Headshot of Dr. Sharon Butala
USask graduate Dr. Sharon Butala (BEd’62, BA’63, PGD’73, DLitt’04) has written 22 books of fiction and nonfiction, as well as essays, articles, poetry, and plays. (Photo: Jennifer Chipperfield)

Home is where the heart is

Award-winning author Sharon Butala, who is moving back to Saskatchewan from Alberta, is the latest recipient of the Glengarry Book Award Prize for her novel "Leaving Wisdom"


There’s no place like home for University of Saskatchewan (USask) graduate Dr. Sharon Butala (BEd’62, BA’63, PGD’73, DLitt’04).

The celebrated Canadian author draws inspiration from her home province and its rural Prairie landscapes for much of her work, which includes fiction, nonfiction, memoirs, and plays.

“I am inspired by the great beauty of the Prairies: the vast sky, the distances that reach all the way to the horizon, their relative emptiness so that a person feels free on them,” said Butala in a 2018 interview with USask’s College of Arts and Science. “One’s soul has room to expand. How very precious this place is.”

Sharon Butala’s latest novel, Leaving Wisdom, was honoured with the 2023 Glengarry Book Award Prize. (Photo: supplied)

Butala’s latest novel, Leaving Wisdom, which was published on May 30, 2023, by Thistledown Press, centres on a retired social worker named Judith who moves from Calgary to the Saskatchewan farm town that she left behind as a teenager. In January 2024, it was announced that the book earned Butala the 2023 Glengarry Book Award Prize, an annual $20,000 award from the Saskatchewan Foundation For the Arts (SFFA) that celebrates authors with Saskatchewan roots.

The SFFA launched the Glengarry Book Award Prize in 2021, thanks to the vision and support of donor and book lover Claire Kramer, a founding trustee of the SFFA. Previous Glengarry Book Award Prize winners include Diane Warren, who received the 2021 prize for The Diamond House, and USask graduate Dr. Guy Vanderhaeghe (BA’71, Arts’72, MA’75, DLitt’97), who was awarded the 2022 honour for August into Winter.

Butala was thrilled when she received the very good—but unexpected—news about the Glengarry Book Award Prize.

“I’m just delighted—there’s no other word for it,” Butala said in a recent interview with the Green&White, noting that she is also excited to be in the company of fellow prize winners Warren and Vanderhaeghe, whom she describes as “Canadian writers of the first rank.”

“I’m pretty thrilled to be more or less on the same list and, of course, I’m also very happy to receive that amount of money. That was pretty amazing.”

Butala, who was born in Nipawin, Sask., in 1940, has found great success as a Prairie writer. She is a three-time Governor General’s Award nominee and an Officer of the Order of Canada. Her book, The Perfection of the Morning, was a No. 1 bestseller and a Governor General’s Award finalist, while her short story collection, Fever, won the 1992 Authors’ Award for Paperback Fiction and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for best book (Canada and Caribbean region).

Butala also received the Saskatchewan Order of Merit, in 2009, and the Cheryl and Henry Kloppenburg Award for Literary Excellence, in 2012. In 2004, USask bestowed Butala with an honorary doctorate degree and, in 2009, the College of Arts and Science named Butala one of its first 100 Alumni of Influence.

Butala’s 2015 novel, Wild Rose, was shortlisted for the City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize, and her 2019 collection of short stories, Season of Fury and Wonder, won the award. Where I Live Now: A Journey Through Love and Loss to Healing and Hope was a 2017 Governor General’s Award nominee in nonfiction. Butala wrote the memoir Where I Live Now when the life she had known for 33 years came to an end with the unexpected death of her husband, Peter.

Butala first set out to become a writer in 1978 and is now the author of 22 books of fiction and nonfiction, numerous essays and articles, some poetry, and five produced plays. When she published her first novel, Country of the Heart, in 1984—later nominated for the Books in Canada First Novel Award—she decided that her subject matter would focus on the “rural agricultural people of southwest Saskatchewan.”

“I found it such an interesting subculture,” she said, noting the connections of the area to Alberta and the United States.

Butala said she had “one foot” inside the community when she and Peter moved to his southwest Saskatchewan ranch in 1976. Two decades later, in 1996, the couple donated some of their land to the Nature Conservancy of Canada to help create the 13,000-acre Old Man On His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area.

What interested Butala most about living in southwestern Saskatchewan was what she describes as “the subculture of ranching.” She observed that people’s attention seemed to be focused on cattle, horses, and the ranching enterprise itself—“and everything else came second.”

“As I began to write books about different aspects of it, I began to be more and more and more interested in the women in the area and their lives,” she said.

“I just tried to tell what seemed to me to be their stories in my books,” Butala added. “So, I finally reached the point where I had only one book left to write—and that was Leaving Wisdom.”

Like her protagonist, Judith, in Leaving Wisdom, Butala—who has lived in Calgary for the last 15 years—is moving back to Saskatchewan. However, unlike Judith, Butala is not relocating to a small town; she plans instead to move to Saskatoon and reside in the Nutana neighbourhood. She feels the time is right to return to her home province.

“The reason is simply because I am 83—I’m going to be 84 this summer—and I just want to go home for my last years,” she said.

Butala is currently taking a break from writing as she focuses on the move. However, she remains busy with other literary projects; for example, on April 17, she gave a talk in Calgary on the Irish writer Claire Keegan, and she has recently collaborated with Shawn the Book Maniac to talk about books and writing.

“There’s a lot of literary stuff that doesn’t actually mean me writing,” she said.

As winter now turns to spring, Butala is also looking forward to a lifestyle change by returning home to Saskatchewan and reconnecting with her roots. No matter where she has lived in Canada—including a brief stint on the East Coast in the 1960s—she has always been, and always will be, a Prairie person at heart.

“I’ve never been anything else,” he said. “Nothing ever matches up to the Prairies.”