Passing judgment, picking winners

I was as nervous and emotional as if my own book were in contention for the $40,000 prize. Which was odd, really, because — as one of the three judges who’d read not only the four finalists but another 130 other titles besides — I actually knew which of the four fabulous books being featured at the lunch was poised to win the prize.

But seeing all of the authors there — writers whose work I had read and re-read, underlined and asterisked, discussed and debated with my fellow judges — and hearing the considerable virtues of each described by others and applauded by all — and knowing what a struggle it is to live on the advance or royalties that accrue, even from a book that achieves “best seller” status here in Canada, I wanted them all to walk away with sufficient resources to sit down and write again.

All four books that Paul Whitney (former Vancouver Public Librarian), Patricia Graham (VP Digital, Pacific Newspaper Group), and I had shortlisted are compulsively readable and offer multiple rewards for the time spent. In future posts, I’ll share some the things I loved about each of them. In the meantime, here’s the happy winner of this year’s prize: an understandably beaming Charlotte Gill.

BC Premier Christy Clark presented Charlotte Gill with BC’s National Non-Fiction award for her brilliantly written memoir Eating Dirt on February 13 in Vancouver.

And here’s how we described her feat:

In Eating Dirt, Charlotte Gill delivers an insider’s perspective on the grueling, remote and largely ignored world of that uniquely modern-day “tribe”, the tree planter. In the process, she enlivens the boom and bust history of logging and its environmental impact, questioning the ability of conifer plantations to replace complex ecosystems of naturally evolving old growth forests. Gill’s astonishingly lucid prose evokes a visceral experience of the frequently wet, often dangerous, yet surprisingly exhilarating hard labour of those working to mitigate the clear-cut collision between human beings and nature. And although by the end of each tightly crafted chapter, you’re desperate for your own 2,000-calorie meal, hot shower and insect-free bed, you’re compelled to read on. She writes the forest like Tom Thompson and the Group of Seven painted it: bringing it vividly to life in all its mythic grandeur with striking details and evocative analogies, using intelligence, verve and humour to illuminate the dangers that live within, and threaten from without.  

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