Hosted by the Honourable Judith Guichon, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, and emceed by rocker-turned-broadcaster Grant Lawrence, the 29th annual B.C. Book Prizes had its usual mix of glitz and glitches at Government House in Victoria on May 4, 2013. Two winners did not attend (Derek Hayes and Lorna Crozier), two presenters forgot to read their lists of nominees, and, as usual, at least one winner came to the podium without having prepared a speech. But the gals got gussied-up, the boys dressed like politicians and emcee Grant Lawrence did his level-best to generate some chuckles.
Non-fiction nominee George Bowering was described by Lawrence as the Keith Richards of Canadian literature. Lawrence was on a roll for much of the evening, citing the 50th anniversary of Munro’s Books in Victoria, and referencing an anecdote from former literary arts bureaucrat Chris Gudgeon about having once smoked a joint with Premier Dave Barrett, until Lawrence unwittingly referred to Lorna Crozier’s representative for the evening—her long-time partner Patrick Lane—as Mr. Crozier.
Having taken some heat from Brian Brett, last year’s recipient of the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence, for having presented that annual award to eight men in a row, organizers took the extraordinary measure of presenting it simultaneously to two recipients, Lorna Crozier and Sarah Ellis, both of whom received $5,000. Other prizes are worth $2,000 each.
The Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize went to Bill Gaston, for his novel The World (Hamish Hamilton). “I guess this is fourth-time-lucky,” said Gaston, who has had three previous fiction nominations. He thanked his editor and said the opening scene of the novel was inspired by the time “I kind of burnt my house down smoking some salmon on the deck.” If gender is supposed to count, Gaston is the 10th male winner of the Wilson Fiction Prize and there have been 19 female winners.
The Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize went to Derek Hayes’ British Columbia: A New Historical Atlas (D&M). Hayes is easily the big winner of the season, having also received the first Basil Stuart-Stubbs Prize for outstanding scholarly book about B.C. as well as the Lieutenant Governor’s medal for best history book from the venerable B.C. Historical Federation. Publisher Howard White, having replaced originating publisher Scott McIntyre, read a statement from Derek Hayes on his behalf: “If a picture is worth a thousand words, a map is surely worth much more, in my opinion. I hope my book will in some small way promote the greater use of maps in historical research.”
The Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize went to Geoff Meggs and Rod Mickleburgh for The Art of the Impossible: Dave Barrett and the NDP in Power, 1972-1975 (Harbour). Mickleburgh cited the importance of Hubert Evans’ classic 1954 novel Mist on the River to him as a writer and referred to Evans, a Quaker and a freelance writer, as “one of my heroes.” Geoff Meggs thanked their publisher Howard White. “I’ve never laid eyes on him from the time he agreed to publish our book until tonight,” said Meggs, “so I am glad to know he exists.”
The Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize went to Sarah de Leeuw for Geographies of a Lover (NeWest). “This is an incredible privilege for a girl who grew up in a logging camp on Haida Gwaii,” she said. Having worked with women’s groups, de Leeuw thanked all librarians and feminists in the province.
The Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize once again went to a non-B.C. illustrator, Isabelle Malenfant, for Maggie’s Chopsticks (Kids Can) written by Alan Woo. “Growing up,” said first-time author Woo, “I never saw myself or my culture represented in a children’s book.”
The Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize went to Caroline Adderson for Middle of Nowhere (Groundwood). Adderson has been nominated three times for the adult fiction prize, winning for her first fiction collection in 1994 and again for a novel in 2004. Audrey Thomas has also won the Wilson Prize twice, but Adderson is a rare three-time winner at the gala.
The Bill Duthie Booksellers’ Choice Award went to Shelley Fralic for Making Headlines: 100 Years of The Vancouver Sun (Vancouver Sun), with research by Kate Bird. “I wrote it in six weeks,” she said, “which, I have to tell you, is worse than natural child birth.”