If you live long enough, anything can happen, publisher Errol Sharpe mused at the Atlantic Book Awards gala.
The 77-year-old owner and founder of Fernwood Publishing accepted the Pioneer Award after a standing ovation from a packed audience at Halifax Central Library on Thursday night.
He told the audience of authors, publishers and book lovers how after receiving the call letting him know he had won, he went home and looked the award up on the Internet reading words like "risk-taking, self-sacrifice and creativity" in the description and thought to himself "holy shit, is that what they think of me?"
"I see the award as recognition not of me but recognition of the less than mainstream activities I've been involved in. I sought to give voice to people who have been silenced in society," he said.
Born and raised in rural P.E.I., Sharpe started Fernwood in Halifax 25 years ago after returning home following many years in Ontario. In 1994, Fernwood established an office in Winnipeg. He is a former chair of the Word on the Street Halifax and the Atlantic Publishers Marketing Association. He also worked with Steel Rail Publishing, bringing to print works by poets such as Milton Acorn.
In presenting the award, Tracey Jones Grant noted Sharpe worked tirelessly to promote all writers and writing and she knew how many hours he had spent to bring her father Rocky Jones's story to print. After Jones died, Sharpe continued to find ways to make sure the story didn't die with him, she said, noting Sharpe continues to do what he loves — "advocate for the publishing industry in Atlantic Canada" — and makes sure books get into the hands of the reading public.
The Robbie Robertson Dartmouth Book Award (Non-Fiction) went to a Fernwood Publishing book — Viola Desmond's Canada: A History of Blacks and Racial Segregation in Canada by Graham Reynolds with Wanda Robson.
Reynolds, a professor emeritus and the Viola Desmond Chair of Social Justice at Cape Breton University in Sydney, talked about the long and wonderful journey of writing his book, beginning in 2000 when he met 73-year-old Robson as she entered his classroom at CBU.
The youngest sister of Viola Desmond, Robson excelled in her studies toward her bachelor of arts degree and inspired him and his students.
Their book is timely for the 150th anniversary of Canada, he said, noting it is a time to think of what has happened in the past and to come to terms with the skeletons in the closet as Canada goes forward to what he hopes will be a richer, more progressive period of time.
Robson, 90, said her life began at 73 after all her children had grown up and she decided to go back to university.
"I learned so much, not from books, but from reading. I learned something different every day," she said, noting she was honoured and lucky to have a sister who was a trailblazer, who had a street named for her in Montreal as well as a ferry bearing her name, a stamp and who will soon be on the $10 bill.
Her heartfelt speech, which included a wish that her mother could be there, was met with prolonged applause.
In all, 10 awards were presented at the bilingual ceremony hosted by CBC's Angela Antle.
Erin Wunker won the Margaret & John Savage First Book Award for Notes from a Feminist Killjoy: Essays on Everyday Life (Bookthug).
Wunker, who grew up shuttling between Ottawa and rural North Carolina, came to Nova Scotia in 2009 to teach at Dalhousie University and has since taught at Acadia University. She will return to Dalhousie in the fall to teach Canadian literature and feminist theory.
Wunker started writing her book, which was also nominated for the Atlantic Book Award for Scholarly Writing, after news of the Jian Ghomeshi scandal broke and finished writing it as the verdict came out. The book launch was the day after the American presidential election.
"It seemed impossible to write any other book," she said, noting she is pleased that newspapers are interested in talking to her about the book and talking about feminism.
The non-fiction essays that make up the book "invite the reader into a conversation about gender, feminism, and living in our inequitable world," says a description of Notes from a Feminist Killjoy on the Bookthug site.
Darren Greer won the Jim Connors Dartmouth Book Award (Fiction) for Advocate (Cormorant Books).
Greer, who grew up in tiny Greenfield outside of Bridgewater and recently moved to Toronto from Halifax, said it felt great to win an Atlantic Canadian award as almost all of his books have been set here.
Advocate, his fifth book, is set in 1984 and tells the story of a 40-year-old man who comes back to Advocate to die of AIDS.
"At that time there was no cure, most doctors knew nothing about the illness and there was a lot of hysteria, people thought you could get it from toilet seats, mosquito bites. The hysteria was very real," said Greer.
Not only the townspeople but the man's family have difficulty reacting to the man's presence.
"His family is Catholic and don't know how to respond. There are lines being drawn around disease, sexuality, race, age, every prejudice comes out."
