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Two-time Giller Prize winner Esi Edugyan grew up in a housing co-op

Published December 17, 2018

Photo by Daniel Harasymchuk, from Wikimedia Commons

News that novelist Esi Edugyan had won her second Giller Prize spread quickly through Sarcee Meadows Housing Co-op in Calgary, Alberta.

Edugyan and her family moved into Sarcee Meadows when she was 15 years old. She remembers the co-op as having been “a lifesaver” for her parents, and a friendly community where she and her family felt comfortable.

The Scotiabank Giller Prize is one of the most prestigious prizes in Canadian literature. In 2011, Edugyan became the first Black woman to win this award, for her second novel Half-Blood Blues. When she won again this year for her novel Washington Black, she became only the third author to have won two Giller Prizes.

Sarcee Meadows member Kathy Aubichon interviewed both Esi, and her brother Kweku, who still lives at the co-op.

In 1968, Esi’s brother emigrated from Ghana to go to school in California, where he met his wife, Nancy. They later moved to Edmonton so Kweku could complete his Masters degree at the University of Alberta. Kweku remembers their surprise at seeing snow for the first time: he ran outside and filled a bucket with snow to bring inside to show his wife. After a few harsh Alberta winters, the novelty wore off, and he sometimes questioned his decision to move to such a cold climate.

However, when Nancy, Kweku, and their three children Kofi, Abena and Esi moved into Sarcee Meadows in February 1994, they received a warm welcome.

Kweku said the community was good to him from day one, and that that has continued through the years. Sadly, three years after the family moved into Sarcee Meadows, Nancy died suddenly from a heart attack. Kweku, however, still lives at the co-op and has wonderful memories from his 24 years as a member.

Many Sarcee Meadows members remember Esi warmly, and join Kweku in expressing deep pride in her achievements. Edugyan told CBC Books that for her, the most meaningful aspect of her success is that her visibility has given others the courage to start writing.

Do you know an amazing co-op member, or someone who grew up in a co-op who has gone on to accomplish great things? Let us know at info@chfcanada.coop.

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