Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Saskatchewan Book Awards

We were all dressed in our best.  Brenda Niskala, Tracy Hamon, and Bernadette Wagner were all splendiferous in evening gowns.  Tracy's was so elegant that when she accepted the non-fiction award on behalf of  Alexandra Popoff for her biography of Sophia Tolstoy, Tracy looked like Sophia--or some glamorous woman out of a nineteenth century novel.  A close friend of mine wore sparkly silver shoes that were so pointy I could have quilted with them--and kept the stitches small.  Ever understated, I wore my simple black German dress bubble dress (a very subtle bubble, mind you) with a silver scarf borrowed from my daughter and hand-made jewelery.  The book awards organizers had thoughtfully ordered tiny orchid corsages for each nominee, which was a lovely touch.  Complete strangers came up to me and congratulated me simply for being nominated.  Frankly, I had often congratulated myself for simply being nominated.

Once past the obligatory light bulb jokes, (which makes me wonder why, when we humans gather, we need to laugh before we get to the important stuff) Sheila Coles was an enthusiastic and skillful MC, revealing how much of the shortlist she'd read, telling stories about how once upon a time--for two whole chapters--she'd had to badger her son into reading The Hobbit.  But the highlight of the evening for me was Steven Galloway's brief, funny, but affecting talk about making art.  Coming, perhaps, out of all the thinking he'd had to do about the importance, the meaning, the futility and the hope of a cellist playing in the blown-out streets of Sarajevo, he called the making of art "acts of civilization."  The original manuscript of Albanoni's famous Adagio (which was played beautifully by Cameron Lowe and Hart Godden for us during dinner) was recreated from the fragment of the score after Dresden's Library was firebombed, and made into something different but perhaps equally affecting.  So, too, do writers attempt to make the human condition new--to illuminate it once again, to see a different corner of our ethical dilemmas, to celebrate new joys--just a poets recreate language every time they turn the words for a poem over in their hands.  Each time we do this, Galloway argued, we re-make a bit of the civilization that surrounds us.

People kept asking if I had my speech ready.  I am a realistic person, and was simply so glad to have my first novel included with those of experienced, perceptive, skilled writers like Dianne Warren (whose Cool Water I loved), Sandra Birdsell, and David Carpenter.  So no, I didn't have a speech.

Okay, I'm a realistic person most of the time.  During my morning showers, when my brain isn't fully online, I let myself daydream a little bit.  I'd have wanted to thank--I do want to thank here, whether I won or not--the important people.  Ruth Linka at Brindle & Glass for believing in my novel and fondly badgering me to find the novel she knew was there.   The Saskatchewan Book Awards for creating this wonderful celebration of Saskatchewan's rich literary offerings.  The awards themselves are one of Galloway's "acts of civilization."  My daughter, Veronica, for the beautiful cover photograph.  My husband, Bill, for teaching me how much we can joyfully transform our lives in middle age.

But I'd also wanted to thank every person who wrote a letter or a poem or a journal entry, every person who told his or her friends a story.  Because these are two very important "acts of civilization."  When you sit down to write Aunt Mildred about Uncle Fred's death and try to describe in words what it meant to go fishing with him on Saturday mornings when you were twelve--how the river smelled early in the morning, and how that smell has become part of your gratitude for Uncle Fred, something you remember each time you smell water early in the morning--then you're trying to pummel language into doing its real job.

Or you might tell your friends the story about the time your Doberman ate a quilt block with pins in it and then pooped the whole thing out.  Curious, you washed it.  It was a bit paler than the blocks, but there wasn't a single tooth mark in it.  It had gone down absolutely whole.  Or the story about sitting on a beach staring at Lake Winnipeg, when your baby suddenly walks by you, swinging her arms like she'd been walking all her life, swinging her arms like she'd figured out how sand would be a great place to try this walking thing out.   These stories remind us of how rich and full of wonder the human experience is, unlike the cliched stories we read on the covers of fan magazines and the tabloids.  Because telling funny sad stories is another "act of civilization."


  1. Being in the moment and seeing life uncurl with words . . somewhat like the toes that greet us each morning. Yes they are always with us,those toes. However, the gifted writers like Kathleen and others give us pause to discover civilization all around us . .we are within it and that civilizing motion lives through us . . - BU.

  2. I'm not a writer, so hopefully this will suffice ... :)

  3. beautifully said as always!