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2008 Libris Awards spread the wealth

Booksellers must have been in a share-the-wealth mood when they voted on this year’s Libris Awards, as all three nominees for Author of the Year went home with a prize. It was Lawrence Hill who actually won Author of the Year, for The Book of Negroes (HarperCollins Canada), while Elizabeth Hay took home Fiction Book of the Year for Late Nights on Air (McClelland & Stewart), and Naomi Klein won Non-fiction Book of the Year for The Shock Doctrine (Knopf Canada).

When Lawrence Hill stepped to the podium, he made sure not only to thank his editor, Iris Tupholme, and the rest of the staff at HarperCollins Canada, but also Sarah MacLachlan and Lynn Henry of House of Anansi, which published his other 2007 release, the non-fiction work The Deserter’s Tale (co-written with Joshua Key). When accepting her award, Elizabeth Hay made a special thank-you to independent booksellers, reminiscing about approaching them to stock her work early in her career. “[You were all] very sweet to me as you declined to put it on your shelves,” she said, laughing. (Naomi Klein, wasn’t present for the awards, so Knopf publisher Louise Dennys accepted on her behalf.)

The Small Press Publisher of the Year award went, for the first time, to Cormorant Books, which won out over NeWest Press and Arsenal Pulp Press. It was the third nomination for the Toronto-based house, and publisher Marc Côté took the opportunity to make a point. “Larry Hill published his first novel with Turnstone Press, Michael Ondaatje with Coach House and House of Anansi, Liz Hay with New Star, Cormorant, and Porcupine’s Quill, and Joseph Boyden published his first collection of short stories with Cormorant. We are the presses who bring you the writers of tomorrow,” he said, to cheers from the majority of the room. “Pay attention to all of them.”

The award for Publisher of the Year also went to a first-time winner, Penguin Canada, which won out over Random House of Canada, HarperCollins Canada, and McClelland & Stewart. Company president David Davidar accepted the award with very little speechifying, simply thanking booksellers for the recognition and thanking his staff for all their hard work over the past few years.

Peter Waldock, who took the podium for the second year in a row to accept Distributor of the Year for his company North 49, was the only honoree of the evening to openly address the touchy subject of pricing. “I think we’re going to have a good fall,” Waldock said, after acknowledging the difficulties of the past year. “Hopefully publishers will get their prices in line, hopefully there’ll be a strong Canadian list, and hopefully we’ll all sell a hell of a lot of books.”

The evening’s only double winner was Scaredy Squirrel author Mélanie Watt, who took home prizes for Children’s Author of the Year and Children’s Illustrator of the Year. Watt was at home in Montreal last night, so award presenter (and comedian and author) Sean Cullen filled the gap by riffing for a bit. BookExpo has the distinction of having the most expensive drink tickets anywhere. What a great combination: expensive drink tickets and an industry of alcoholics, he said. Then he pointed to the floor and added, And where can I get this carpet of bean pods and geometric squares?

The evening’s other winners were children’s bookseller Mabel’s Fables for Specialty Bookseller of the Year; The Bookstore at Western for Campus Bookseller of the Year; CS Richardson for Book Design of the Year for The Frozen Thames (McClelland & Stewart); Dot Middlemass of Kate Walker & Associates for Sales Rep of the Year; Anne Collins of Random House Canada for Editor of the Year; House of Anansi Press for Marketing Achievement of the Year for their Want a Bag With That? promotion; and Victoria, B.C.’s Munro’s Books for Bookseller of the Year.