Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Ottawa Literary Awards Winners Announced: Stephen Brockwell wins Archibald Lampman

Not only has Ottawa a rich literary history, but also an active writing community. Just ask local Ottawa literary archivist Steve Artelle, who recently told me a little about the lit history of the city, “Ottawa's literary environment arguably goes back to aboriginal oral traditions, though it was Samuel de Champlain's 17th-century journal entries that kick off a local Euro-Canadian literary tradition. In terms of poetry, the contemporary scene usually traces its roots back to the arrival of Archibald Lampman in the city in 1883.” Steve also provides historical literary walking tours in Ottawa’s downtown, and can be reached at ottawaliterary@yahoo.ca.

Given this history, it’s no surprise that the city honours area writers through an annual literary appreciation ceremony. Ottawa arts representative Faith Seltzer told me that the Ottawa Book Awards, one award portion of the literary ceremony, was introduced in 1986 through the old Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton Government Council. The awards origins were formed from the “Ottawa Literary Awards Ceremony, originally a culminating event of the Ottawa Valley Book Festival, a 10 day literary festival”. Each year an annual $2,500 prize is awarded in 4 categories: English fiction, English non-fiction, French fiction and French non-fiction. Two of this year’s winners were Poached Egg on Toast by Frances Itani and From Telegrapher to Titan: The Life of William C. Van Horne by Valerie Knowles. The ceremony also acknowledged the best of show among the evening’s 10 different categories, such as the Canadian Authors Association National Capital Writing Award, this year presented to Betty Warrington-Kearsley, the Duncan Campbell Scott Non-Fiction Prose Contest, given to local musician and writer Alex Mortimer for his entry The Unsweet Science: Secrets of Semi-Pro Weight Guessing (a tale of how to make it as a carnival weight guesser), and the Ottawa Public Library Short Story Contest, awarded to John Blackmore, who reminded us to renew our library cards and to regard any unpleasant hike in the yearly tax assessment as our contribution to reading and supporting the library network. An articulate grade 8 student, Bushra Sultana Khan, wowed the crowd with her acceptance speech, winning in the young adult short story category for The Black Veil. Adult short story winner Gertrud Baer’s piece, written after immigrating from Germany, lingered for years in a drawer before she translated it to English, polished it up and submitted.

The literary awards also recognize the best book of poetry published in the capital each year, named after Archibald Lampman, former Ottawa first-rate metaphysical poet, and was bestowed upon local poet Stephen Brockwell for his collection Fruitfly Geographic. Accepted by Ronnie Brown, Stephen made special note of Ottawa being a very center of writing, and thanked the Ottawa International Writers festival and other local poets for making it so. Stephen tells me he received the news that he'd won by e-mail. I asked him if the award changed the way he views his writing or affects his placement or statement as a poet. He answers, "No...but there is a Vegas aspect [to] any such award: three jurors are not likely to pick your book because few books please everbody. Anyone who wins is fortunate... their work pleased the judges at that moment in time. I think it's important to be genuinely honoured--because the other work is also excellent." Brockwell also expanded on the difficulty of the judge's process and of those Ottawa poets that have been unfairly looked over, "In past years I've been personally astonished that so-and-so has not been on the short list, or that so-and-so didn't win. The judges have a tough job. And the editors of Arc have a tough job too. I'd personally like to see more awards for iconoclastic poets who step on toes and push boundaries. But that's my personal taste and if I'm ever on a jury and a book comes along that's strong and satisfies that aspect of my aesthetics, maybe I'll give it my vote. As far as my place... maybe it will result in Fruitfly having a readership of two hundred people!"

Of the awards winners, some of the winning entries will appear in the public library’s Preview, the Ottawa Citizen, and local publication Gristmill. For further information on the award categories, or the 2005 nominated authors, visit the City of Ottawa Web site at www.ottawa.ca/arts.

Congratulations Stephen!

Wanda O'Connor

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