Fall is always a busy time in the book world, given the number of prestigious writing awards that are announced. Once again, UVic’s acclaimed Department of Writing was front and centre, with faculty and alumni popping up all over the place.
Writing instructor Madeline Sonik continued to be the darling of the non-fiction set with her much-lauded memoir Afflictions and Departures winning the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize. Despite being nominated against heavy hitter Esi Edugyan’s Half-Blood Blues—and having been shortlisted but not winning two heavyweight prizes (the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction and BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction)—Sonik prevailed at last, picking up the $5,000 hometown prize at a Victoria Book Prize Society gala in October.
A collection of first-person essays based on growing up in the late 1950s and 1960s, the jury called Afflictions and Departures “a wonderfully generous book that returns us to one of literature’s touchstones: intensely personal revelation rendered universal . . . what lifts Sonik’s memoir far above the mundane is her astonishing facility with just-so detail, her scrupulous honesty, capacious memory and mature insight/hindsight that gives the larger events of the time quirky and engaging asides in the personal drama. Her tone, cool and wry, manages to be simultaneously humane and funny, easy with her younger self and the reader.”
Local CBC Radio afternoon show All Points West did a series of podcasts with all the Butler nominees, so click on these links to listen to Sonik talk about her book and Edugyan talk about hers. Sonik also published her latest book of poetry this fall, called The Book of Changes.
Meanwhile, Writing instructor Patrick Friesen picked up the poetry prize in October’s annual ReLit Awards for his book, Jumping in the Asylum (Quattro). Also nominated for the ReLit was Writing alum Ashley Little for her novel, Prick: Confessions of a Tattoo Artist (Tightrope). Subtitled “Ideas, Not Money,” the ReLit Awards honour Canada’s independent pressers and while they may not come with a purse, winners do receive the oh-so-snazzy ReLit Ring—which features four moveable dials, each one struck with the entire alphabet, for spelling out words. We think that’s f-a-b-u-l-o-u-s.
Writing graduate Tamas Dobozy won the $25,000 Rogers Writers Trust fiction prize for his acclaimed book Siege 13. Much like previous Writing grad and multiple-nominee Esi Edugyan, Dobozy was also shortlisted for both the Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award. (For those with a yen for tracking literary prizes, one of the stories in Siege 13 won 2011’s O. Henry Prize for short fiction.)
The Writers Trust jury cited Siege 13 for illustrating “once again that old maxim: the short story can be both as broad and as deep as a novel. At times gently humorous, at times quietly wise, Dobozy’s thirteen stories dazzle with their psychological nuance and brilliant attention to detail. These stories are never less than breathtaking.”
Speaking of the Giller, Y—the debut novel by Writing grad Marjorie Celona—was longlisted for the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize. Despite not making it onto the shortlist, Celona’s Y was still considered one of the hottest books of the fall: the Globe and Mail called it “a stunning debut” and the National Post simply calling it “the book of the fall.” Nicely, the novel’s setting is Victoria and the YWCA on Broughton Street plays a prominent role. Celona is also the daughter of School of Music professor and filmmaker John Celona.
Also of note this fall was author and Fine Arts alumna Alisa Smith, who was one of five outstanding members of UVic’s alumni community honoured at the university’s “Celebration of 50 Years of Excellence. Smith, who holds a History in Art BA as well as an MA in History, was recognized for her commitment to sustainability via her famed 2007 book The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating, which she co-authored with partner and former UVic student James MacKinnon.
Since sustainability is considered central to UVic’s mission and core to teaching and research across the university, Smith very much personifies this commitment and was an apt choice for this 50th anniversary signature event. As the official citation notes, “the book struck a chord amid concern about climate change—especially considering that so many groceries originate from a distance of 1,500 miles or more . . . [and] coincided with widening interest in the ‘locavore’ movement and farmer’s markets. The book received a national Cordon D’Or culinary literature award in the United States and a Canadian Culinary Book Award, as well as the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Book Prize. Chapters/Indigo named it a best book of the decade. It is also reading material in colleges and universities across North America.”
And, as reality TV fans well know, The 100-Mile Diet was also adapted into a television series, The 100-Mile Challenge, hosted by the authors. It aired on Food Network Canada and Discovery Planet Green in the US, and in Europe and Asia.
Finally, Writing grad Judy Leblanc won The Antogonish Review‘s eighth annual Sheldon Currie Fiction Contest. Leblanc picks up $600 and her winning story will be published in the Winter 2013 issue. Not as big of a deal as, say, the Giller Prize, but well worth noting all the same. The Department of Writing congratulates all its winners and nominees, no matter how large or small the prize.