This past May, H. Nigel Thomas added to his impressive list of achievements when he was awarded the 2022 Canada Council for the Arts Molson Prize.
He is one of two Canadians to receive the prize of $50,000, awarded to him in recognition of his outstanding contributions and achievements in the arts.
It comes on the heels of the Judy Mappin Community Award that was given to him in 2021 by the Quebec Writers’ Federation, also recognizing a body of work that comprises 13 books: six novels, three books of short stories and two collections of poems.
Along the way, he has been short-listed for several major Canadian and international literary prizes.
Even as the acclamations continue to pile up for Thomas, who embarked on a full-time journey as an author in the mid-1990s following a life-changing bout with cancer while he was a professor of United States literature at Université Laval, is still mindful of the challenges faced as a writer who is an immigrant, Black and openly gay.
Granted he says, that perspectives have changed significantly over the years.
“Although the issue of ‘gayness’ comes up from time to time, the gay reality is a long way from where things were two decades ago,” he told The CONTACT in a recent conversation.
Thomas, who was born in St. Vincent and The Grenadines and immigrated to Canada in 1968, acknowledges the issue takes on added intensity in our community. So, once he went public with his sexuality in 1994, part of his challenge was to educate and advocate for dialogue on the issue in his home country and across the Caribbean.
“It wasn’t easy. Not too many people wanted to hear from Nigel Thomas,” he says pointing to opposition voices coming from fundamentalist churches and in the media.
But from his first book, Spirits in The Dark, published while he was still at Université Laval, the gay experience was a central theme in his writing.
And that has evolved into a full-fledged reckoning of how the gay West Indian male fits in this society in a planned quartet of books that comes under the No Safeguards series, which he started in 2015 with the novel of the same name followed by Fate’s Instruments (2018) and the third installment, Easily Fooled.
In the series of books, Jay and Paul the two brothers born in SVG are both gay navigating the gay experiences of immigrants in their new life in Montreal through Thomas’ skillful and creative imaginings as well as his own familiarities with current issues.
In the final offering, expected to be released in 2024, gay marriage will be the focus.
“Literature is really about the human condition… it’s one thing to write about the gay reality, it’s quite another thing to do it well,” says the man who has lived that reality and through his exceptional strivings continue to garner success as an author, and advocate.
Today, Thomas remains prolific and relevant by continuing to work on his novels as well as on a continuing flow of poetry. His latest release, The Voyage, a collection of poems is provoking rave reviews.
As a lifelong community advocate, who has spent his fair share of time on the frontlines of human rights struggles, he stays committed as editor of a literary publication Kola and by assisting and supporting up-and-coming writers with the H. Nigel Thomas Prize.