In an emotion-filled evening, the Book Publishers Association of Alberta and the Writers Guild of Alberta honoured the province’s literati at the 2012 Alberta Book Awards Gala, held at Calgary’s trendy Hotel Arts on June 9, 2012, in conjunction with the Writers Guild of Alberta’s 2012 conference, “The Adventure of the Process.” Over 200 individuals attended the gala, at which 20 awards were handed out to authors and publishers. I was in the midst of moving my home/office at the time so alas could not attend the awards myself. However, Cynthia Dusseault, who recently took over the job of putting together the media personalities profiles for mediamag blog our enewsletter mediamag ezine, agreed to provide a write-up on her experience at the awards. Here is what she had to say about them.
Paul Kennett, co-host of CJSW’s Writer’s Block, emceed the event, which kicked off with a moving keynote, delivered by Jackie Flanagan, founder and former publisher of the respected magazine, Alberta Views. Calling Alberta authors “the creators of our own unique indigenous heritage,” Flanagan applauded the “literary outpouring” that characterizes the province’s book publishing industry. She took the audience back to 1922, when a man named Frederick Millet Salter came to teach English at the University of Alberta. In 1939, he started the university’s writing program, and went on to teach some of Alberta’s—and Canada’s—literary greats, including W.O. Mitchell and Ruby Wiebe, who in turn went on to mentor the next generation of authors. Flanagan encouraged writers to continue writing stories about what they know, and thereby continue to be “generators of new culture.”
Highlights for me included the Lifetime Achievement Award, presented to an individual in recognition of service to the book publishing industry. Diane Bessai, who started NeWest Press in her kitchen 35 years ago, was the recipient. Fred Stenson was the recipient of the WGA Golden Pen Award, acknowledging an Alberta writer’s lifetime achievements.
Beloved Alberta poet Alice Major was awarded the Wilfrid Eggleston Award for Nonfiction, named after the Alberta-born journalist who founded the Carleton School of Journalism. Major won the award for Intersecting Sets: A Poet Looks at Science, a book in which she explores the science behind creativity, specifically how science has influenced the writing of poetry. Betty Jane Hegerat was also nominated for this award, for The Boy, which tells the tragic story of the Cook family, all seven of whom were slain in their Stettler home in 1959, by the son of the father, Ray Cook, from a previous marriage. The third nominee was investigative journalist Andrew Nikiforuk, for Empire of the Beetle: How Human Folly and a Tiny Bug Are Killing North America’s Great Forests, which examines the beetle plague and how humans helped this tiny creature engineer a massive deforestation operation.
I left the gala with the sense that the Alberta literary scene is much richer than most people imagine, and I also left with a list of must-reads to add to my already massive must-read list. On Sunday morning, prolific, award-winning author Sharon Butala, in a startlingly honest and insightful keynote, reminded us that we should be careful of how we view literary awards, because award winners are determined by juries composed of subjective individuals. So, it’s not necessarily the best book that wins; it’s the luckiest.
Bottom line: Read! Read the award-winning books. Read the nominated books. Read Alberta authors, and embrace the literary heritage they create.
Highlights of the evening included in the release issued by the Writers Guild of Albert announcing the award winners:
- Cathy Ostlere received the R. Ross Annett Award for Children’s Literature for her second novel, Karma.
- Having been previously shortlisted for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize, The Antagonist by Lynn Coady walked away with the Georges Bugnet Award for Fiction.
- Alice Major successfully transcended genres by receiving the Wilfrid Eggleston Award for Nonfiction for her book, Intersecting Sets: A Poet Looks at Science.
- Award winning Edmonton Playwright, Nicole Moeller received the Gwen Pharis Ringwood Award for Drama for An Almost Perfect Thing.
- Recognized for his book, Tenderman, Tim Bowling received his sixth Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry.
- Grande Prairie author and up-and-coming talent, Alison Karlene Hodgins walked away with the Amber Bowerman Memorial Travel Writing Award for her piece “A World Away.”
- Canadian Authors Association Writer-in-Residence for Northern Alberta, Jannie Edwards, won the James H. Gray Award for Short Nonfiction for “All Night Mirror: Notes Toward an Elegy.”
- The Howard O’Hagan Award for Short Story went to Lethbridge Author Amy Bright’s “Look at it This Way.”
- The Writers Guild of Alberta presented the Golden Pen Award for Lifetime Achievement to Fred Stenson.
This celebration marked the 30th anniversary of the Alberta Literary Awards and brought writers from across Alberta and Canada. The Edmonton Public Library also presented the winner of the highly anticipated Alberta Readers’ Choice Award to Wayne Arthurson for his book Fall from Grace.
The Alberta Literary Awards were created by the Writers Guild of Alberta in 1982 to recognize excellence in writing by Alberta authors. This year, jurors deliberated over 195 submissions to select 23 finalists in eight categories.
The Writers Guild of Alberta is the largest provincial writers’ organization in Canada, and was formed in 1980 to provide a meeting ground and collective voice for the writers of the province. Its mission is to inspire, connect, support, encourage and promote writers and writing, to safeguard the freedom to write and to read, and to advocate for the well-being of writers.
For more information, please contact the Writers Guild of Alberta at (780) 422-8174 or visit www.writersguild.ab.ca.