Wayne Johnston’s heartfelt, funny memoir about Newfoundland childhood wins $25K Canadian humour writing prize

Wayne Johnston has won the 2023 Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for his memoir Jennie’s Boy. The $25,000 prize annually recognizes the best in Canadian humour writing.

Jennie’s Boy is a memoir that recounts a six-month period in Johnston’s chaotic childhood, much of which was spent as a frail and sickly boy with a fiercely protective mother. While too sick to attend school, he spent his time with his funny and eccentric grandmother Lucy and picked up some important life lessons along the way. 

Wayne Johnston is a writer, born and raised in Goulds, N.L. His novels include The Divine RyansA World ElsewhereThe Custodian of ParadiseThe Navigator of New York and The Colony of Unrequited Dreams. His 1999 memoir, Baltimore’s Mansion, won the RBC Taylor Prize. The Colony of Unrequited Dreams was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and was a 2003 Canada Reads finalist, when it was championed by now prime minister Justin Trudeau.

“I looked at all the years that I could remember and tried to pick out which one was most representative of what life was like, not just for me, but for my family of three brothers and my mom and dad — my mom, most people call Jennie,” Johnston told Shelagh Rogers on The Next Chapter.

“It was kind of the funniest year in a lot of ways, a bit sad in some other ways. And even though the book is called Jennie’s Boy, I kind of struggled with the notion of calling it Lucy’s Boy. That was my grandmother. I was her pet. And that’s why I talked about it.”

LISTEN | Wayne Johnston tells Shelagh Rogers about his childhood:

The Next Chapter20:02Wayne Johnston on Jennie’s Boy

Wayne Johnston talks to Shelagh Rogers about his book, Jennie’s Boy: A Newfoundland Childhood.

Jennie’s Boy was chosen from 71 submissions, which was whittled down to a longlist of 10 books and a shortlist of three books.

The two other finalists were Susan Juby for her novel Mindful of Murder and Zarqa Nawaz for her novel Jameela Green Ruins Everything

Juby won the award in 2016 for her novel Republic of Dirt.

As runners-up Juby and Nawaz will each receive a prize of $4,000.

The Leacock Medal is named in memory of humourist and author Stephen Leacock. The annual award has been given out since 1947.

Last year’s winner was comedian and former CBC personality Rick Mercer for his memoir Talking to Canadians

Other winners include Heidi L.M Jacobs, Robertson Davies, Pierre Berton, Farley Mowat, Paul Quarrington, Mordecai Richler, Stuart McLean and Terry Fallis.

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