The Value of a Thomas Raddall

The region's richest literary prize has made careers and given the gift of time to write
Donna Morrissey won the 2017 Raddall Prize

Since its inception in 1991, the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award has been one of the Atlantic region’s most generous art prizes.

The endowment for the award—named for best-selling author Thomas Head Raddall (1903-1994)—was seeded with $5,000 received through the Public Lending Rights Program. Over the years, it has been nurtured and tended so successfully by the author’s son, Thomas Raddall II, that the purse for the winning writer is now a substantial $25,000.

In creating the award, the Raddall family together with the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia sought to provide the winning author not just prize money, but what that money can provide—the “gift of time and peace of mind.” For writers who may juggle various jobs to make ends meet, nothing is more welcome than such a gift.

I asked authors what receiving the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award meant to them. Below are responses from nine previous winners.

I am proud that someone feels Atlantic Canadian authors are deserving and is willing to help us promote our writing that, in turn, helps us promote our unique way of life here in Atlantic Canada. Our population isn’t huge yet this award is. And I think it is deserving of as much attention, applause and recognition as its national counterparts. So hooray for The Thomas Raddall Award for best fiction in Atlantic Canada!

-Donna Morrissey has won the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award three times, mostly recently for The Fortunate Brother (Viking).

Winning the 2014 Raddall Award was quite simply one of the most satisfying moments of my writing career. Not only did it give me ‘time and peace of mind,’ it felt like a tremendous vindication for the eight years I spent laboring on my book. As any writer can attest, often, the writing process can feel like wandering in the wilderness, without so much as a hint of a sign which way to proceed. Even after publication, doubts can linger. The Raddall Award was a sign that I had gone the right way. And it wasn’t just a personal triumph. It conveyed the message that what writers do in Atlantic Canada is deeply important. We are not just entertainers. We are contributing to our culture in important ways. It’s easy for writers to feel as if they are practicing a dying art in the age of on-demand video entertainment. When I feel discouraged or tired, just looking at that medallion energizes me all over again.

-William Kowalski won the 2014 Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award for his novel The Hundred Hearts (Dundurn). His fourteenth novel is The Best Polish Restaurant in Brooklyn (Orchard Street Books).

‘The gift of time and peace of mind’ is certainly an apt description for me. I work full time in the newspaper business, writing a total of eight columns and editorials a week, so a prize like the Raddall essentially lets me buy time away from that work: it also puts my kids through school and fixes the roofs and lets me focus on the next book. Writing is so much a roll of the financial dice: the Raddall let me breathe.

-Russell Wangersky was the 2013 winner for Whirl Away (Dundurn). His most recent novel is the psychological thriller Walt (Spiderline).

Let me say that the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award means a very great deal to Atlantic writers and my two meant the world to me. And not just because of the generous largesse, but because of the name attached to it and the feeling you are among your own.

David Adams Richards is a two-time Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award winner: in 2012 for Incidents in the Life of Marcus Paul (Doubleday Canada) and in 1994 for For Those Who Hunt The Wounded Down (McClelland and Stewart).

When I was awarded the Thomas Head Raddall Award for Annabel, it came at a time when I’d recently moved from Newfoundland to Quebec, and found that my literary work was not eligible for consideration for local awards given in those two places since, by being nomadic, I did not ‘belong’ to either of them. When I was awarded the Thomas Head Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, it was a substantial amount of money and indeed meant I could realistically devote nearly a whole year to writing. It was a practical help as well as an honour. It being an Atlantic award, placing me and my novel as an artist and as work from Canada’s Atlantic provinces, gave me something else in addition to the practical remuneration. It gave me a sense of being valued as an artist in the very place that had fed my work. The award situated me and my work in a homeland, and that has given me nourishment as well. Both kinds of nourishment and support are vital to an artist’s work.

-Kathleen Winter was the 2011 winner for her first full length novel Annabel (Anansi).  She was a finalist for the 2017 Governor General’s Award for Fiction for her latest novel Lost in September (Random House Canada).

The Raddall family has created an extraordinary gift for writers. And yes, absolutely, it is the ‘gift of time and peace of mind.’ For a year and a half, it allowed me to write full-time on my next work, which has since been acquired by Penguin Canada. I find it difficult to write part-time while cobbling together pieces of financing to live. To not worry, to slip deeply into the creative, because that your job, is the greatest freedom. It takes time to write, time to still the mind and heart before you can hear the words. When that time is consumed by fear of bills and what’s next, the creative is jeopardized. When this happens, I find myself constantly battling for and stealing time to return to the page. The words come slower as I try to re-enter the interrupted lives of my characters, who don’t understand why I’ve been away for so long.  I am so grateful to the Raddall family and this award. I don’t know if they are truly aware how deeply it affects writers’ lives and their art. But I certainly do.”

-Author and filmmaker Shandi Mitchell won in 2010 for her debut novel, Under This Unbroken Sky (Penguin Canada).

Winning the Raddall was both a great honor and a huge windfall for me. At the time I won, the pot was $10,000. We had just replaced our poor old car. As all available capital had been commandeered for this project the sudden appearance of thousands opened up space that would otherwise have been filled by my working to replenish our coffers. There is no doubt that for me the Raddall prize money fulfilled the role intended by Thomas Raddall II. Had that money not arrived I would most likely have had to cancel my year’s winter writing season. When I won, that writing season was saved! Bless you Thomas Raddall. This award is a blessing. It recognizes Atlantic Canadian authors, brings attention to our work, brings us new readers, and offers the ‘gift of time and peace of mind’ that is the foundation of the award.

-Linda Little was the 2007 winner for the novel Scotch River (Penguin Canada). Her most recent novel is Grist (Roseway).

Winning the Thomas Head Randall Award for my first novel was an amazing affirmation of my writing, a life-changing affirmation. The honour led the way to wonderful publishing and teaching opportunities, and has helped sustain me through the ups and downs of the writing life. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Raddall Family for their generosity. Directly due to the award’s affirmation early in my career, I’ve continued to thrive as a Nova Scotian author based in Nova Scotia, and have gone on to publish four more books, with another on the way. In two words, what has the award given me? Staying power.

-Carol Bruneau won in 2001 for her first novel, Purple for Sky (Cormorant Books). Her latest book is the short story collection, A Bird on Every Tree (Nimbus Publishing).

At the time Acadia won the Raddall, the prize was only $4,000, but there was no “only” at that time – I was between publishers and running out of savings; the prize money allowed me to keep on working on the next book till it was in shape to send around.  And I do believe that Acadia’s Raddall Prize helped Nimbus decide to publish Three Hills Home. The Raddall prize also made it easier for Pottersfield to decide to republish Acadia after the original went out of print.  An added pleasantness about the award was the fact that in 1997 Acadia only existed as a mass market paperback – the kind the drugstores sell – with a generic cover, slapped Sout as a leftover contract from a downsized editor.  So it seemed to me that Raddall juries are more interested in the contents of a book than its presentation.

-Playwright, actor and songwriter Alfred Silver won in 1997 for his novel Acadia (Ballantine Books).

So, who’s up for the prestigious award this year? Stay tuned for the announcement of shortlisted authors for the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award coming up on March 27 at Alderney Landing Theatre in Dartmouth. The shortlists for the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia’s other two literary awards – the Evelyn Richardson Non-Fiction Award and the JM Abraham Poetry Award – will also be announced at that time.





Written By

Marilyn Smulders is the executive director of the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia.

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The Value of a Thomas Raddall

The region's richest literary prize has made careers and given the gift...
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