Saturday was an evening of surprises when the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia presented the 2015 East Coast Literary Awards in the small craft gallery at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax.
First up was the Evelyn Richardson Non-Fiction Award, valued at $2,000. This award has honoured books by Nova Scotians since 1978.
“I’m so surprised,” said winner Kaleigh Trace, author of Hot Wet, & Shaking: How I Learned To Talk About Sex (Invisible Publishing). Trace’s first book is part memoir, part feminist guide, and outlines how she learned to know her body while growing up in a society that offers a very narrow view of what sex is and who gets to enjoy it.
“I feel like choosing a book that is exclusively about sex is really brave. And thank you for reading from it. I was really nervous for you,” she said with a smile to poet John J. Guiney Yallop, who read from the three shortlisted titles, which also included Heather Sparling’s Reeling Roosters & Dancing Ducks: Celtic Mouth Music (Cape Breton University Press) and Graham Steele’s What I Learned About Politics: Inside the Rise and Collapse of Nova Scotia’s NDP Government (Nimbus Publishing).
Next was the J.M. Abraham Poetry Award, with Justin Kawaja reading from all three shortlisted titles. The award, which is also valued at $2,000, was created by the local writing community two decades ago.
Susan Paddon claimed this year’s prize for her collection Two Tragedies in 429 Breaths (Brick Books). The book-length series of poems is written from the point of view of a devastated and devoted daughter who is obsessively reading the great Russian writer Anton Chekhov, while tending to her dying mother. Also shortlisted for the award were Brian Bartlett for Ringing Here &There: A Nature Calendar (Fitzhenry & Whiteside) and Sylvia D. Hamilton for And I Alone Escaped To Tell You (Gaspereau Press).
The most anticipated of the awards, the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award is one of Canada’s largest literary prizes at $25,000. The award was established with an endowment by Thomas Head Raddall himself to provide “the gift of time and peace of mind” essential to creative endeavours. Today the award is supported by the Raddall family. Sylvia Gunnery performed a short reading from each shortlisted title.
“I really don’t know what to say. I really didn’t expect this,” said winner Darren Greer, who penned Just Beneath My Skin (Cormorant Books). The book is a gritty, yet beautiful, portrait of a father and son, narrated by both and set in an impoverished rural Nova Scotian community. Greer was up against some heavy hitters in his category: David Adams Richards for Crimes Against My Brother (Doubleday Canada) and Michael Crummey for Sweetland (Doubleday Canada).