British Columbia's 2016 National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction
Mark your calendar for February 4th, 2016 at 11:45 when the annual luncheon hosted by The BC Achievement Foundation holds the British Columbia National Nonfiction Awards in the ballroom of the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel in Vancouver 900 Canada Place Way. Created in 2005 to honour Canada's finest nonfiction writers, the prize is one of the largest in the country - $40,000 will go to the winner.
I have had the pleasure of attending the past 4 years and look forward to this event again with fresh anticipation. The four finalists are always of a stunning calibre, and the topics of their books are as varied as they are fascinating. Names like Thomas King, Modris Eksteins, Charlotte Gill, John Vaillant, Ian Brown, Russell Wangersky, Lorna Goodison, Noah Richler, Rebecca Godfrey, and Patrick Lane are a few of the past winners.
However the erudition of the speakers chosen to introduce each author and their book is what makes this event particularly entertaining. I am quite sure that these four writers will not receive a better introduction in their careers than what is said about them here. Add to that the opportunity to mingle with a cross-section of BC and the nation's literati from Candian publishing heads to top literary agents to festival organizers, to university chancellors and MFA writing programs, to our wonderful library system professionals — all avid readers and supporters of the literary arts.
Here are the nominees **starting with my pick** for the winner... (—Book blurbs courtesy of the BCAF's Website.)
January 26, 2016 — The Right to Be Cold: One Woman's Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic and the Whole Planet by Sheila Watt-Cloutier (published by Harper). The arctic is an important part of our nation. More than 40% of Canada’s landmass is arctic and the arctic coastline is nearly 75 percent of Canada's total shoreline. The Right to be Cold tells the paired stories of the erosion of Inuit culture and threats to the arctic ecosystem in which the Inuit have flourished for centuries. This book follows the author’s career, which has been devoted to saving the ice-based culture and traditions of northern peoples. Sheila Watt-Cloutier makes a compelling case for paying more attention to the arctic, and for treating climate change as a human rights issue.
Stalin's Daughter: The Extraordinary And Tumultuous Life Of Svetl by Rosemary Sullivan (published by Harper Collins) This comprehensive biography delivers sharply observed and meticulously researched revelations about Svetlana Alliluyeva, daughter of Josef Stalin. Born in1921, Svetlana defected from the USSR to the United States in her 40s – leaving her young son and daughter behind – but she was never able to escape her father’s brutal legacy or avoid being used by governments and others in furtherance of their own goals and ideologies. Sullivan draws from many sources, including KGB, CIA, and Soviet archives and Svetlana’s family and friends, to create an intimate portrait of a participant in and victim of some of the greatest geopolitical upheavals of the 20th Century. This book provides unique insights, and deeply contributes to our understanding of many significant events of the past century.
Beyond The Pale by Emily Urquhart (published by Harper Avenue). Emily Urquhart’s memoir opens with this sentence: ‘My daughter was born with a genetic condition I knew nothing about.’ The condition was albinism and Emily Urquhart’s voyage of discovery in her book Beyond the Pale becomes our own. Harnessing her experience as a folklorist, she tells a moving and personal story with forays into history, science, culture and politics. The many insights of this powerful and sometimes harrowing story are beautifully woven together with prose that is graceful and honest. Ultimately it is a story about being different – how it can define us and how we can learn to understand and accept differences.
Stephen Harper by John Ibbitson (published by Signal). This book describes a contradictory prime minister in a contradictory country, and is narrated with great skill, executed with exacting even-handedness, and founded on detailed research that will tell most readers far more than they already know. Ibbitson describes the Harper we think we know – as mean, and as taking little pleasure in others. Then he tells us what we might not know – that Harper loves to talk to and play with children; that he favoured Israel in part to win the approval of his father, that despite ‘despicable acts’ that included a public scrap with Chief Justice Beverly McLaughlin and cancelling Statistic Canada’s long-form census, he handled the economy well (at least until oil prices plummeted). A more difficult biography to undertake would be hard to imagine, but John Ibbitson, Ottawa columnist for The Globe and Mail, has pulled off the near impossibility of a first-rate biography of a man who inspired anger and fear, and whose departure from politics is little mourned.
This year's jury is composed of Anne Giardini, QC, Chancellor of Simon Fraser University; Richard Gwyn, columnist and writer; and Hal Wake, artistic director of the Vancouver Writers Festival.