Awarded annually in celebration of Canadian non-fiction, the prize celebrates a book that "best combines a superb command of the English language, an elegance of style, and a subtlety of thought and perception." The award recalls the late Canadian essayist, journalist and author Charles Taylor.
Since the inception of the prize, "the depth and breadth of Canadian literary non-fiction writing has matured to such a degree that the mission of our jurors has become much more difficult," founder Noreen Taylor said in announcing the shortlist in Toronto today.
"We appreciate their time and reflection in deriving such a strong short list from an incredible long list that, in its entirety, represents a coming of age for our country's literary non-fiction writers."
Ottawa-based Gray made the cut for her latest, The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master, and the Trial That Shocked a Country, while Guelph, Ont.-based King is a contender for The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America.
Former Globe and Mail foreign correspondent Smith, currently a Kabul-based senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, is a nominee for The Dogs Are Eating Them Now: Our War in Afghanistan.
Rounding out the short list are two Vancouver writers: David Stouck for Arthur Erickson: An Architect's Life and J.B. MacKinnon for The Once and Future World: Nature As It Was, As It Is, As It Could Be. MacKinnon won in 2006 for his earlier book Dead Man in Paradise.
Overall, this year's jurors — Professor and critic Croal Ann Howells, author and professor James Polk and former prize-winner Andrew Westoll — reviewed 124 books submitted by publishers from around the globe.
In December, organizers changed the name of the prize, previously known as the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Nonfiction, to reflect a partnership with RBC. In addition to the name change, the honour was expanded to introduce the $10,000 RBC Taylor Prize for Emerging Writers.
Starting this year, each main Taylor Prize winner will select a non-fiction writer between the ages of 18 and 35 to receive the emerging artist honour.
The 2014 RBC Taylor Prize will be awarded at a gala on March 10.