Cash-prizes ripped from book awards

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Mor­ley Walker

THE or­ga­niz­ers of the Man­i­toba Book Awards have been left with a short­fall of al­most $9,000 a year af­ter the prov­ince cut sup­port to three prom­i­nent lit­er­ary prizes.

The $3,500 cash prizes that ac­com­pany the an­nual Mar­garet Lau­rence Award for Fic­tion, the Alexan­der Kennedy Is­bis­ter Award for Non-Fic­tion and the bi­en­nial Rue-Descham­bault French lit­er­ary prize have been axed.

The Man­i­toba Writ­ers’ Guild, which co-spon­sors the book awards cer­e­mony each April with the As­so­ci­a­tion of Man­i­toba Book Pub­lish­ers, is­sued an open let­ter of protest to the pre­mier on Thurs­day af­ter­noon.

A spokes­woman for Cul­ture Min­is­ter Flor Marcelino on Thurs­day de­fended the prov­ince’s de­ci­sion.

“We’re tak­ing a bal­anced ap­proach — find­ing ways to re­duce spend­ing re­spon­si­bly while en­sur­ing that fund­ing is there for front-line ser­vices,” a spokes­woman for cul­ture min­is­ter Flor Marcelino said on Thurs­day.

“The prov­ince con­tin­ues to pro­vide more than $30 mil­lion an­nu­ally to Man­i­toba’s arts, cul­tural and her­itage or­ga­ni­za­tions.”

Book awards or­ga­niz­ers are hop­ing to re­place the cash with an­other spon­sor or per­haps give out the prizes with­out a cash stipend, Michelle Peters, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the AMBP, said Thurs­day.

“Of course, we’re pretty dis­ap­pointed,” she said.

Win­nipeg his­to­rian Al­lan Levine de­cried the de­ci­sion.

“How ut­terly pa­thetic that the govern­ment sees $8,700 as a real sav­ing,” said Levine, who won the Is­bis­ter prize in 2011 for his na­tion­ally ac­claimed bi­og­ra­phy of Wil­liam Lyon Macken­zie King.

“I see govern­ment fi­nan­cial sup­port of th­ese awards as an ac­knowl­edg­ment that arts in the prov­ince are worth cel­e­brat­ing. In On­tario, for ex­am­ple, the govern­ment has stood be­hind the Tril­lium book awards.”

The Lau­rence, Is­bis­ter and Descham­bault book prizes were in­tro­duced in 2000 by for­mer cul­ture min­is­ter Diane McGif­ford.

In re­cent years, about $30,000 in prizes have been awarded an­nu­ally to writ­ers at the Man­i­toba Book Awards. Th­ese in­clude the $5,000 Book of the Year Award from McNally Robin­son Book­sell­ers and the $5,000 Carol Shields Win­nipeg Book Award from the city.

Last year’s Lau­rence award went to David Ber­gen for his novel The Age of Hope. The Is­bis­ter award went to Win­nipeg Art Gallery cu­ra­tor Dar­lene Wight for her Inuit art book Cre­ation and Trans­for­ma­tion.

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