Sorry this photo is a bit blurry but it’s a shot of the prize table before the Sask Book Awards Gala last night.
I attended as a volunteer and had a blast as always. My main duty was sitting at the nominee registration table so it felt like “old home week” as I got to greet authors, publishers, former SBA board members I used to work with and others I knew from the Sask book world where I spent so many years of my life but which I’ve lost touch with in many ways.
Highlights included having one publisher I used to work with hand-delivering a book I’m really excited about to me at the registration table . Another publisher locked me in a huge bear hug and blurted how much he missed my passion for the book business. Of course, there were also more than one “Hey, it’s you!” moments as I and others didn’t instantly recognize each other.
The Gala itself saw some the biggest changes in its 19 year history – or at least since it moved from the Hotel Saskatchewan to the Connexus Arts Centre somewhere around 1999 or so.
For the first time ever, the Gala was held in the spring rather than the end of November. For the first time ever, no meal was provided – only hors d’ouervres (er, put that on the list of words I never learned to spell!)
The Gala was moved from the basement ball room of the Connexus Arts Centre to the stage area. I believe it was a new designer for the video show of nominated books (but didn’t attend last year so this may have not been new this year.) I think ticket prices may have also taken another hike this year to $90/ticket (again, may have happened in a previous year.) The poster for the Gala no longer used the extremely text-heavy, traditional style of listing all shortlisted titles, the guest speaker, logos for all sponsors but instead, had a simple slogan along with only the main info about the event (date, time, location and guest speaker). [Edit: A colleague who also attended pointed out that in past years, they've shown sponsors introducing awards and winners accepting their prizes on the big screen which switched back and forth from the Powerpoint (well, not Powerpoint but whatever the high-end equivalent is) to the people live on stage but they didn't have this for this year either.]
Overall, I think it’s good to mix things up (even in the old days, the board would always try to come up with ways to make each year’s Gala unique – from offering different meals to decorations to ideas such as having blown-up covers of the nominated books decorating the room) but I do admit that, even though it provides better timelines for publishers and better driving for those coming from Saskatoon and other locations, I *really* miss the November date.
There are always memorable moments – both humourous and poignant – and this year was no exception. The humourous moment was writer Ed Willett’s daughter hopping on stage to do a tap dance after the MC joked that she (the MC) would have to do one to fill time at one point. A poignant moment was seeing the genuine tears of joy that First Book winner, Anne McDonald, shed once she reached the stage (then hearing the shouts of support from her friends in the crowd – members of her weekly floor hockey game, Anne announced and I felt yet another connection as that was a group of writers that I also played floor hockey with for awhile a couple years back.)
Having the Gala just before Christmas made the evening a way for writers, publishers and others to celebrate the year’s successes together. It also meant that book sales were massive – thousands of dollars in one evening most years – as people could be encouraged to buy for Christmas (the biggest book buying season anyhow.) The MC’s encouragements to buy books for Mother’s Day or Father’s Day this year didn’t have the same weight!
I don’t know where the SBA’s finances are at but getting rid of the meal, although it shortened what is usually a very long evening anyhow, also felt like a bit of a cash grab (again, that’s partly why I volunteered. It’s hard to justify paying $90 for a ticket when <grumpy old man> you can remember the days when tickets were $45/each, meal included.)
What else? It blows my mind that the Gala still basically has one part-time ED who gets 20 hours a week and another contract employee given the scope of how its grown and changed over the years. It’s great to see various corporations, institutions (including RPL where I work) and local philanthropists pony up with sponsorship dollars. But the SBA needs a better source of operational funding or else the recent trend of what, five different Executive Directors in the last seven years, will continue.