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2019 Newfoundland and Labrador Book Awards

WritersNL announced the finalists for the prestigious Newfoundland and Labrador Book Awards (NLBAs) this past November (2019).
For 2019, the Awards honoured excellence in the categories of Non-Fiction and Poetry.

Finalists for Non-Fiction:
– Stan Dragland: Gerald Squires (Pedlar Press) 2019 WINNER

– Anne Budgell: We All Expected to Die: Spanish Influenza in Labrador, 1918–1919 (ISER Books)
– Vicki Sara HallettMistress of the Blue Castle: The Writing Life of Phebe Florence Miller (ISER Books)
Jury Members: Russell Wangersky, Jenny Higgins, Bill Rowe

Finalists for Poetry:
 – Alison Dyer: I’d Write the Sea Like a Parlour Game (Breakwater Books) 2019 WINNER
– Helen Fogwill PorterFull Circle (Breakwater Books)
– Agnes WalshOderin (Pedlar Press)
Jury Members: Greg Pike, Mark Callanan, Patrick Warner

Each winner received a cash prize of $1,500, with the remaining finalists to receive $500 each.
The 2019 NLBAs were made possible by the generous support of the Pratt family, for sponsoring the EJ Pratt Poetry Prize, G&M Enterprises Ltd., who contributed to the Non-fiction award. We also wish to thank Rogers TV, NL Public Libraries, The Telegram, Perfect Day, and NL Teachers’ Association for their kind contributions, as well as Glenn Deir and Mary Dalton for giving their time to host our shortlist readings.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Book Awards are held annually by WritersNL to recognize excellence in writing by authors resident in Newfoundland and Labrador.

What the jury members said about the shortlisted books…

Non-Fiction Finalists:

We All Expected to Die: Spanish Influenza in Labrador, 1918–1919 by Anne Budgell (ISER Books)

Anne Budgell has written an extraordinary and essential work on a neglected episode in Newfoundland and Labrador history. At the close of the carnage of the First World War, the world then became engulfed by the so-called “Spanish” Influenza, probably the deadliest disease ever to strike humankind. It killed upwards of a hundred million people, many of the men and women in the prime of life. In isolated Labrador settlements, which Anne Budgell writes about, the flu was disproportionately lethal. The death rate in the Inuit communities of Okak and Hebron was over 70%. She mines memories, diaries, letters, newspapers, company journals, and government and missionary records to recount fully, with an unflinching voice, the appalling impact of the pandemic, and the apathy and negligence of official responses. But her story also tells of the courage and fortitude of individual men, women and children in the face of horrific tragedy.

Gerald Squires by Stan Dragland (Pedlar Press)

Stan Dragland’s Gerald Squires is no ordinary art book, no accompaniment or add-on to a greater body of visual art plates. Nor is it any sort of encomium.
It is, more than anything else, condensed and meticulous research working through a huge volume of documentary evidence, followed by a careful and thoughtful attempt to ensure that what’s left on all that paper actually matches the personal experiences those near to him had of Squires.
Then, it is delivered in detailed, precise prose that displays a complicated man, warts and all, in a way that makes even those warts something to behold.
It could be needlessly academic: it is not. It could easily be overcomplicated: it is not that, either.
Instead, this is a remarkably honest book written with great love, great care, and great respect for the artist it reveals and explains. That love and respect shows on every page.

Mistress of the Blue Castle: The Writing Life of Phebe Florence Miller by Vicki Sara Hallett (ISER Books)

By braiding together three major threads of Phebe Florence Miller’s writing life – her poetry, diaries, and letters – Vicki Sara Hallett has created a compelling and creative portrait of a little-known, yet utterly fascinating, literary figure from the province’s past. Hallett’s exhaustive research anchors the book, while her charismatic writing will captivate a broad audience.
The author’s perceptive reading of Miller’s writings is contextualized by engaging descriptions of the place, culture, and time in which Miller lived. The result is a biography that not only introduces a largely forgotten poet to a contemporary audience but also places her in the larger fabric of Newfoundland and Labrador culture and history.
A work of both the heart and the mind, this gem of a book will stay with you long after you have finished reading.

