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A Cultural Life
by Joseph Sherman

It’s time to establish a Prince Edward Island Book Award, henceforth to be referred to as the PEIBA in easy reference.

For 18 years The Island Literary Awards have honoured the best in manuscripts (with a smart emphasis on creative writing by young people) through a juried competition, completed with a gala public presentation of certificates and sponsored cash awards. No small number of participating authors have subsequently been published over time, but PEI now sees enough published books annually, written by a diversity of writers not infrequently honoured elsewhere for their books, and not here. Other provinces recognize their own from within their literary communities; we should now do the same.

I envision the PEIBA being juried and presented once every two years, and all authored (not edited) books published on PEI or by PEI writers elsewhere (applying criteria still to be determined) to be eligible. This too would involve a cash award: a certain amount for the author, a lesser amount to the publisher (by way of encouragement), wherever located. The amounts must be significant; I’ve an absolute minimum in mind.

Arguments are periodically made against the increase in the number of arts and literary awards handed out nationally nowadays, with doubts also raised about whether such prizes are a good thing and encourage true character in an artist. Given the way the world of culture operates, inclusive of its quasi-lottery nature where public funding factors in, I can advocate, shamelessly, for almost any legitimate opportunity to reward and celebrate writerly excellence, even if all excellences can’t be acknowledged in their best time, choices having to be made.

In essence, I see this establishment of an award for a ‘best book’ to be a sign of our maturity in the field, and a further incentive for others with the goods to seek publication. Promoted properly, the PEIBA will also draw the right kind of attention from all over to Island culture, specifically to its literary community and the PEI Writers’ Guild. There are all the details to be worked out, but there are existing provincial models for book awards. Let the PEI government, the corporate sector, and interested individuals take note: this needn’t cost the proverbial arm and a leg. A commitment to multi-year funding (remember that biennial aspect) is as necessary as it is advantageous. The PEIBA proposal can’t move past first gear a moment too soon, for my money.

My inveterate problems with depth perception led me to list, in October’s column, David Helwig’s memoir The Names of Things (The Porcupine’s Quill) for the wrong publishing season; the book seems more likely to appear in the spring of 2006. On the other hand, his novel Saltsea (Biblioasis) is due…sometime thereafter. Judy Gaudet’s forthcoming poetry collection from The Acorn Press, referred to as Untitled last month, now has a name, Her Teeth Are Stones; its launch date is still to be set.

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