Indie press prizes shine light on new writers

An announcement that will cause some excitement among readers dropped into my inbox this morning: The winners of the ReLit award for 2020 — the final part of a month-long “celebration” of the prize, which is catching up on announcing four years’ worth of nominees and winners. 

For 2020 they are: for poetry, Cassandra Blanchard for “Fresh Pack of Smokes,” published by Nightwood Editions; for short fiction Tracey Waddleton for “Send More Tourists … The Last Ones Were Delicious,” published by Breakwater Books; and for novel Michael Blouin for “Skin House,” published by Anvil Press. You can read more about the nominees and other prize winners here.

The ReLit Awards were established in 2000 by writer Kenneth J. Harvey to recognize books published by independent presses and authors at the beginning of their careers in Canada. He has now handed the reins over to his daughter Katherine Alexandra Harvey. The hiatus, she told me by email, was due to funding issues. Although those concerns are ongoing, the awards are resuming this year. 

“The celebration of independent presses and CanLit is far too important to us at ReLit,” Harvey said. “This award brings much deserved and hard to come by hope and encouragement to a lot of writers, and I couldn’t rob people of that.”

The indie publishers and the authors and books they champion sometimes make it onto bestsellers lists, and sometimes even go on to become finalists for the Giller Prize — as did Anakana Schofield’s novel “Martin John,” published by Biblioasis in 2015. But more often they’re simply giving new writers a chance to spread their wings. 

Very often, when the authors hit their market and their stride, they sign up to bigger publishing houses who can offer them more lucrative deals — remember, though, you’ve often read them from an indie press first. 

Source: Deborah Dundas, Toronto Star

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