Finalist David Neel: Hilary Weston Writer’s Trust Prize 2020

Announced: November 18, 2020

Congratulations to Kwakwaka’wakw artist and author David Neel whose book The Way Home was a finalist for the prestigious Hilary Weston Writer’s Trust Prize in 2020.

This announcement comes almost exactly a year to the day when David Neel’s solo exhibition ‘Symbols Speak’ and exclusive book launch at Coastal Peoples Gallery opened on November 16, 2019.

David Neel’s personal memoir is a coming full-circle story of origins, birth, displacement, reconnection and fatherhood.  It is also a candid reflection upon his experience as one among ‘the scooped generation’ of Indigenous children who grew up separate from their Indigenous family members, often forcibly so.

David Neel was an infant when his father, a traditional Kwakiutl artist, returned to the ancestors, triggering a series of events that would separate David from his homeland and its rich cultural traditions for twenty-five years. When he saw a potlatch mask carved by his great-great-grandfather in a museum in Fort Worth, Texas, the encounter inspired the young photographer to rekindle a childhood dream to follow in the footsteps of his father.

Drawing on memories, legends, and his own art and portrait photography, David Neel recounts his struggle to reconnect with his culture after decades of separation and a childhood marred by trauma and abuse. He returned to the Pacific Coast in 1987, where he apprenticed with master carvers from his father’s village. The art of his ancestors and the teaching of the people he met helped to make up for the last years and fuelled his creativity. His career as a multi-media artist also gave him the opportunity to meet and photograph leading artists, knowledgeable elders, and prominent people from around the world. In time he was a recognized artists, with his artwork presented in more than forty solo and sixty group exhibitions.

‘The Way Home‘ is an uplifting tale that affirms the healing power of returning home. It is also a testament to the strength of the human spirit to overcome great obstacles, and to the power and endurance of Indigenous culture and art.

Jury Citation:

“A spellbinding memoir with universal reach, The Way Home tells how David A. Neel overcame great loss — the early death of his Kwakiutl father and estrangement from his culture — to become one of Canada’s finest artists. Neel’s story hinges on the chance sighting, while working as a portrait photographer in Texas, of a haunting Northwest Coast mask from the 1890s. Inspired to move home to Vancouver and apprentice himself to leading Indigenous carvers, he discovers only later that the mask which sparked his journey was made by his own great-grandfather. Beautifully told and illustrated — Neel’s work has been shown at the Smithsonian and the Venice Biennale — Neel’s memoir is written with the same calm mastery he brings to all his art. This is a wise, eloquent, and deeply moving book.”  – 2020 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction jury (Helen Knott, Sandra Martin, and Ronald Wright)

The Hilary Weston literary prize is awarded to a book that, in the opinion of the jury, is the year’s best book of non-fiction.  The book must demonstrate a distinctive voice, as well as a persuasive and compelling command of tone, narrative style and technique.  The overall effect of such writing should provide the reader with an informed, unique perspective on the issue at hand.  The jurors shortlist is between three and five titles  The grand prize is $60,000 CAD, and each finalist will be awarded $5,000 CAD.

All of us at the gallery extend our heartfelt congratulations to David for his accomplishments with this book as well.

To view David Neel’s entire art & jewelry collection in our Gallery and for more details, please click here.


Excerpts credit: ‘The Way Home’ by David Neel