Kenneth J. Harvey wins Atlantic Canada Reads

July 1, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

A healthy 1,140 votes were cast in Chad Pelley’s Atlantic Canada Reads contest, and Blackstrap Hawco by Kenneth J. Harvey has emerged as the popular choice, followed by runner-up February by Lisa Moore. The other books in competition were The Republic of Nothing by Lesley Choyce, George & Rue by George Elliott Clarke, The Push & the Pull by Darryl Whetter, and Annabel by Kathleen Winter.

From Salty Ink:

With more than ten books under his belt — books that showcase an astounding versatility in style and story, from creepy slipstream to innovative literary fiction — Kenneth J. Harvey has become an international icon, and “Canada’s heavyweight champion of brash and beautiful literature.” His signature style, and his graceful-but-gritty delivery has been emulated but unmatched.

Blackstrap Hawco was TSR’s favourite to take the prize, and remains in this writer’s mind one of the quintessential CanLit texts. The author has kindly granted permission to reprint a short excerpt from the book, which is in no way representative of the heterogeneous whole, but provides a small taste of Harvey’s Newfoundland. Congratulations to Kenneth J. Harvey, and to all the other nominated authors, and Happy Canada Day to y’all.

From Blackstrap Hawco:

There is not a worry in the kitchen. Not a speck of it, despite the fact that the fishery has failed that summer and the anti-seal-hunt movement has got its way, the know-nothing mainlanders managing to turn the seal hunt into the slaughter of big-eyed babies. They are a smart crew, though, for playing on people’s emotions and hauling in the dollars. As good a job as any, Blackstrap supposes. They’re on the television and radio all the time looking saintly, trying to sound like if only the baby seals could be saved from the ‘barbarian Newfoundlanders’ then the world would be a more decent place. At first, it was just a bunch of snotty mainlanders making all the ruckus, but now scientists are on the television and radio too, saying that the seal population has dropped by almost half over the last twenty years, and the only way to save the herd from extinction is to stop now.

Stop the slaughter, they say. Stop the slaughter now.

Quotas have been set up for the coming season.

By the looks of it, Blackstrap might be making his last trip to the ice this spring. He’s gone for the past two years, since he was sixteen, working right beside his father. The red fanning out on white. It will only be one of them going this year. Probably Blackstrap, leaving his father behind, back on land to putter around.

Blackstrap can’t help but think: That’s only the tip of the iceberg in the bad news department. It’s hard times right across the island. Paper mills shut down on the west coast. All of it being reported on the St. John’s news. The American army base in Argentia laying off seven hundred employees. And, worst of all, Newfoundland’s on the brink of bankruptcy, close to one billion dollars in debt.

It said on the TV news that just last year some newspaper in Toronto wrote that Newfoundland should be put under Federal Trusteeship because Premier Joey Smallwood, the last living Father of Confederation, the man who hauled Newfoundland – bawling and kicking – into Canada in 1949, is making a shambles of the economy.

He wonders why this is all happening, who is at fault. He feels like Newfoundland is doomed. He feels like someone is trying to kill the whole island, strangle it to death. Why is it in such hard shape? With all the fish and all the forests and all the mines.

Jacob doesn’t seem to have a worry in the world. Everything runs off him like water off a duck’s back, since Smallwood was defeated in the recent election. It was only by a narrow margin and Smallwood has since refused to step down, but Jacob still takes comfort in the fact that Smallwood lost, even if the premier won’t hand over power. Arrogant bastard, Jacob calls him. Nazi.

Dance, thinks Blackstrap. Kick up your heels. He takes a swig of his beer, then tips it all the way back, draining the bottle. Discouraged by the easy laughter, he scoffs quietly and lays the bottle on the sideboard, leaves the room.

© Kenneth J. Harvey. Reprinted by permission.


One Response to “Kenneth J. Harvey wins Atlantic Canada Reads”
  1. Helena Thomson says:

    No, I haven’t read “Blackstrap Hawco”, but I am assuming this quotation is a fair one to give the flavour of the book. I am a “come-from-away” in Newfoundland, living on the island (with some interruptions for the sake of my sanity) since 2003. I am also a veteran of the Toronto publishing business, in the days when Jack McClelland held forth at the bar of the Park Plaza with Mordecai Richler. I don’t think Marge ever sued for sexual harassment, by the way.

    At any event, I am appalled by the amateurish tone of this excerpt. It mixes a contemporary mindset vis-a-vis the propaganda war between seal hunters and environmentalists with the longstanding Newfoundland love/hate relationship with Joey Smallwood, who finally was defeated in the polls way back in 1972.

    Added to that is what I would simply call lazy writing.

    It seems to me that Kenneth Harvey, author of the promising early work, “The Town That Forgot To Breathe,” is now suffering from the chronic affliction shared by all too many Canadian writers – Critic Adulation. Allied to that ailment is the dearth of decent experienced editors, who have been replaced by waves of nepotism in the publishing industry, or else denigrated to contract piecework status for an hourly wage.