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Expanded Art & Words festival lauds top authors, stirs creativity

The Art & Words Festival, organized by the Sunshine Coast Writers and Editors Society, this year grew to include a race for book awards that drew involvement from publishers across the country.
Finalists and honourees in the inaugural Sunshine Coast Book Awards for B.C. Authors gather at the second annual Art & Words Festival.

Winners of an inaugural book competition for B.C. authors were announced on Aug. 12 during a four-day festival that also fostered collaborations between dozens of Sunshine Coast artists and writers.

The Art & Words Festival, organized by the Sunshine Coast Writers and Editors Society, this year grew to include a race for book awards that drew involvement from publishers across the country.

Meanwhile local artists and writers, who earlier this year were paired at random, presented original compositions developed in partnership.

The event took place at the Gibsons Public Market and attracted more than 400 spectators for author interviews, readings and musical concerts.

Interest in the book awards grew more rapidly than expected, explained Cathalynn (Cindy) Labonté-Smith, president of the Sunshine Coast Writers and Editors Society. The number of categories tripled from the original three — poetry, nonfiction and fiction — as entries arrived representing a host of genres. 

One hundred and sixteen books were ultimately submitted for evaluation by a panel of 25 judges that included authors, illustrators and journalists. “It was extremely difficult to choose winners from the high quality of books that came to us. Our judges deliberated long and hard until they felt entirely happy with their choices,” said Labonté-Smith.

First prize in the Indigenous Voices category was True Reconciliation by Jody Wilson-Raybould. Wilson-Raybould this weekend will deliver the annual Rockwood Lecture at the Sunshine Coast Festival of Written Arts.

Local scribes snagged top awards in two categories. Emily & Elspeth, by Catherine McNeil of Gibsons, shared the blue ribbon for Diverse Voices with Sharon Easton’s Beach Moose and Amber: Finding My Jewish History. The Sunshine Coast Voices category recognized Blue Portugal, by Theresa Kishkan, and Poems, by David Phillips, as first-place contenders.

Two books tied for top honours in the fiction category: Music from a Strange Planet, by Barbara Black, and Flight Across the Waters, by Ulla Hackanson. The award for non-fiction went to Lyn Baldwin’s richly-illustrated volume Drawing Botany: A Rooted Life.

Author and musician Vince R. Ditrich, who served as master of ceremonies for the award presentations, received first prize in the humour genre for his book The Liquor Vicar.

A category specifically for graphic novels and illustrated books recognized Exploring Vancouver Naturehoods, a book by Vicky Earle that explores biodiversity in one of Canada’s most densely-populated cities.

The sprint for best children’s and young adult book resulted in a five-way tie, including a book for young activists by Naomi Klein and Rebecca Steffoff: How to Change Everything.

The competition overtly recognized both independently- and traditionally-published books.

Awards were presented against a backdrop of poems, stories, paintings and photographs contributed by 38 randomly-paired collaborators from the Sunshine Coast. Multimedia artist Tam Harrington created a three-dimensional metallic brassiere, ornamented and filigreed, to complement a narrative poem by author Claire Finlayson — both titled Carapace. 

Photographer Sherry Nelsen turned her assigned writer into the subject of an artwork. Her image Del captures the writer, who penned a piece titled You Sit Before the Camera. Painter Roger Handling, renowned for his landscapes, combined oil portraiture and a computer keyboard to echo a short story by Robin Lamarche (Technicality) about the insidious mindset of online fraudsters.

The published Art & Words Anthology, which contains a full selection of writings and artworks, is available at online and area retailers. 

The full list of book award winners and honourable mentions can be found by browsing to