Poetry Finalists:

I’d Write the Sea Like a Parlour Game by Alison Dyer (Breakwater Books)

The poems in Alison Dyer’s I’d Write the Sea Like a Parlour Game are steeped in realism, particularly in the Newfoundland environment, its landscapes, streetscapes, rocks, flora and chickens.
Dyer’s poem “Why He Rested on the Seventh Day” describes a world post-Genesis “Roared, erupted, soft and hot. / Spewed viscous pyroclasts. / Hardened into tuff. / Steamed, cooled in showers of thunder. / Strummed, stroked, beaten. / Needled by rain, ice, and salty sea. / Prostrated into pillowed lava.”
Elsewhere the poems can be whimsical. The eponymous tree in “White Birch (the moon child)” is “A real arboreal fashionista. / Not so flashy as the maple (does she or doesn’t she), / no socialist hankerings like the spruce, // but your moon-dappled, tattooed-trunk-/oh so cool– /belies your heat, those BTUs of wild winter love.”
Dyer’s imagination engages nature not to dominate but to fuse perception with language, which she does admirably, page after page, often in miniature, and with surprising and affecting metaphors (as in the title poem). Her confident lines are textured and musical: “Knuckles of quartz punched out of bruised purple sandstone/ sea blue with scratch marks from wind and current, /and twinkling pools like barrels of marbles spilt.” (Tattoos of Signal Hill)
These poems are a love song to place and are to be savoured.

Full Circle by Helen Fogwill Porter (Breakwater Books)

It is no mistake that Helen Fogwill Porter’s Full Circle, the long-awaited debut poetry collection from an acknowledged cornerstone of the local literary community, begins with a poem called “Circle Game.” In alluding to Joni Mitchell’s song of the same name (minus the initial article), Fogwill Porter signals her collection’s similar concerns: the passage of time, the growth and maturation of the individual, and above all, the undeniably cyclical nature of life. But Fogwill Porter’s “game,” in which the young speaker is brutally beaten (by, ironically, a Sister of Mercy), is closer in tone to the threatening titular poem of Margaret Atwood’s 1964 collection, The Circle Game, than to Mitchell’s wistful paean to fading youth.
One of Fogwill Porter’s virtues is in balancing the book’s tonal registers, from the playful self-deprecation of “The Lady Vanishes,” for instance (“I used to measure five foot six / when I was young and spry. / Today I measure five foot two / O Lord I want to cry.”), to the more intimate, confessional vein of “The Dancer” (“My daughters think I’m sensible and solid, / someone who’s always there to call them in the morning, / to cook the roast and order pants from Eaton’s. / What would they say, I wonder, if I told them / I’d like to go play marbles in the mud?), or her sly skewering of patriarchal constructs in her revision of Rudyard Kipling’s “If.”
Throughout, Fogwill Porter reports on all us captives “on the carousel of time” with a kind and sympathetic eye, and from a vital, feminist viewpoint. Full Circle is a much welcome first collection from a trailblazer of Newfoundland and Labrador literature.

Oderin by Agnes Walsh (Pedlar Press)

Oderin navigates the flotsam and jetsam of Walsh’s mother’s descent into dementia. The poems stand stark and strong. The collection is cohesive and united. The archetypal conceit of a ship on the sea is rendered down to a craftless soul lost in the waves:
Tommy Donald, who spent three nights overboard,  “…held unto his father  and his uncle until  both slipped  off his fingers  into the black night.”
Tommy’s rescuer has to “fold him up / like a piece of paper” while his mind is “left / out there;” and likewise the reader wonders if Tommy’s story is a warning for the mother, or for the poet who clings to her.
The fairies, the ocean, the navigation of place, past and relationships, all explore the pieces as we go through the stages of battle, loss, and acceptance. It is as much about the poet’s survival as it is about the mother’s fragmented passing.
Walsh’s poetry is universal, yet grounded in local particulars. It flows into the raw and colloquial, and it bounces from light to dark subjects without breaking the overall tone and flow of the collection.
Oderin is a poetic study in self and identity that rings true and authentic, unpretentious and powerful.

2018 Newfoundland and Labrador Book Awards

WritersNL is pleased to announce the finalists for the prestigious Newfoundland and Labrador Book Awards (NLBAs). This year, the Awards honour excellence in the categories of Fiction and Children’s/Young Adult.

