The West Coast Book Prize Society announced the 31st annual shortlist for the BC Book Prizes on March 11, 2015. The nominations include both emerging and established writers in seven categories, including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and children’s literature. The prizes are given annually to celebrate the achievements of British Columbian writers and publishers.
Several authors with SFU connections are on the 2015 shortlist, including Jen Currin, alumni and mentor for SFU’s Writers’ Studio. Currin received her MA in English, and is shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize for School.
Currin describes School as a “collection of poetry focused around the idea of life as a spiritual school, which uses the tropes, metaphors, and symbols typically associated with academics and classrooms.” It stemmed from looking for learning everywhere and anywhere, and finding it in unlikely places. “My process [for writing] is just try to be open, throughout days and life: everything is a potential lesson, every situation a potential classroom, every person a possible teacher,” she says.
As a teacher herself, Currin has taught at the college and university level for approximately 15 years, and finds that student writers can be far too critical of their own work.
But this isn’t isolated to new writers. Currin recently felt similarly about her own writing as she moved from prose to poetry.
“I’ve been working at prose for some years, but haven’t given it my all. It’s slow, and really difficult — poetry is difficult in a different way — because our hopes and expectations of ourselves are quite high, so you have to work within what you can achieve.”
Another finalist, Kevin Chong, is also a writing instructor and a mentor for the Writer’s Studio. Chong has been shortlisted for the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize for Northern Dancer: The Legendary Horse That Inspired a Nation.
In the Writers’ Studio, the cohort of 36 students is divided into four genres — adult fiction, narrative non-fiction, poetry and lyrical prose, and young adult and genre fiction. Each mentor is then assigned nine students in a particular genre.
“It was my first year teaching [at SFU] last year,” says Chong, “I mainly teach non-fiction at UBC, but I teach fiction at SFU, so it was really interesting.” Chong has authored five books of fiction and non-fiction.
Northern Dancer developed out of his previous non-fiction book, My Year of the Racehorse: Falling in Love with the Sport of Kings. The book began as a casual interest when going to the track with a friend.
“I was never a good gambler, I just enjoyed the ambiance — the old man ambiance. . .and it’s quite a high to have a winning horse.
“The bloodline of Northern Dancer is in about two-thirds of Thoroughbreds alive today, but most books are about his racing career instead of his breeding career,” explains Chong. Northern Dancer was a Canadian-bred Thoroughbred racehorse and one of the top champions of the 20th century in Thoroughbred competitions. The book was released last year to coincide with the anniversary of Northern Dancer’s win at the Kentucky Derby.
Northern Dancer was a move away from Chong’s more autobiographical non-fiction books, where “everything needed to be more grounded in personal experience.” As his confidence as a writer has increased, so have his writing interests. Next month, Chong will be travelling to China to write a food story for En Route magazine.
The BC Book Prizes hosts a free Soirée on Thursday, April 2, 2015 at Joe’s Apartment (919 Granville St, Vancouver) to celebrate the shortlisted authors, where the recipient of the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence will also be announced. This honour is awarded annually to one author who has contributed to the development of literary excellence in the province.
Following the annual Soirée, the BC Book Prizes On Tour will kick off, taking select authors, including Kevin Chong, to visit schools, bookstores, and libraries around the province from April 8–24, 2015.
The winners of the 2015 BC Book Prizes will be announced April 25 at the Lieutenant Governor’s BC Book Prizes Gala at the Pinnacle Vancouver Harbourfront Hotel. The event will be attended by British Columbia’s Lieutenant Governor, the Honourable Judith Guichon, OBC. For the full list of nominees, visit bcbookprizes.ca.
Nominees with SFU connections
Caroline Adderson, a former Writers’ Studio mentor and writing instructor in the Continuing Studies department, is shortlisted in two categories for two different books. Ellen in Pieces (HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.) is shortlisted for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, and Norman, Speak!, illustrated by Qin Leng (Groundwood Books) is shortlisted for the Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize.
Kevin Chong, a current mentor for SFU’s The Writer’s Studio, is shortlisted for the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize for Northern Dancer: The Legendary Horse That Inspired a Nation (Viking).
Jen Currin, a former Writers’ Studio mentor, received her MA in English at SFU. She is shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize for School (Coach House Books).
Margaret Horsfield, who received her BA in English from SFU, is shortlisted for the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize for Tofino and Clayoquot Sound: A History (Harbour Publishing), with co-author Ian Kennedy.
Christine Lowther studied English literature and women’s studies at SFU for one semester before returning to the rainforest. She is shortlisted for the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize for Born Out of This (Caitlin Press).
Roy Miki, professor emeritus in English at SFU, is shortlisted for the Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize for Dolphin SOS (Tradewind Books), co-written by Slavia Miki and illustrated by Julie Flett.
Michael Springate, who received an MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts at SFU and has been an instructor for the School of Contemporary Art, is shortlisted for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize for The Beautiful West & The Beloved of God (Guernica Editions).