Habiba Diallo inaugural winner of $5,000 literary prize

Prize for Black authors founded by retired Nova Scotia senator Don Oliver

2 min read
caption Habiba Diallo has been awarded the Senator Don Oliver Black Voices Prize.
Habiba Diallo

Halifax author and activist Habiba Diallo is the first recipient of the Senator Don Oliver Black Voices Prize, winning the award for an excerpt from her debut novel-in-progress.

The $5,000 prize provides Diallo with the financial freedom to focus on her writing, an opportunity many Black authors never experience.

“These prizes are so, so necessary because, as we know, opportunities for Black writers are
very often limited, few and far between,” Diallo told The Signal in a phone interview conducted in March.

“And at times it’s challenging for us to find the necessary financial support
for our writing.”

With the prize money, Diallo can dedicate time to work on her novel this year. The
novel will be focused on “the life of a young woman who must try to forgive to free herself
from the burden of loss,” according to the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia website.

Diallo has written poetry, short stories and a memoir. She has been consistently creating stories and poems since elementary school and began keeping a daily journal when she was 12.

“I found that I had a very big imagination and writing stories just really gave me the ability to
bring out what was in there and just stimulate my creativity,” said Diallo.

Racism, maternal health a focus

Her book #BlackInSchool, released in 2021, is a culmination of her journaling practice. She published a series of her diary entries from her high school years in Halifax, to illustrate the systematic racism that she experienced from the school system, her teachers and her peers.

She also advocates for the elimination of obstetric fistulas, a hole in the birth canal which forms in difficult births when there is limited medical treatment.

Former senator Donald Oliver has advocated for diversity and equality throughout his life and was the first Black man appointed to Canada’s Senate.

“Given the legacy of senator Don Oliver and what he’s done for the province, for the country
and especially for Black people in the country, I just feel elated to have won a prize that’s
coming from him,” said Diallo.

Oliver created the prize last year after walking into the 2022 Atlantic Book Awards Festival
and noticing a lack of Black authors nominated for awards. Oliver told The Signal this was
the moment he knew he would have to create his own change and give Black writers in his
home province their own prize.

The prize is open to any emerging writer who identifies as Black or African Nova Scotian
with a current literary work-in-progress in fiction, non-fiction or poetry.

In January, Diallo was announced as the inaugural winner and was given the $5,000 prize.
She was formally named the prize recipient at the Celebration of Emerging Writers event
hosted by the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia on May 29 in Halifax.

Oliver said he hopes the $5,000 prize will inspire more writers to apply next year. The Bank of Montreal invested $100,000 into the prize in May 2022 to keep it running for many years to come.

“It makes me feel very, very happy, because it’s a sign that I’m encouraging cultural growth
within our Black community by a prize that’s going to be there in perpetuity,” Oliver said in a
phone interview in February.

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