the co-chair of the Christianity and Literature Study Group, an affiliated organization with ACCUTE (the Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English).

In my teaching, I want my students to understand how literature is an active force in the world and how their reading relates to the broader culture. I believe deeply that as they learn to interpret texts, they will also learn to read their own lives better, and that this kind of skill in reading and interpreting can also help them recognize the hand of God at work in whatever circles they are called to learn and live.

Deborah Bowen

George Elliott Clarke

The 4th Poet Laureate of Toronto (2012-15) and 7th Parliamentary Poet Laureate (2016-17), George Elliott Clarke is a revered poet.  He has invented the term Africadian and pioneered the study of African-Canadian literature.  He wrote the libretto for James Rolfe’s acclaimed opera, Beatrice Chancy (1998), and saw his play, Whylah Falls: The Play, translated into Italian and produced in Venezia, Italy (2002).  He is a noted artist in song, drama, fiction, screenplay, essays, and poetry.  Now teaching African-Canadian literature at the University of Toronto, Clarke has taught at Duke, McGill, the University of British Columbia, and Harvard.  He holds eight honorary doctorates, plus appointments to the Order of Nova Scotia and the Order of Canada.  His recognitions include the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Fellows Prize, the Governor-General’s Award for Poetry, the National Magazine Gold Award for Poetry, the Premiul Poesis (Romania), the Dartmouth Book Award for Fiction, the Eric Hoffer Book Award for Poetry (US), and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award.  Clarke’s work is the subject of Africadian Atlantic: Essays on George Elliott Clarke (2012), edited by Joseph Pivato.

George Elliott Clarke

Todd Swift

Swift was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and raised in Saint-Lambert, Quebec. He received a B.A. in English from Concordia University (Montreal) and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of East Anglia. He became British on April 3, 2013, at Westminster Town Hall, Marylebone, London.

While attending university, Swift was one of Canada's most successful parliamentary debaters. He was President of the Canadian University Society for Intercollegiate Debate and twice won the award for Top Speaker at the McGill University Winter Carnival Debating Tournament, as well as many other awards.

Swift is the author of nine full trade collections of poetry, published in America, Canada, England and Ireland; his Selected Poems is from Marick Press, USA. He is also a prolific anthologist, and editor of other poets' work. His poems have been translated into Arabic, Croatian, Dutch, French, German, Hungarian, Korean and Macedonian. He has written for a number of publications, poems and reviews appearing in journals such as Poetry, The Globe and Mail, Poetry London and The Guardian.

In 2004 he was Oxfam Great Britain's Poet-in-residence, running their poetry series in London, and editing books, a DVD and three CDs to help raise funds for the charity, retiring from this work in 2012. He was Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Kingston University, England 2006-2013.

From 2005 on Swift has run the literary blog Eyewear. The blog is archived by the British Library. He is Director and Publisher of the indie press Eyewear Publishing Ltd. which was founded in 2012. He has an entry in The Oxford Companion to Modern Poetry (2013) which seeks to list the most influential poets of the last 100 years writing in the English language. Swift is to be the 2017-2018 Visiting Scholar/ Writer-in-residence for Pembroke College, university of Cambridge, England. He is a convert to Roman Catholicism. He recently co-edited the international poetry anthology the Poet’s Quest for God (Eyewear, 2016).

Todd Swift



When Ross Mitchell passed away in December, 2013, he left behind a legacy of story telling. Although he was many things—lawyer, entrepreneur, philanthropist—his wife Davis recalls that what most people remembered about him were his stories, and particularly how his faith was expressed through his stories. Davis, with a Masters in Theological Studies and a career as a spiritual director, is no stranger to the powerful role that stories play in spiritual growth, and much of her work has focused on the importance stories and faith play in healthy lives.

As a graduate of the University of Toronto (with a BA in English literature), Ross went on to Law school at the University of Toronto. After just over half a decade of practicing law, he left to establish Madison Chemical, a company that would grow into a successful, international corporation. Ross and Davis leveraged this success to launch The Mitchell Foundation in 2000, whose goal was to sponsor and support faith-based organizations who were seeking to bring their message into the contemporary Canadian society.

After her husband’s death, Davis is currently the President of the family business and the Chair of the Foundation. With a renewed focus on grassroots movements, the work of Cardus with Faith in Canada 150 and the faith and writing prize particularly have her excited about the creative ways faith can be brought (back) into the imaginations and lives of Canadians today. “We want to be a part of the discussion around the social architecture of our country,” Davis explains, “and what role faith will play in the coming decades. Canadian writers can be an important part of this discussion!”

 As they raised their three children, Davis spent many happy hours reading to them the stories of C.S. Lewis at their Northern Ontario cottage, seeing how their faith came alive through the power of such tales.  “Writing,” she says, “is the great connector. Stories can be the bridge, helping us to connect to one another, which is what we need in a diverse Canadian society.” And Davis is convinced that if we are interested in seeing a secular society that protects religious freedom and is open to the valuable gifts of religion, such stories need to be told, shared, and celebrated.

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