Brown wins the Trillium, Smith comes clean about publishing “hotties,” and Atlantic Canada Reads moves into the home stretch

June 24, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Remember way back in January, when yr. humble correspondent wrote about the apparent sexism in literary awards and best-of lists that tend to disproportionately reward male authors and ignore their female counterparts? Remember the Charles Taylor Prize shortlist that precipitated that post, the one that was the exclusive domain of four middle-aged white dudes? Remember more recently, when I pointed to the surprisingly robust (seven-title) shortlist for the 23rd annual Trillium Book Award, which featured six women and one lone man (the same middle-aged white dude who won the Charles Taylor Prize, in fact)? Well, the Trillium winner was announced at a luncheon in Toronto today, and the $20,000 prize was awarded to … Ian Brown, the lone nominee in possession of a Y chromosome. (Brown beat out heavyweights Alice Munro, Anne Michaels, and Margaret Atwood, as well as short-story writer Alexandra Leggat and novelists Emily Schultz and Cordelia Strube.)

Now, I don’t want to suggest that Brown won because he is a man. That would be ludicrous. His book, The Boy in the Moon: A Father’s Search for His Disabled Son, has been a critical and commercial success, and had already won the B.C. National Book Award for Non-fiction in addition to the Charles Taylor Prize. The jury that awarded him the Trillium was composed of two women, editor Meg Tayor and author Ibi Kaslik, as well as poet Robert Winger. I have no doubt that they made their decision based on literary merit alone (and the usual horse trading that goes along with a three-person jury). Still, the fact that the lone man in a seven-person field emerged victorious will not do much to quell the rumblings of institutional sexism that have been heard in some literary circles recently.

And speaking of sexism, Russell Smith, charging in where angels (and weak-kneed devils) fear to tread, has a column in today’s Globe and Mail in which he posits that Canadian publishing is replete with – how does one put this delicately? – women of a certain pulchritudinous nature:

From our point of view, it’s hard not to have a constant crush on all these gorgeous 32-year-olds with graduate degrees from McGill. At the moment, since I’ve just published a novel, the most important professional contacts in my literary life are my editor, my agent and my publicist. By a fluke not unusual in publishing, each one of these happens to be shockingly beautiful. And of course bookish, fashionable, sophisticated, funny, all the rest. Totally unbelievable hotties. Honestly, I don’t know which one I am more in love with. And you have to spend time with them, not just talking about how long the sex scene should go on but also about how brilliant you are. And you have to go to all those fancy awards dinners with the free bar and all the backless gowns. How does a guy cope?

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Smith is engaging in a kind of Martin Amis-esque provocation here, and the fact of the matter is that if you cut through the deliberately exaggerated rhetoric, he makes a couple of good points. Men (at least, healthy heterosexual men) are attracted to members of the opposite sex. In a professional situation, the smart ones exercise the kind of self-control that human beings are known for (much of the time, anyway). Having said that, the fact that Smith frames his discussion in the context of the recent sexual harassment scandal at Penguin Canada leads one to the inevitable conclusion that the use of the term “unbelievable hotties” and the attendant declaration of lust represents, at the very least, an error in judgment. In a more troubling vein, it lends credence to the notion that men value the women in publishing more for their bodies than their brains, which is exactly the attitude that needs to be overcome if we are ever to move past the divisive events of the last few weeks.

On a more positive – and completely unrelated – note, Chad Pelley’s Atlantic Canada Reads competition has kicked into high gear. The books have been chosen and defended, and voting has begun. The six candidates in contention are:

Lisa Moore’s February, defended by Trish Osuch
Kenneth J. Harvey’s Blackstrap Hawco, defended by Perry Moore
Lesley Choyce’s The Republic of Nothing, defended by Stephen Patrick Clare
George Elliot Clarke’s George & Rue, defended by Matt Stranach
Darryl Whetter’s The Push & The Pull, defended by Nicole Dixon
Kathleen Winter’s Annabel, defended by Laura Repas

It shouldn’t be hard to guess which of these titles yr. humble correspondent is pulling for, but in case you’re wondering, you can mosey on over to Salty Ink, where a few literary types give brief pitches for their favourites from this dirty half-dozen.

Introducing: Atlantic Canada Reads

May 12, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Chad Pelley is the Newfoundland-based author of Away from Everywhere, a book that has been on yr. humble correspondent’s to-read list for several months now. He’s also the brains behind Salty Ink, a literary site devoted to Atlantic Canadian writers and writing. In the latter capacity, he’s inaugurated a program called Atlantic Canada Reads, modelled on the CBC’s annual literary smackdown, Canada Reads, and the National Post‘s upstart alternative, Canada Also Reads. Pelley’s asking people to e-mail him with suggestions for an Atlantic Canadian book of fiction they’d like to defend. He’ll narrow the submissions down to a longlist that will be revealed on June 1, followed by a “well-rounded” shortlist with accompanying essays from the selected books’ defenders beginning June 14. The winner by popular vote will be announced on Canada Day (July 1 for all you non-Canuks out there).

TSR caught up with Pelley to discuss the impetus behind this newest variation on the Canada Reads template.

TSR: Why an Atlantic Canadian version of Canada (Also) Reads?

Chad Pelley: The simple answer: Salty Ink’s niche, or mandate, is to promote Atlantic Canadian fiction and poetry. Hence Atlantic Canada reads. The goal here is simply to have fun promoting books. As for why I played off the popular Canada Reads competition, especially since The Afterword recently played off the same competition with Canada Also Reads … I thought the title was catchy. I could be accused of ripping off two great competitions, but I really see it as a nod to CBC and The Afterword. Salty Ink is young, having only been launched in November, and given its esoteric niche, doesn’t have the readership those other places have. Atlantic Canada Reads will grab more attention than a similar but differently titled competition.

TSR: How have you been influenced by Atlantic Canadian writers?

CP: I’m a writer myself, who wasn’t entirely aware of this this influence until my debut novel came out in 2009. I did quite a few radio shows and interviews, and every time I was asked about influences, I realized it was consistently a Newfoundland author, if not an Atlantic Canadian. There is such a diversity of style, delivery, and subject matter coming out of here. I consider myself a “best of collection” of my favourite books (but by no means as “good” as these authors). I like the sentence-level evocative elegance of Lisa Moore’s writing, I like Michael and Kathleen Winter’s attention to detail, I admire Kenneth J. Harvey’s versatility in style and story and his trademark graceful grittiness, I like Jessica Grant’s fresh, unique stories and how she delivers them, I like how Michael Crummey constructs a novel, I’m floored at what Amy Jones does with narrative structure … and I could keep going and going. I like how David Adams Richards’ Mercy Among the Children was like getting your heart stomped on, it was that engaging.

TSR: Do you think these kinds of competitions/lists (e.g. Stephen Patrick Clare and Trevor J. Adams’ book Atlantic Canada’s 100 Greatest Books) have literary legitimacy? Should literature be considered a contest, or is the merit of these endeavours simply in bringing attention to work that might otherwise get overlooked?

CP: I think the notion of competitions and awards is fundamentally absurd – how can you really compare two works of fiction? On what grounds? And every judge, no matter how objective, has a bias. But competitions are a good form of promotion nonetheless. And recognition. I can’t speak for others, but in my case, everything Salty Ink does is intended to be all for fun in the name of book promotion. As an “emerging” writer, I am well aware how important promotion and word of mouth are in this industry. The stat is that someone needs to hear about a book seven to 11 times before they’ll buy it. Salty Ink is just trying to be one or two of those influential mentions.