Some Random Thoughts on the Sask Book Awards

Went to the Sask Book Awards tonight and if I'm counting right, it was my 10th anniversary attending the event.  (I've gone every year since 1997 except for 2006 when a little side trip to Ontario got in the way.  And even that year, as I was wrapping up my time at FIMS, I was hoping to find a library somewhere in Saskatchewan that would be willing to fly me back for an interview, as much as a chance to keep my attendance streak alive as for the job interview.  Okay let's be honest, if I'd gotten a job interview, that would've been the priority.  But attending the Gala would've been an awesome perk!) 

I remember the first time or two I went, feeling like such a rookie – not knowing the people or the writers or the publishers.  Now, I feel like an old hand, telling war stories and anecdotes of years gone by with former board members and others (“remember back in ought-nine when they had that special menu?  Hard to top that this year, I'd reckon!”)

This year's event had a Metis theme with Maria Campbell as the guest speaker, John Arcand as special musical guest and a menu that almost (but not quite) topped ought-nine with bison stew, bannock and various other items tied to the theme.  (Pumpkin cheesecake for dessert was maybe stretching it?) 

The awards themselves were the usual mix of expected wins and unexpected surprises which always keeps things interesting.  Also keeping things interesting was my tradition of trying to pick the winner just before each award is announced.  Last year, I went something like 2/12 showing how much I was out of the loop after a year in Ontario.  I still feel out of the loop about what's happening in the province's writing and publishing community compared to how plugged in I used to be.  But I am happy to report I went 8/14 this year. 

It's a unique challenge trying to pick winners since you've probably never read most of the shortlisted books.  So instead, you try to factor in a variety of things including the author's reputation and past history, who the jurors were and the biases that may be evident via the mini-bios in the program, who's having a good night and who's simply “due”. 

On another topic, I watched the Gillers on Bravo a few weeks back and it seemed to be a pretty white, WASP-y crowd.  In fact, I'd put the Sask Book Awards up against any other awards in the country for recognizing the diversity of the people the awards represent – Saskatchewan has an award every two years for books written in French, we have a First Peoples award, obviously with the theme tonight we recognize our Metis writers and publishers and then its little things like one of the surprise winners like Donna Caruso who lives in small town Saskatchewan but wrote her latest book about growing up with Italian heritage and beat out some big names to win the non-fiction award reinforce this notion as well. 

I thought about trying to tell a little anecdote about each winner (old hand that I am) but I'm too tired to do that.  I will mention that Pam Bustin won both the Fiction & First Book awards and was a crowd favourite.  I've known Pam since 1997 when I replaced her at the Saskatchewan Motion Picture Association (SMPIA) for a brief contract between stints at the Saskatchewan Publishers Group.  She's always seemed to be one of those people who are just genuninely nice and good and friendly so I couldn't be happier for her.  I had to go up to her afterwards and tell her what a thrill it was to go into Manor (pop: 305) public library one day last year to do a day's worth of inventory and see her book sitting right in the centre of their “New Releases” display.  (Libraries don't always do a great job of promoting regional authors and books.) 

Speaking of crowd favourites, you can't do better than Gary Hyland's two wins including “Book of the Year'.  Gary is probably as close to “the guy” as you get in the Saskatchewan writing community.  His contributions across the board are legendary
I had the pleasure of bringing him along with a couple other of my
favourite Saskatchewan writers to Red Deer for an evening event then a
reading the next day at Word on the Street.

I thought I wrote about this last year on my blog but a quick search shows I didn't.   Talk about being out of touch – I was stunned at last year's Gala to see Gary come on stage in a wheelchair.  I later heard that he'd been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease.  He's now completely confined to a bed (but still at home although needing round-the-clock care apparently) and was unable to attend.  But he was able to dictate some remarks to his good friend, current Sask Poet Laureate Bob Currie, using some special software that Gary operates with his eyes.  His first win tonight was incredibly touching and I couldn't figure out why people wouldn't give a standing ovation in recogition of all he's done.  But the crowd was smarter than I am and when they announced at the end of the night that he'd won the Book of the Year award, it prompted a standing ovation that probably topped any that have happened over the years at the Gala for all manner of reasons.

I don't know what else to add after that except to say that those are the special moments are why I came back from Calgary every single fall for three years in a row to attend the Gala and why I don't think I'll ever stop going.  I've had the opportunity to attend or view some other book awards programs across Canada and I honestly think nothing compares to Saskatchewan's, not the Gillers, not the GG's, none of them. 

Just being able to see so many people from so many walks of life in one place – authors, publishers, librarians, corporate and public sector sponsors, funding agencies, media and politicians – sharing a commonality of books is amazing.  Plus, you may even end up standing right beside the person who could be the next Prime Minister of Canada in the line to buy books after the Gala wraps up.  How fricking cool is that??? 

Comments 2

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    Ah, but you did manage to see the Jays during you Ontarian side trip! Quid pro quo, perhaps?

    Posted 01 Dec 2008 at 7:27 pm
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    You've got a point. Missing the Book Awards for one year was worth all the things we got to do during our year in Ontario *including* the Jays game.

    Posted 13 Dec 2008 at 7:04 am

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