FOR THE FIRST TIME IN NINE YEARS THE B.C. Book Prices were the hottest ticket in town and the only ticket in town as a sold-out audience of 450 people gathered April 24 at the Coast Lakeside Resort in Penticton. Emcee Howard White thanked B.C.'s librarians for helping to present the province's most prestigious literary awards inland, then gave a special welcome to a cowboy-hatted contingent from the Chilcotin-based Nemiah Indian Band. It was a harbinger of things to come. Culture Minister Darlene Marzari presented the Haig-Brown Prize for best book about B.C. to Nature Power. In the Spirit of an Okanagan Storyteller (D&M) by Harry Robinson, a Similkameen Indian who died in 1990. Accepting the prize was the volume's compiler and editor and a neighbour
of Marzari's Wendy Wickwire, who acknowledged Harry Robinson's presence in spirit. "This is really Harry Robinson's award," she said. "One of the things he emphasized over and over is that there is a power in the Native world that's very different from my White world." Wickwire read from Nature Power and told the audience her prize money will be allocated to a secondary school scholarship in Keremeos, where Robinson lived. Royalties from the previous Robinson/Wickwire collaboration, Write It On Your Heart [co-published by Talonbooks and Theytus Books] were used to create the Native scholarship.
Other nominated titles for the HaigBrown Prize this year were Vickie Jensen's Where the People Gather (D&M) and Bruce Macdonald's Vancouver. A Visual History. Judges were authors Jean Barman, Alan Haig-Brown and Lorna Williams. Uncapitalized (and under-capitalized) bill bissett, with more than 50 books to his name, was the sentimental choice to receive the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, co-supported by Best Gagne and Friesen Printers. Consequently some heartfelt cheers accompanied BCLA president Sylvia Crooks' announcement that bissett, a previous nominee in this category, had won for inkorrect thots (Talonbooks). Karl Siegler offered congratulations by hugging his author. bissett gave the most concise and least-scripted speech of the evening, gratefully acknowledging friends, family, judges, the Book Prize Society and Talonbooks. "Thank you very much," he concluded, "This is really cool."
Other nominees were Kirsten Emmott for How Do You Feel? (Sono Nis) and Diana Hartog for Polite to Bees: A Bestiary (Coach House). Judges were authors Joanne Amott and Allan Safarik; and bookseller Margaret Gabriel. Lynne Bowen received the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize for Muddling Through (D&M), a history of 2,000 British immigrants who 'settled' the Prairies at the turn-of-the-century under the inept leadership of Isaac Barr. Herself a descendant of Barr colonists, Bowen expressed pleasure at receiving an award named after Hubert Evans, the writer Margaret Laurence called 'The Elder of our Tribe'. "Tonight I want to thank a man who has made it possible for me to have options for the past 31 years," she said, "who insisted I learn how to use a word processor, and who listens and inspires. My husband, Dick Bowen." Bowen's first book, Boss Whistle, about Vancouver Island coal miners, received an Eaton's B.C. Book Award (the forerunner of the B.C. Book Prizes) in 1983.
Other nominees for the Evans Prize were Irene Howard's study of social activist Helena Gutteridge, The Struggle for Social Justice in B.C. (UBC Press), and Rolf Knight and Horner Stevens' UFAWU memoir, Horner Stevens: A Life in Fishing (Harbour). The presenter was Gwen Zilm of Okanagan College. Judges were author Barry Broadfoot, librarian Enid Dearing and archivist George Brandak. Nick Bantock's Sabine's Notebook (Raincoast) was chosen by B.C. booksellers for the Bill Duthie Booksellers Choice Award, co-supported by Duthie Books and the B.C. Booksellers Assn. Mark Stanton of Raincoast Books extensively cited the commercial success of Bantock's work and the media attention Bantock has received. "Back in 1990 we sent Nick Bantock down to San Francisco because the particular project that he was working on, Sabine's Notebook, was much too risky a publication to contemplate for Canada," said Stanton. He stressed his company took a great risk when Raincoast agreed to take one-tenth of the American company's initial print run of 10,000 copies. Citing the sale of movie rights, Stanton joked that many names have thus far been suggested to play the title roles "from the Sabine to the ridiculous." To explain Bantock's absence, Stanton told the B.C. Book Prizes audience, "He's currently in California writing the screenplay." In truth, Nick Bantock was at home on Bowen Island and isn't writing the screenplay.
As selected by a ballot conducted by the B.C. Booksellers Assn., the other nominees were Bruce Macdonald's Vancouver: A Visual History (Talonbooks) and Nemiah: The Unconquered Country (New Star) by Terry Glavin and the Nemiah Valley People. The presenter was a friend of Bill Duthie's, Keith Sacre of MacNeill Library Service. From 31 fiction titles W.D. Valgardson's The Girl With the Botticelli Face (D&M) was selected for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. The author vigorously squeezed publisher Scott McIntyre in a victory embrace; the second memorable male hug of the evening. Valgardson, an enthusiast for the teachings of Carl Jung, cited the three main catalysts for his novel about male angst, a beautiful young waitress, the murder of a friend by her husband and a pronouncement from a painter that he was searching all his life for his anima. Valgardson repeatedly woke from his sleep to produce the text. "I woke up at three o'clock, got up, made tea it's a good thing I live alone and switched on my computer. I wrote from three to five. I thought, 'I wonder what that's all about?' I did that for 42 nights. At the end of 42 nights The Girl With the Botticelli Face was written." Other nominees were J .A. Hamilton's July Nights and Other Stories (D&M) and Linda Svendsen's Marine Life (HarperCollins). The presenter was Chad Whyte, president of B.C. Library Trustees. Judges were authors Marion Quednau, Bill Scherrnbrucker and Derk Wynand.
The emotional highlight of the evening carne with the presentation of the Sheila A. Egoff Children's Literature Prize. Sandra Smith, president of the BCLA's Young Adult and Children's Section, presented the prize to Native author Shirley Sterling for My Name Is Sepeetza (D&M), a memoir of a Niakapmux girl who contrasts life in an Indian Residential School with home life in her First Nations community. Sterling asked her mother to rise before the sold-out audience and be acknowledged for her role in sending seven out of seven Native children in the family to university. You could hear a proverbial pin drop. "I really want to thank you, Mother publicly and tell you that you're a great and wonderful lady.”I might add, too, that a lot of people are falling love with my Mum. They write to me and sometimes they say, 'We love your Mum'. So she's becoming a famous Mum. Thank you very much." The other nominees were Sue Ann Alderson's Sure as Strawberries (Red Deer College) and Ainslie Manson's A Dog Came Too (Groundwood). Judges were authors Kit Pearson and Judith Saltman; and children's librarian Janice Douglas.
Howard White provided appropriate grace notes, kept the show moving and reinforced his notoriety as the winner of a Leacock Medal for Humour. He concluded, "I think we've seen here tonight a very impressive display of creativity and talent which should make us all very proud of the literary culture in the province."
[BCBW, Summer, 1993]