Finalists for the 2018 Newfoundland and Labrador Book Award for Fiction
Sponsored by Killick Capital:

  • BRIDGET CANNING for The Greatest Hits of Wanda Jaynes (Breakwater Books)
  • JOEL THOMAS HYNES for We’ll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night (HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.) 2018 WINNER
  • MARY WALSH for Crying for the Moon: A Novel (HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.)

Jury Members: Matthew LeDrew, Elisabeth de Mariaffi, Sara Tilley

Finalists for the 2018 Bruneau Family Children’s/Young Adult Award

  • LORI DOODY for The Puffin Problem (Running the Goat, Books and Broadsides)
  • SHEILAH LUKINS for Full Speed Ahead: Errol’s Bell Island Adventure (Breakwater Books) 2018 WINNER
  • REBECCA NORTH for Elliot and the Impossible Fish (Breakwater Books)

Jury Members: Theresa Uchechi Ezeuko, Catherine Hogan-Safer, Susan MacDonald

2017 Newfoundland and Labrador Book Award Winners

E.J. Pratt Poetry Award: Patrick Warner, Octopus (Biblioasis)
What the jury said about this book:
“The octopus, an emblem of the mind in the work of several modernist poets, presides over this collection, an image evoking fluidity, the hidden, the strange. Octopus continues to explore territory travelled in Patrick Warner’s other works; contemporary life is reflected at times through a Swiftian lens. The satire is often phantasmagoric, with elements of dream or of a carnival funhouse. An important strain of this new book is its enquiry into the nature of lyric and of mind. Warner’s skill with image and the musical resources of poetry makes Octopus compelling technically as well as emotionally and intellectually.”

Non-Fiction Award: Jenny Higgins, Newfoundland in the First World War (Boulder Publications)
What the jury said about this book:
“This historical book takes a timeless subject and leaves no stone unturned in its inclusivity of data in a well researched and well organized form. The book includes additional literary material which makes it interactive and entertaining. It is unique in the sense that it is like being in a museum and touching the artifacts of the soldiers from so long ago. Newfoundland in the First World War is an educational work of art.”

E.J. Pratt Poetry Award: Michael Crummey and Robin Durnford
Non-Fiction Award: John Nick Jeddore and James McLeod

2016 Newfoundland & Labrador Book Award Winners

Fiction Award: Michael Crummey, Sweetland (Doubleday Canada)
What the jury said about this book:
An atmospheric tale of a man who is so attached to his small island home that he decides to stay there when the whole community makes a permanent move to the mainland. Memories, isolation and hunger wear him down from reality into a haunted dream-state. Crummey effectively uses his seductive powers of plot and language, and originality of style and voice to take the reader along on Sweetland’s wanderings. Despite the strangeness, Sweetland is a very readable novel.

Bruneau Family Children’s/Young Adult Literature Award: Janet McNaughton, Flame and Ashes: The Great Fire Diary of Triffie Winsor (Scholastic)
What the jury said about this book:
Triffie Winsor’s diary shows not only how life can be turned upside down in the blink of an eye-but also how resilient and adaptive children are in the wake of a disaster. With meticulous research, McNaughton weaves an engaging tale of the very fabric of day to day life in St. John’s after the great fire of 1892, as the successful Winsor merchant family go from “riches to rags” overnight. Flame and Ashes, in true Dear Canada Series format, and with beautifully crafted narrative, will give all readers – young and old – poignant insight into an amazing “coming of age” story during one of the most important periods in Newfoundland history.

Fiction Award: Joan Clark and Sara Tilley
Children’s/YA Award: Charis Cotter and Susan MacDonald

2015 Newfoundland & Labrador Book Award Winners

E.J. Pratt Poetry Award: Carmelita McGrath, Escape Velocity (Goose Lane Editions)
Non-Fiction Award: Andrew Peacock, Creatures of the Rock (Doubleday Canada)

E.J. Pratt Poetry Award: Mary Dalton and Michael Crummey
Non-Fiction Award: Janet Merlo and Alan Doyle

2014 Newfoundland and Labrador Book Award Winners

Writers’ Alliance Fiction Award: Lisa Moore, for Caught, (House of Anansi, 2013)
Bruneau Family Children’s/Young Adult Literature Award: Andy Jones, for Jack and Mary in the Land of Thieves, illustrated by Darka Erdelji(Running the Goat Books & Broadsides, 2012)