Celebrating the year’s brightest & best
Publishing is obsessed with “winners,” but I’ve always thought literary prizes are earned while winners are for lotteries. Still, awards recognize writers, endangered in our post-truth, anti-intellectual world. And they help sell books at a time when too many people don’t read and the average human attention span has shrunk to less than the seven seconds of a goldfish’s memory.
Since 1985, the non-profit West Coast Book Prize Society has drawn attention to the achievements of writers, publishers and illustrators in our part of the world. Since you are now reading, Common Ground hopes the 33rd annual BC Book Prizes’ list, and a bit about each, will encourage you to continue reading and support local writing.
Douglas Coupland has earned the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence. His first novel, the 1991 international bestseller Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, popularized such terms as “McJob “and “Gen X.” He’s published 13 novels, two short story collections, seven non-fiction books, drama, film and TV screenplays. Coupland’s latest works include the novel, Worst. Person. Ever., an updated City of Glass, and a biography of Marshall McLuhan. His art includes “everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything,” exhibited at the Vancouver Art Gallery and Royal Ontario Museum.
The Lieutenant Governor’s Award, established in 2003 by Hon. Iona Campagnolo, is $5,000. The awards – fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children’s literature, children’s illustrated literature, books about BC and the BC Bookseller’s Choice – are $2,000 each.
Jennifer Manuel receives the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize for The Heaviness of Things That Float (Douglas and McIntyre). The story: the lonely world of Bernadette, a community nurse, who’s served for 40 years on a remote west coast First Nations reserve. A compelling debut novel, it explores the delicate dynamic with non-native outsiders and evokes desolate, beautiful and untamed Vancouver Island.
The Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize recognizes contributions to enjoyment and understanding of BC. This year’s winner is Mapping My Way Home: A Gitxsan History (Creekstone Press) by Neil J. Sterritt. His book traces European explorers and adventurers in the economic hub of 150 years ago, at the junction of the Skeena and Bulkley rivers. A Gitxsan leader, Sterritt also shares stories of his people, both ancient and recent.
The 2017 Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize was presented to Deborah Campbell for A Disappearance in Damascus: A Story of Friendship and Survival in the Shadow of War (Knopf Canada). In 2007, on assignment for Harper’s magazine, she witnessed millions of displaced Iraqi refugees flooding into Syria during the increasingly violent aftermath of the 2003 US-led invasion. By personalizing the ongoing tragedy, she provides deeper understanding of the Syrian civil war and refugee crisis and deep ramifications that war has had on the Middle East.
Adèle Barclay earned the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize for If I Were in a Cage I’d Reach Out for You (Nightwood Editions). She is quoted as saying, poetry is “a counter-spell to the Neoliberal, patriarchal, white supremacist, mess… Poetry resists, something that is at home with messiness and paradoxes. I think radical kinship or radical kindness and being public about emotional vulnerability… saying those things out loud, is political. Or at least I hope so.”
The Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize for best illustrated book was awarded to My Heart Fills with Happiness (Orca), written by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Julie Flett. The charming board book not only celebrates indigenous culture and community, but also everyone’s ability to find joy in the small details of everyday life.
The best non-illustrated book written for children – Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize – is awarded to Iain Lawrence for The Skeleton Tree (Tundra Books). A nail-biting, page-turning survival story, it’s packed with psychological suspense and action, focused on an evolving relationship between two boys stranded in the Alaskan wilderness. Like all 15 books by this acclaimed author, including Gemini Summer, which earned the Governor-General’s Literary Award for Children’s Literature, this is a wonderful read for all ages.
Finally, the 2017 Bill Duthie Booksellers’ Choice Award is bitter-sweet. It’s awarded to Richard Wagamese, who died in March, at age 61. Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations (Douglas and McIntyre) is among 13 books by one of Canada’s foremost First Nations authors and storytellers. Honest, evocative and articulate, this is a collection of hard-won wisdom by the late, self-described “spiritual bad-ass.” More than ever, First Nations stories are being shared.
Finalist authors tour BC schools and libraries. And the Society also coordinates the adopt-a-Library program.
Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola Island-based banjo player, gardener, writer and author of Our Clinic.