11/13/2012 11:07 EST | Updated 01/13/2013 05:12 EST

Governor General's lit prize winners led by women

Women dominate the winner's circle for the 2012 Governor General's Literary Awards, with authors Linda Spalding and Susin Nielsen, and illustrator Isabelle Arsenault among this year's English-language laureates.

The Canada Council for the Arts, which administers the annual literary honour, revealed this year's recipients in Montreal on Tuesday morning.

Women won five of the seven English-language categories (and 10 of 14 categories overall).

The awards offer "not only a chance to honour our very best books, but it is also a chance to pay tribute to Canadians who are rising stars in the world of literature," Gov. Gen. David Johnson said in a statement.

"I congratulate all the winners who have worked hard to add their tale to our collective memories."

Toronto's Spalding earned the fiction prize for her book The Purchase, a historical tale looking back at the lives of slaves and slave owners that was inspired by stories from her ancestors, who were Quakers. The jury praised Spalding's writing as "warm, dignified prose" in its citation.

"An historical novel about race, religion and family, Linda Spalding's The Purchase is refreshingly free of retrospective judgment."

Vancouver author Nielsen captured the prize for children's literature – text for The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen, an engaging and surprisingly humorous story about the titular 13-year-old as he deals with grief and significant life change.

"Thought-provoking and relevant, it addresses the effects of bullying in a realistic, compelling and compassionate way, exemplifying the adage 'There are two sides to every story,'" the jury wrote in its citation.

"Henry's journey is moving and weirdly, wildly funny."

The evocative images created by Montreal's Arsenault for the book Virginia Wolf netted her the prize in children's literature – illustration. Accompanying text by Kyo Maclear, Arsenault's whimsical images delve into the world of childhood dreams and creativity as they loosely explore the relationship between author Virginia Woolf and her sister, painter Vanessa Bell.

Awards gala Nov. 28 in Ottawa

Leonardo and the Last Supper, Ross King's examination of the artist's great fresco and the powerful man who commissioned it, took the non-fiction prize.

With "a combination of brilliant storytelling and superlative writing," U.K.-based, Saskatchewan-raised King "portrays the towering genius of Leonardo in a way that will engage experts and delight a general audience," the jury said.

Montreal's Nigel Spencer earned his third translation award for his work adapting Marie-Claire Blais, this time for her Mai at the Predators' Ball. Meanwhile, fellow Montrealer Julie Bruck, now based in San Francisco, won the poetry prize for Monkey Ranch.

Nova Scotia playwright Catherine Banks rounds out the English-language winners, nabbing the drama honour for It is Solved by Walking.

Each category winner receives $25,000, with a further $3,000 to his or her respective publisher.

The French winners are:

- Fiction: Pour sur, France Daigle (Moncton, N.B.).

- Poetry: Un drap. Une place., Maude Smith Gagnon (Montreal).

- Drama: Contre le temps, Geneviève Billette (Montreal).

- Non-fiction: Comment tuer Shakespeare, Normand Chaurette (Montreal).

- Children's, text: Un été d'amour et de cendres, Aline Apostolska (Montreal).

- Children's, illustration: La clé a molette, Élise Gravel (Montreal).

- Translation: Glenn Gould, Alain Roy (Montreal, text by Mark Kingwell).

"The winning titles offer a wealth of reading options for Canadians of all ages and demonstrate once again that Canada punches above its weight in the literary arena," said Canada Council director Robert Sirman.

All 14 winners will officially receive their awards from the Governor General at a Rideau Hall gala in Ottawa on Nov. 28.