September 25, 2011

Manitoba Reads

Last night I had the immense privilege to be in the audience for the last Mainstage event at THIN AIR, The Winnipeg International Writers Festival. This event was based on Canada Reads, and was called Manitoba Reads.

At this event, four panelists debated on behalf of their chosen book. They had read all four finalists and chose the book that spoke to them best.

Alison Gillmor, a local entertainment writer, selected Reading by Lightning by Joan Thomas.

Vincent Ho, the Composer-in-Residence at the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra chose The Life of Helen Betty Osborne by David Alexander Robertson.

Paul Jordan, the Chief Operating Officer at The Forks chose Bandit by Wayne Tefs.

Niigonwedom James Sinclair, who is a Writer and Professor at the University of Manitoba chose Where Nests the Water Hen by Gabrielle Roy. Roy was the only author who was not still living, so when it came time to play a recording from each author, someone else introduced her book.

The debate was very light, charming and completely engaging. All four panelists were excellent speakers, and each was passionate about the book they were defending. Keran Sanders, who was the host of the show, joked about the debate erupting into violence and tears, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It was clear that they all respected the four works they’d read, and that they respected each other.

There were three rounds to the debate. Following each round, all four panelists would vote on a book to remove from the running. The first round saw Reading by Lightning removed from contention. The male panelists had difficulty connecting with it, so, despite Gillmor’s passionate defense of the book, it was the first to go.

Round Two

The next round saw a debate about which book was most Manitoban. The panelists passionately discussed their books and what makes them Manitoban. The Life of Helen Betty Osborne and Where Nests the Water Hen were books that looked at Manitoba issues and what it means to be a Manitoba resident, so those authors had quite an easy time. Jordan, who was backing Bandit, had quite a difficult time. Bandit is about the “flying bandit”, Ken Leishman so it’s hardly a novel that encapsulates Manitoba. Jordan had fun with his answer, though, and he had the audience in hysterics. It appears he knew that he was next on the chopping block, as Bandit was next to go.

The Final Round

The final round was a battle for first place between The Life of Helen Betty Osborne and Where Nests the Water Hen. All four panelists chimed in and gave their opinions on both books. When it came time to vote, everyone but Ho choose to remove The Life of Helen Betty Osborne. This means that Where Nests the Water Hen has won the first Manitoba Reads prize.

One of the joys of listening to fellow readers speak about literature is that I got to discover four new books. I haven’t had the pleasure of reading any of them yet, but I definitely will be. In my mind, all four books are winners, because they’ve received the honour of being nominated and the attention that has followed. After the debate, many audience members, including myself went up to purchase copies of the books.

Manitoba is full of gifted writers with beautiful stories to tell about our province. Discovering four new books about my home province was truly a privilege.

-Jennifer Hanson

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