Modris Eksteins wins 2013 BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction

modris eksteins(see A Reporter's Notebook below for notes on the reception and lunch)

Premier Christy Clark and British Columbia Achievement chair Keith Mitchell are pleased to announce that Modris Eksteins is the winner of the 2013 British Columbia National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction for Solar Dance: Genius, Forgery and the Crisis of Truth in the Modern Age.

Professor emeritus of history at the University of Toronto, Modris Eksteins was presented with the $40,000 prize by Hon. Ben Stewart, Minister of Citizens' Services and Open Government, at a ceremony in Vancouver that also celebrated finalists George Bowering for Pinboy: A Memoir, Robert R. Fowler for A Season in Hell: My 130 Days in the Sahara with Al Qaeda and Candace Savage for A Geography of Blood: Unearthing Memory from a Prairie Landscape.

"The common thread that runs through all great non-fiction is an exploratory genius and great intellectual curiosity," said Premier Clark. "This year's finalists each contributed something indelible to our cultural landscape. I congratulate Modris Eksteins and all the finalists for their remarkable work."

BC Award for Non Fiction
2013 recipient Modris Eksteins (r) with Hon. Ben Stewart, Minister of Citizens' Services and Open Government (l).

The 2013 jury panel members for the BC National Award are: Paul Whitney, former city librarian at Vancouver Public Library until his retirement at the end of 2010 and now consults and teaches on libraries, publishing, and related public policy issues. Martin Levin, longtime books editor of the Globe and Mail; and Jan Whitford, whose history in publishing has included positions as editorial director, literary agent, and university lecturer.

The jury cited Solar Dance as a "fascinating work of cultural history, and a provocative analysis of the roots of the modern era as it developed in the social and political turmoil of the early 20th century".

A Reporter’s Notebook from the Awards reception and lunch

February 4, 2013

11:00 am
The calm before the reception before the Awards lunch. At least three of the four finalists have arrived early at the Pan Pacific Oceanview Room to chat with admirers and autograph their books. Fifteen minutes later it's a very different place: a wall-to-wall people-packed reception includes familiar faces from Canada's publishing world doing what they love best: sipping wine, munching on finger food, and talking about books and those that write them.


11:10 am
Talking to the finalists, even briefly, gives you a glimpse of people who live a more intense life. Take Candace Savage, author of A Geography of Blood:Unearthing Memory from a Prairie Landscape, who was asked what drew her to the book's setting of the Prairie outpost of Eastend Sask.: "It's in a glaciated valley, a huge floodway with strange ice-made hills, and cut banks and coulees. it's a very exotic, a very romantic landscape. And once you begin to pay attention, you realize there is memory embedded in that land. It's a haunted place.” A fitting opener for what follows in her book.


11:20 am
How is the idea of a book born? Modris Eksteins, the eloquent author of Solar Dance: Genius, Forgery and the Crisis of Truth in the Modern Age, was asked what drew him into writing about French Impressionist Vincent Van Gogh.
"I actually spent an extraordinary sabbatical in France, in Van Gogh country. We had an absolutely miraculous year amongst the French, but there was Van Gogh everywhere, everywhere; there were the Dutch tourists everywhere. I decided this is really worth exploring. Why is this guy who is a failure, an exile in life in every sense, rejected by everybody, a failure in his own century, become a phenomenal success in the next century? That intrigued me and I wanted to try and explain it."

BTW, for those caught in the argument about how Van Gogh's name should be properly pronounced: here is Modris's explanation to get you off the hook.
"If you're Dutch, it's all guttural and it's Gogh (somewhat rhyming with cough),. We can't do that on this side of the pond, so we call him Van Gogh for expediency's sake.”


11:35 am
Finalist Robert Fowler who wrote his book A Season in Hell: My 130 Days in the Sahara with Al Qaeda, reveals his modesty when asked about Terry Anderson, an AP reporter who spent seven years held hostage in Lebanon by another fanatical Muslim group, the Hezbollah. "I consider Terry's book (Den of Lions) to be the very best in the "hostage genre” and I have developed quite an interest in hostage literature,' he says with a knowing smile. Robert's message for North Americans is a more updated one than Anderson's in 1991: "It's not about money, it's about religion. . .and that's what makes it more dangerous. And it is not over.”


12:25 pm
BC Achievement Foundation Chair Keith Mitchell QC delivers well-deserved thanks to the awards judging panel, noting it's not a job for the faint of heart. They reviewed a total of 143 books from 45 publishers across Canada and that was just the beginning. "They made the difficult decisions, they made the hard choices. They read and read and discussed first the long list, then the short list.” The stalwart panel comprised Martin Levin, Globe and Mail book editor for 17 years, Jan Whitford, editorial director literary agent and lecturer at SFU's publishing program, and Paul Whitney, former City Librarian at the Vancouver Library.


12:40 pm
Ben Stewart, Minister of Citizens' Services and Open Government, thanked the finalists for their skill in illuminating personal experience, helping people to understand the world around them, even it involves the provocative and dark passages of Canadian history. Topping the list of regrettable chapters was Candace Savage's A Geography of Blood, details the slaughter of millions of bison, which pales alongside her documentation of the conscious policy of forced starvation and betrayal suffered by the Plains Indian tribes at the hands of governments on both sides of the border. Stewart, a board member, represented Premier Christy Clark at the event.


1:24 pm
Finalist George Bowering had some fun with his best friend Bill Trump, who is featured in one of George' books and showed up to help George celebrate at the awards lunch. George noted that he has lunch with Bill once a week and "I told him one of these days (after lunching in Trump's Surrey) I would take him to lunch at the Pan Pacific . . . and I had already told him I would pay for the wine. I was very happy about that.” And in a parting self-deprecating shot, he suggested his daughter put him in his place when she said, ‘All you have done (in Pinboy: A Memoir) is taken all the old routines that you and Uncle William have been doing all these years and (you are) slinging them together into 300 pages.' So that is how it got done."


2:10 pm
The Grand Finale! Jury Panel Chair Paul Whitney takes to the podium to begin what everyone is here for – the announcement of 2013 award winner. He introduces jury panel member Martin Levin who, like a gentleman that he is, touches on the best that he saw in each of the finalists' books: to Candace's "evocation of place”; George for "giving me back a sense of youth” and Robert's "clear-eyed account” of his terrifying kidnapping. Minister Ben Stewart makes the actual announcement that Modris Eksteins' Solar Dance tops the list. An obviously moved Eksteins tells the audience he is "absolutely thrilled” to be named the winner.

British Columbia Achievement Foundation
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Previous Award Winners