But there are also people who respond with dignity, respect and kindness and that's where the heart of the story lies, said Greer, who is working on a new book he expects will come out in a year or so.
Jill Martin Bouteillier won the Democracy 250 Atlantic Book Award for Historical Writing for Sable Island in Black and White (Nimbus Publishing). The book was also nominated for the Robbie Robertson Book Award (Non-fiction).
"Great-Aunt Trixie would be some proud," said Bouteillier.
Trixie Bouteillier grew up on Sable Island where her father was the superintendent which encompassed many roles from governor to priest and lifesaver.
Trixie moved to Sable Island in 1885 at the age of five and lived there until 1910.
The book, described as "a richly illustrated narrative history that pays tribute to the everyday people that called Sable Island home," includes 140 historical photographs, virtually all of which were taken by Trixie.
"Giving an acceptance speech for the receipt of an award for something I love to do ranks as one of the greatest personal successes of my life," said Bouteillier, who was the last principal of Lunenburg Academy, which closed in 2012.
Lesley Choyce won the Ann Connor Brimer Award for Children's Literature for Into the Wasteland (Red Deer Press).
The Lawrencetown author said it was a very exciting time to be a Young Adult author and he had set out to write a very unusual YA novel using T.S. Eliott's baffling poem The Wasteland.
He said the book, about what happens when we die, has a fairly unusual ending, which he wouldn’t give away.
Toronto's Suzanne Del Rizzo won the Lillian Shepherd Memorial Award for Excellence in Illustration for her work on Sky Pig (Pajama Press), written by Wolfville's Jan. L. Coates.
Coates accepted the award on behalf of Del Rizzo, who described the story, in a note read by Coates, as an uplifting story of friendship that truly inspired her art.
Susan Tooke, who won the inaugural award in 2003 and won again in 2009 and 2014, presented the award and noted Del Rizzo traded in a career of scientific research for illustration.
"She brings dimension and energy to the tale of a pig who wants against all popular truisms to fly."
Neither Memorial University of Newfoundland professor Alex Marland, who won the Atlantic Book Award for Scholarly Writing for Brand Command: Canadian Politics and Democracy in the Age of Message Control (University of British Columbia Press), nor Kerry Lee Powell, who won the Alistair MacLeod Prize for Short Fiction for Willem De Kooning's Paintbrush (HarperCollins Canada), were present to accept their awards.
In presenting the Alistair MacLeod prize, which is in its second year, Alexander MacLeod said his late father's love of short story might only have been exceeded by his love of the region and noted his father loved all three nominated writers. Nominees also included Kris Bertin and Chad Pelley.
Lucy Jarvis: Even the Stones Have Life (Goose Lane Editions), by first-time author Roslyn Rosenfeld, won the Atlantic Publishers Marketing Association Best Atlantic-Published Book Award.
Winners of the Atlantic Book Awards
Alistair MacLeod Prize for Short Fiction, Willem De Kooning’s Paintbrush by Kerry Lee Powell (HarperCollins Canada)
Ann Connor Brimer Award for Children’s Literature, Into the Wasteland, by Lesley Choyce (Red Deer Press)
Atlantic Publishers Marketing Association’s Best Atlantic-Published Book Award, Goose Lane Editions for Lucy Jarvis: even stones have life by Roslyn Rosenfeld.
Atlantic Book Award for Scholarly Writing, Brand Command: Canadian Politics and Democracy in the Age of Message Control by Alex Marland (University of British Columbia Press)
The Robbie Robertson Dartmouth Book Award (Non-Fiction), Viola Desmond’s Canada: A History of Black and Racial Segregation in the Promised Land by Graham Reynolds with Wanda Robson, (Fernwood Publishing)
Democracy 250 Atlantic Book Award for Historical Writing, Sable Island in Black and White, by Jill Martin Bouteillier (Nimbus Publishing)
Jim Connors Dartmouth Book Award (Fiction), Advocate, by Darren Greer (Cormorant Books)
Lillian Shepherd Award for Excellence in Illustration, Suzanne Del Rizzo for Sky Pig, written by Jan L. Coates, (Pajama Press)
Margaret and John Savage First Book Award, Notes from a Feminist Killjoy: Essays on Everyday Life by Erin Wunker, (Bookthug)
Atlantic Book Awards’ Pioneer Award, Errol Sharpe