Fourteen months after declaring that the venerable Canadian Jewish Book Awards would go on a year-long hiatus, the Koffler Centre of the Arts announced last week the formation of a “prestigious” and far more lucrative apparatus for literary prizes, the Vine Awards for Canadian Jewish Literature.
The previous awards featured nine to 12 categories that only occasionally were attached to monetary prizes, usually $500 to $1,000. By comparison, the Vine Awards will hand out four $10,000 awards each year in the categories of fiction, non-fiction, history and young adult/children’s literature, with an additional fifth prize worth $10,000 bestowed every three years for poetry.
Benefactors Lillian and Norman Glowinsky have generously committed $100,000 annually for the awards, which were named in honour of Lillian’s parents, Helen and Stan Vine. What doesn’t flow out in prizes will be used for administration, according to Koffler literary director Natalie Kertes.
Whereas the awards ceremony was previously open to all, the Vine Awards will be a more exclusive and glitzy Giller-type affair meant to generate media attention and book sales, Kertes said.
“It won’t be a big public gala. It will be a more intimate evening involving the press, the writers and their publishers, and other stakeholders. It will be a much smaller event than it used to be. We’re looking to really engage the press, and we want to do something targeted at them. We want to make sure that these books get the attention they deserve.”
The Koffler Centre has indicated it will make up for the skipped year by accepting submissions published in both 2014 and 2015. It will also consider digital publications for the first time. (It has yet to name its intended three jurors, but they will certainly have their work cut out for them, since they will likely have to read dozens of submissions in a matter of months.)
Submission deadline is June 3, and a short list of winners will be announced in August 2016. The gala event will likely be held in September in a venue that’s yet to be determined.
No longer is the book awards ceremony anchored to the annual Toronto Jewish Book Fair as it was in recent years. Instead, the Koffler is planning a Vine Awards reading series featuring the award-winners and “other writers in the Canadian Jewish canon,” Kertes said.
Remarkably, with the arrival of the newly constituted Vine Awards, there are now two sets of annual Jewish book awards being given out in Canada, at least for the time being. That’s because, despite Koffler’s announced hiatus, half of the juror pool decided to stage the awards independently last year. Nine book prizes were awarded at a well-attended public ceremony of the Canadian Jewish Literary Awards at York University last fall, very much in keeping with the tradition that the late Adam Fuerstenberg founded about 1988.
Hosted by York’s Jewish studies program, the Canadian Jewish Literary Awards is inviting submissions in nine categories this year and has scheduled its awards ceremony for October.
“They sort of sprung out of our hiatus,” Kertes said, acknowledging that no attempt at consultation or co-ordination with the renegade group was made in planning the Vine Awards.
“They wanted to stick with a more traditional program, and we’re doing something very different than what they’re doing… We’re really delighted that there’s so much support and opportunity out there for Canadian Jewish writers.”
Writers and publishers should be thrilled by the largesse of the Vine Awards, which would certainly help to shine the media spotlight on winning titles.
On the other hand, with two independent Canadian Jewish book awards currently in operation, the cost of submitting books for consideration has doubled. It costs $40 to enter a title in each of the Vine Awards and the Canadian Jewish Literary Awards, and each requires five hard copies of titles being submitted.