The Boat People is up for two Atlantic Book Awards this year (yes, TWO) including the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award. With a purse of $25,000 for the winner, it’s one of Canada’s biggest book prizes and the most generous one in the Atlantic region. My eyes are crossed from now until the gala on Thursday night. (The event is open to the public, by the way, and you can buy tickets for $20 here.)
The best part though is the competition: Lisa Moore and Elisabeth de Mariaffi! Of all the fiction books published by all the authors in all four Atlantic provinces last year, what are the odds the entire short list would come from the same postal code? Yesterday morning the three of us had a chat with The Telegram’s Juanita Mercer and you can read her article here. The fourth sentence is a genuine LOL.
The Boat People is also in the running for the Margaret and John Savage First Book Award against Nicola Davidson’s In The Wake and Susan Sinnott’s Catching the Light. Susan is in my writing group and her gorgeous book is one I’ve been championing for a while. She is also (coincidence?) a neighbour.
Elisabeth says there are more artists per capita in the A1C postal code than anywhere else in the country. I don’t know if this is true but if you are an artist and independently wealthy, there are several nice houses for sale in our neighbourhood so COME ON DOWN. But please bring all your mainland dollars because NL has more mega-project debt than fiscal sense and all of us artists are subsisting on dwindling grants and dreams of winning the lottery. Yeah, yeah. THIS AGAIN.
Prizes are wonderful for publicity. The stickers glam up book covers. We swap yoga pants for party dresses and get drunk on good cheer. But bottom line: if you win a prize, it will be a significant part of your income. The Savage First Book Award is worth $2,500 for the winner. That’s more than most advances. Probably more than a lot of royalty cheques. The Raddall Family who privately sponsor their $25K award have chosen to be generous because they want to give the winner a gift of time. Time away from paid work. Time to devote on a new book. Most Canadian authors don’t earn $25K in a year. Not on their books, anyway. Side hustles and 9-5 jobs, sure. But not books.
A few weeks ago, NL had a provincial election. A few days before that, the incumbent Liberals announced a $5-million dollar commitment to increased arts funding. I didn’t go to the press conference. I was working on a paid project and couldn’t afford to take time away to hear about a last minute amendment to a budget that, by the way, still hasn’t passed. Now the Liberals have been given a second term in office so ….fingers and eyes and toes crossed, I guess???
I could not be prouder to be on the short list for the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award with Lisa and Elisabeth, to share space on the short list for the Margaret and John Savage First Book Award with Susan. NL authors are owning the podium at the Atlantic Book Awards this year and good on us. But can this level of output continue? What about all the emerging authors, the ones with unpublished manuscripts who are knocking on CanLit’s door hoping to get in? I’d love to say that in five, ten years from now we’ll still be seeing new and old faces on these short lists, that there will be grants and programs and paid cultural opportunities. But election promises aren’t paying anyone’s Light and Power bills. Five million by 2021. It’s what the Premier promised so let’s hold his feet to the fire until he coughs up.