What an incredible honour it is that Ravenscraig has been recognized as the winner of the Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award. I am at a loss to describe how deeply moved I am that this has happened.
Carol Shields was born and raised in Chicago, but lived in Canada from 1957 until her death in 2003. She wrote ten novels and two collections of short stories in addition to poetry. She won the Pulitzer Prize for The Stone Diaries, which was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and she won the Orange Prize for Larry’s Party.
The Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award is presented by the City of Winnipeg and this is how it is described on the city’s website.
In 1999 the City of Winnipeg established its first book award. The first Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award was presented in 2000 at Brave New Words, the Manitoba Literary Awards. The Award is a juried annual prize honouring books which evoke the special character, and contribute to the appreciation and understanding of Winnipeg. All genres are eligible. The Call for Submissions is issued in late fall. The Award and its $5000 prize are presented at Brave New Words, the Manitoba Writing and Publishing Awards Gala.
Some years ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Mrs. Shields when her novel, Larry’s Party, was released, and I was working in television news.
Warm, quiet and dignified, is how I remember her. She was a small and gentle woman who seemed somewhat overwhelmed by all of the attention that was paid her at a rather large and boisterous book launch party.
That gentleness shone through in every interview I’ve heard with Carol Shields, including this one, in a biography produced by the CBC in 1982.
Carol Shields was not only wonderfully gifted as a storyteller, she was an inspiring force who shined a light on Winnipeg through her writing about streets that were familiar to her and home to her characters.
In 1992, she was interviewed about her new novel, The Republic of Love. The interview took place in Vancouver and Mrs. Shields found herself being questioned about her choice of Winnipeg for the setting. I love her answer.
INT: It warmed my heart considerably in reading this novel to see Winnipeg portrayed so affectionately because so many people seem to have had the experience – so many Canadians seem to have had the experience – of passing through Winnipeg. It’s a place they’ve been when they’re on the train, it’s a place they’ve flown over and I don’t know that it has ever been done quite this way before.
Carol Shields: Of course I am very fond of Winnipeg. I’ve lived there now eleven years. It somehow seemed right, now, to write about it. The time had come but I’ve wanted to do a couple of things a little differently. I wanted to talk about Winnipeg in the spring, summer and fall and not just in the winter because that is, of course, the stereotypical picture that we all have of it. I also wanted to talk about it as a cosmopolitan centre. It does have more than 0.5 million people and I think that always surprises people that it does function in this big city way as well. So those were a couple of things. But I have to tell you that I did worry quite a bit about setting this book in Winnipeg because I know Canadians are familiar with Winnipeg or at least with the mythology of the city. But this book was being published inNew York and in London as well and I expected at any minute to get a phone call from these people and say “Look, we cannot publish a novel set in what is this place? Winnipeg?” And I had prepared a defense. I was going to say that if Anne Tyler can write about Baltimore, I can write about Winnipeg. But you know? No one even raised this issue so I certainly didn’t raise it.
How fitting that the City of Winnipeg has chosen to honour her memory with the annual literary prize that celebrates Winnipeg.