Monday, February 11, 2008

Lorna Goodison Wins B.C. National Award for Non-Fiction

Lorna Goodison, author of From Harvey River, a memoir about growing up in Jamaica, has won the 2008 B.C.'s National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction. She accepted the $40,000 prize Thursday with tears in her eyes.

"I am accepting this award on behalf of all the people from the Caribbean who are now Canadians, who hold this country dear, as I have come to hold it dear," said Goodison, 60, who is best known for her poetry.

She has lived in the United States as well as in Jamaica and Canada, now dividing her time mainly between Toronto and Ann Arbor, Mich., since she teaches at the University of Michigan. With husband Edward (Ted) Chamberlin, also a university professor and author, she cherishes holiday time at B.C.'s Halfmoon Bay, where she finished writing From Harvey River: A Memoir of My Mother and Her People.

At the lunchtime award ceremony at the Pan Pacific Hotel, where Premier Gordon Campbell spoke fluently about how great non-fiction helps readers to "move beyond the edge of what we know about ourselves," each of the three finalists for the award received an eloquent tribute.

Describing From Harvey River, Gary Geddes (author, most recently, of Falsework, poems about the 1958 collapse of the Second Narrows Bridge) called it "a paean to family." He said: "It's been a rich learning experience for me -- indeed, a revelation -- to discover not only fine writing but also an attractive and discerning sensibility" in the book.

Goodison writes of her late mother, who raised nine children, of whom Lorna was the eighth. Her hands always smelled of onions because of the amount of cooking she did.

Lawyer Keith Mitchell, chairman of the BC Achievement Foundation, which gives the award, said a thread about the importance of family runs through the other two books, as well.

Jurors David Mitchell, Patrick Lane and Sandra Martin, who chose the short list from a 10-book long list and, ultimately, 90 submissions, thought that Jacques Poitras's Beaverbrook: A Shattered Legacy (about whether the art treasures amassed by press baron Lord Beaverbrook were a loan or a gift to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, N.B.) would make as good a winner as Goodison's memoir.

"You're all winners today," Mitchell, a vice-principal of Ontario's Queen's University, had told Poitras, Goodison and Donald Harman Akenson before making the announcement.

Akenson's book, Some Family: The Mormons and How Humanity Keeps Track of Itself, is about the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the world's pre-eminent trove of genealogical information.

Paul Whitney, city librarian with the Vancouver Public Library, said Some Family is an example of "that sweet spot, for a university press, where academic expertise and research intersect with the preoccupations of the general public."

It's published by McGill-Queen's University Press. Beaverbrook comes from Goose Lane Editions, while McClelland & Stewart published From Harvey River (one of five books on the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction short list).

Poitras and Akenson each received $2,500.

The award, which was $25,000 in its first three years, rose over the summer to $40,000 -- the amount of the Griffin Poetry Prize and the Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Bonita Jamaica
Beautiful Place. Amazing People.

See you in Jamaica.


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