Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have long held a reputation for being great spinners of yarns and tellers of tales. Like saltwater, storytelling is something that runs through our blood and shows us who we are, where we came from and where we’re headed.
Our writers have been lauded here at home, nationally and internationally, and thanks to prizes like the BMO Winterset Award, the province’s literary scene is continuing to get the recognition it deserves.
The award was founded in 2000 by author/journalist Richard Gwyn in memory of his wife Sandra Fraser Gwyn – local social historian, author and staunch supporter of Newfoundland and Labrador arts and culture. Since 2010, BMO Financial Group have sponsored the award, which celebrates excellence in Newfoundland and Labrador writing from both emerging and established writers.
This past fall, BMO announced it would be renewing its commitment to the tune of a five-year sponsorship worth $100,000 ($20,000 annually). The new commitment sees the top prize climb to $12,500 from $10,000, while the prize for each of the two finalists has increased to $3,000 from $2,500. The juror honorarium has also grown to $2,000 from $1,500.
“BMO is proud to continue its support of literary excellence in Newfoundland and Labrador, through its sponsorship of the Winterset Award, and a thriving community of writers who share their creativity and passion and bring the Newfoundland and Labrador experience to Canada and the world,” says Jim Fallon, Regional Vice President, Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, BMO Financial Group.
Corporate partnerships such as this are essential and beneficial to both the arts and business communities says Reg Winsor, Executive Director of ArtsNL, which manages the award.
“For the business, they know they’re contributing in a valuable way to the development of a professional artist who will in turn inspire and touch the lives of many through the public’s engagement with their body of work,” Winsor says.
“The BMO Winterset Award itself has a certain cachet in the national literary landscape, and its shortlist and winner regularly receive attention from wider audiences. With BMO Financial Group involved, they know that a greater number of people will see their partnership in a certain light, and in turn the value of the award can be raised, as well as the recognition that’s associated with it.”
Winsor points to last year’s winner Megan Gail Coles (Eating Habits of the Chronically Lonesome) as an example of just how significant an impact the award can have upon an author’s career. Coles’ debut book has gone on to win other literary prizes, and she has recently signed on with House of Anansi Press, who will be publishing her new novel in 2017.
“By contrast, Andy Jones, who has been known for stage and screen acting and writing, won the (2012) award for the second installment in his children’s book series called Jack and Mary in the Land of Thieves. That brought interest to that aspect of Jones’ professional artistic career, and the Jack series was expanded with a third book called Jack, the King of Ashes. That third installment went on to be shortlisted for the 2015 Governor General’s Award for Illustrated Children’s Books, the 2016 Silver Birch Express Award, and the 2015 Ann Connor Brimer Award,” Winsor adds.
“In many cases, the BMO Winterset Award often leads to additional award recognition for the winning title, sometimes authors graduate to larger publishing houses, and they often enjoy additional media coverage. Additionally both the finalists and the winner receive a cash prize, which can benefit the author’s work in development, as well.”
This year’s finalists are Stan Dragland (Strangers and Others: Newfoundland Essays); Sara Tilley (Duke); and Leslie Vryenhoek (Ledger of the Open Hand). The Rooms will host a public reading, Q&A and reception with the finalists on March 23, while the winner will be announced during a ceremony at Government House the following day.