It was both a grand finale and a successful beginning.
The Atlantic Book Awards finished a week of literary events with a sold-out awards ceremony at the LSPU Hall Thursday night. Towering stacks of brightly coloured books dotted the stage as presenters from throughout the Atlantic Canadian publishing industry took to the podium to honour the region’s best writers.
The night was hosted by Amy House. The crowd was welcomed by Tom Dawe, the poet laureate of St. John’s, who told the crowd that, though publishing a book was like dropping a rose petal into a canyon and waiting for an echo, writers and publishers ought to stop and admire how wonderful that canyon is.
This is the first year the Atlantic Book Awards ceremony has taken place outside of Nova Scotia.
The Atlantic Book Awards Society says it hopes to bring the ceremony to a different Atlantic province each year, similar to the East Coast Music Awards touring cycle.
The Atlantic Book Awards celebrate the best in Atlantic Canadian writing, covering nine categories from illustration to historical fiction.
Included in this year’s Atlantic Book Awards were two Newfoundland Book Awards: The Ches Crosbie Barristers Fiction Award and The Bruneau Family Children’s/Young Adult Literature Award.
Ches Crosbie Barristers Fiction Award
In the fiction category, Gerard Collin’s short story collection, “Moonlight Sketches,” seemed like the underdog competitor. “Moonlight Sketches,” published by Creative Book Publishing, is Collin’s first book, and it was up against novels by two well-established veterans of the Newfoundland writing community: “double talk” by Patrick Warner, author of three critically-acclaimed books of poetry, and “New Under The Sun,” by Kevin Major, multi-award winning author of more than a dozen books for both young people and adults.
So Collins appeared shocked and overwhelmed as he made his way to the podium to accept his award.
“I just can’t believe I’m standing here,” he said. “To get this award means that somebody noticed. And that’s it for me. There’ll be no living with me after this!”
“Moonlight Sketches” is a collection of 16 short stories set in the fictional town of Darwin, Newfoundland.
“It’s a town full of survivors of various kinds,” he said, in an earlier interview. “The opening story is about the night before the Ocean Ranger sank. We have this fairy tale in Newfoundland sometimes that we sell to tourist about the happy small towns where the sun always shines. Well, this is an anti-tourism book of sorts. It’s a take on the dark side of Newfoundland, but it does have a sense of humour.”
The title of the book, he says, is a riff on Stephen Leacock’s classic story collection, “Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town.”
The Ches Crosbie Barristers Fiction Award was judged by Joel Thomas Hynes, Fred Armstrong, and Faith Balisch.
Bruneau Family Children’s/Young Adult Literature Award
Midway through the evening, Andy Jones took to the stage for a bit of storytelling. Moments later, he was called back to the stage to accept the Bruneau Family Children’s/Young Adult Literature Award for his children’s book, “Jack and the Manger.”
“It was really Halpert and Widdowson’s “Folktales of Newfoundland” that inspired this story,” he said. “I’m hoping that this story is somehow in that tradition.”
“Jack and the Manger” is a Newfoundland take on the nativity story featuring Jones’ well-known Jack character, a mischievous and loveable little boy. “Jack and the Manger” is the second in an ongoing series of Jack stories published by Running the Goat Books and Broadsides and illustrated by puppeteer and artist Darka Erdelji. The book was nominated alongside established young adult author Janet McNaughton’s novel, “Dragon Seer’s Gift,” and first-time novelist Susan M. MacDonald’s “edge of time.” In his acceptance speech, Jones thanked both authors — McNaughton for “blazing the trail” in children’s and young adult fictions, and MacDonald for pushing the envelope with her “avant garde” story.
The judges for this category were Ed Kavanagh, Susan Chalker Browne, and Charis Cotter.
Two other Newfoundlanders were in the running for an Atlantic Book Award this year.
Trudy Morgan-Cole’s book “That Forgetful Shore,” was nominated along with her publisher, Breakwater Books, for the APMA Best Atlantic-Published Book Award, a unique award that celebrates both the content and the design of the book. “That Forgetful Shore” was nominated alongside Doug Underhill and Goose Lane Editions for “Salmon Country,” and Chris Benjamin and Nimbus Publishing for “Eco-Innovators: Sustainability in Atlantic Canada.” The award went to Benjamin and Nimbus Publishing.
“This is a turbulent time for book publishing,” said Terrilee Bulger, sales manager at Nimbus, who accepted the award alongside Benjamin. “It’s so great to see so many people celebrating books. Every day, we’re wondering if we’re still going to be here tomorrow.”
Gander-born author James Candow’s book, “The Lookout: A History of Signal Hill” was nominated for the Democracy 250 Atlantic Book Award for Historical Writing. The award went to “Necessaries and Sufficiencies: Planter Society in Londonderry, Onslow and Truro Townships, 1761-1780,” by Carol Campbell and James F. Smith.
The Ann Connor Brimer Award for Children’s Literature went to New Brunswick author Susan White for her novel, “The Year Mrs. Montague Cried.” The book follows nine year-old Taylor, as she copes with the news that her little brother has a terminal illness. In her acceptance speech, White, a teacher, honoured the award’s inaugural winner, Nova Scotia author Joyce Barkhouse, whose book, “Pit Pony,” White includes in her curriculum.
Nova Scotian naturalist, poet and journalist Harry Thurston won the Dartmouth Book Award for Non-fiction in Memory of Robbie Robertson, presented by the Kiwanis Club of Dartmouth, for his book “The Atlantic Coast: A Natural History.” It was published by Greystone Books, in association with the David Suzuki Foundation.
The Lillian Shepherd Memorial Award for Excellence in Illustration went to Sydney Smith for “There Were Monkeys in My Kitchen” by Sheree Fitch. Mary Rose Donnelly’s “Great Village,” a novel about retired schoolteacher Flossy O’Reilly whose thoughts of her looming future brings up her long-buried past, won the Jim Connors Dartmouth Book Award for Fiction. “The Town That Drowned,” a novel by Riel Nason about a young girl whose visions of her town submerged come true, took the Margaret and John Savage First Book Award.
The evening concluded with a video tribute to Clyde Rose, founder of Breakwater Books, featuring poet Boyd Chubbs and artist Gerald Squires.