I went to Vancouver, BC, for a reading recently, and am still trying to wrap my brain around an event I attended there. My two hostess friends there, Fanny Kiefer (a renowned TV interviewer) and Cindy Grauer (who basically knows everyone in power and is therefore a powerhouse herself) invited me to a luncheon honoring Canada's best non-fiction writers. The three semi-finalists of British Columbia's National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction (whew!) were being feted at the Pan Pacific Hotel overlooking the glorious Vancouver harbor. The winner, I was told, would take home a check for $40,000. (Canadian dollars!) That in itself was amazing, but what was even more so was the fact that the entire prize, and the events surrounding them, were underwritten by the B.C. government! And the turnout - there were business and arts leaders from all around British Columbia. The room was packed, and the crowd was wildly enthused. Cindy brought over a handsome gray-haired gentleman to meet me. She called him Gordie. I learned moments later that he was the Honorable Gordon Campbell, premier of British Columbia. He stepped up to the podium to give the first of many stirring speeches of the day, tributizing the three finalists and waxing rhapsodic about their work, in which he was clearly well-versed. I felt like I'd stepped into an alternate universe. Does this EVER happen in the United States? Perhaps our government is too busy planning cuts for the NEA to consider sponsoring literary prizes. (Or perhaps we should ask if George Bush ever read a book? That would seem to be the first step.) Didn't mean to get political; mostly I wanted to praise and exalt the Canadians for investing in books and authors to this degree. Oh, and I should acknowledge the three finalists: Donald Akeson, author of "Some Family: the Mormons and How Humanity Keeps Track of Itself;" Lorna Goodison, author of "From Harvey River: A Memoir of My Mother and Her People;" and Jacques Poitras, author of "Beaverbrook: A Shattered Legacy." Goodison won the big prize, but all sounded fascinating.
p.s. Since I wrote the above, Cindy reminded me of an even grander set of literary awards in Canada - this one totally $450,000 for the various winners. Sigh.
Ottawa, November 27, 2007 - The Canada Council for the Arts announced today the names of the winners of the 2007 Governor General’s Literary Awards, in English and in French, in the categories of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama, children’s literature (text and illustration) and translation.
This yearmarks the 71st presentation of the GGs, Canada’s oldest and most prestigious awards for English- and French-language Canadian literature.
Nine of this year‚s winners are receiving Governor General’s Literary Awards for the first time. For Michael Ondaatje, winner of the 2007 award in English-language fiction for Divisadero, this is his fifth award, tying the
record set by the late Hugh MacLennan for the most Governor General’s Awards in the prize’s history. Other previous winners receiving awards this year include Daniel Danis (French-language drama), Serge Patrice Thibodeau (French-language poetry), Nigel Spencer (French-to-English translation), and collaborators Lori Saint-Martin and Paul Gagné (English-to-French translation).
“To hold a book in our hands is to hold a promise of freedom, discovery and adventure,” said the Governor General. “Getting caught up in words and phrases, discovering worlds that others have created, travelling through
time and space, accessing knowledge: there is no greater joy than reading!
Let us celebrate these writers, those who awaken our senses and lead us down unexpected, unimagined and brilliant paths.”
The Canada Council for the Arts funds, administers and promotes the Governor General’s Literary Awards. For the first time, the value of each award will be $25,000, increased from $15,000 in celebration of the Canada Council’s 50th anniversary. Each winner will also receive a specially-crafted copy of the winning book bound by Montreal bookbinder Lise Dubois. The publisher of each winning book will receive $3,000 to support promotional activities. Non-winning finalists will each receive $1,000 in recognition of their selection as finalists, bringing the total value of the Awards to approximately $450,000.