On Thursday September 29, 2016, the Vine Awards for Canadian Jewish Literature culminated with an awards ceremony and luncheon at the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto. During this intimate, warm gathering of writers, publishers and literature lovers, five talented authors were awarded a cash prize of $10,000 each in honour of their exceptional contributions to the literary categories of fiction, creative non-fiction, literature for children and young adults, history, and poetry.

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L-R: Norman and Lillian Glowinsky, Emil Sher, Mark Celinscak, Beverley Chalmers, David Bezmozgis, Daniel Goodwin, Tiana Koffler Boyman, Marc Boyman (Jorjas Photography)

Flashback to Spring 2016: the Koffler Centre of the Arts was abuzz with excitement about the prospective crop of applicants to the inaugural Vine Awards. Boxes and boxes of books began arriving to our office in Artscape Youngplace to form an immense pile in the southwest corner of the office; taking over desks, floorspace, and even our boardroom! By the June 3rd deadline for applications, we had received a whopping total of ninety-one texts – all waiting to be read by our jury who would face the difficult task of determining the prize winners.

The jury was comprised of three individuals: Pierre Anctil: a professor and scholar specializing in Canadian History at the University of Ottawa; Devyani Saltzman: a writer, curator, and journalist, and the Director of Literary Arts at the Banff Centre; and Laurence Siegel: a filmmaker, photographer, and former dramatic arts teacher with the Toronto District School Board. In the four months leading up to the awards ceremony, they were charged with the massive undertaking of absorbing all ninety-one books, and selecting the publications with the most literary merit. That’s about six books per week from the beginning of June to the end of September! After hundreds of pages of and hundreds of hours of reading, the top books from each category were selected to compose a shortlist.

Amongst a shortlist including Joseph Kertes’ The Afterlife of Stars, Sean Michaels’ Us Conductors, and Mireille Silcoff’s Chez L’Arabe, the winner of the Fiction category was David Bezmozgis’ novel The Betrayers, which the jury applauded as an exemplar of “crisp, spare, engaging storytelling, confronting us with the desperate interior of lives lived on the edge.”

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L-R: Fiction winner David Bezmozgis, Executive Director Cathy Jonasson, Public/Digital Programs Coordinator Mary Anderson (Jorjas Photography)

The prize for Non-Fiction was presented to Mark Celinscak for his historical analysis of the eyewitness accounts from Allied soldiers and other personnel of the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. In his acceptance speech, Celinscak noted that, “Jewish literature is alive and well in Canada,” and was effusive in thanking the Centre for Jewish Studies at York University, where the concept for this book had first emerged from his doctoral research.

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Non-Fiction winner, Mark Celinscak (Jorjas Photography)

Beverley Chalmers’ text Birth, Sex and Abuse: Women’s Voices under Nazi Rule, which took 12 years to develop, write, and publish, won the prize for History. Upon receiving the Vine Award, Chalmers revealed her purpose for wanting to publish horrifying accounts of sexual abuse and strife by Holocaust survivors: to “[tell] women’s stories so that we can honour and respect their courage and bravery in the face of the atrocities imposed on them by the Nazis.”

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History winner, Beverley Chalmers (Jorjas Photography)

The Vine Award for Poetry, which is only awarded every three years, was given to Daniel Goodwin for his text Catallus’s Soldiers. When accepting the award for his collection of poetry, Goodwin discussed his role within the Jewish literary tradition, and was eloquent in his description of poetry as, “one way of making sense of the short, mysterious, wonderful time we each spend on this planet.”

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Poetry winner, Daniel Goodwin (Jorjas Photography)

Last, but not least, the award for Children’s/Young Adult literature went to Emil Sher for Young Man with Camera, a novel that chronicles a young boy’s moral dilemma in confronting bullies.

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Children/Young Adult winner, Emil Sher (Jorjas Photography)

As Sher articulated in his speech, “[w]e live in a fragile, fractured world that is in constant need of healing, and literature has always been a singular balm that can help restore our broken selves, redress wrongs that leave deep ruptures, and reimagine what we may yet become.” In this vein, the Vine Awards’ four-month-long journey concluded as a reminder of the hope that literature can bring to communities, and the value of recognizing great literary works.

– Posted by Emma Hoffman | November 2, 2016