Announcement luncheon

2012 award winner deWitt misses luncheon, coincidentally
duplicates Leacock’s journey of a century ago

In spring of 1912 McGill University Political Science professor Stephen Leacock sailed for France – just a few weeks after the sinking of the leviathan ship Titanic. While at sea he reworked a group of short stories, ‘sketches’ previously written for publication in the Montreal Star. Once in Europe, Leacock sent them to London publisher John Lane for publication in book form.

In spring of 2012, West Coast novelist Patrick deWitt travelled to France on a three-month writer’s scholarship – just a few weeks before the Orillia-based literary-award group, the Stephen Leacock Associates, announced which of the writers of the 64 books entered for its 65th annual contest would receive its treasured silver medal and the companion $15,000 cash award presented by the regional office of TD Financial.

Unlike the trail he blazed on his way to winning the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for his The Sisters Brothers, published by House of Anansi Press (2011), deWitt’s passage through the judging process to the Leacock podium was a bit of a squeaker, with a shortlist that surrounded him with four accomplished women writers.

“I don’t think we anticipated winning this prize,” declared Anansi publisher Sarah MacLachlan, who was at the announcement luncheon on April 26 at the Best Western Mariposa Inn, Orillia, to represent deWitt. She added, though, that it was an honour to be selected from “a fantastic shortlist.”

Also considered for the Leacock Medal were Rupinder Gill for Outside Looking Indian (McClelland & Stewart), a memoir reviewing the writer’s achievement, at age 30, of a ‘bucket list’ of items and exploits denied her as a youth, at the conclusion of which she is a wiser, more competent and savvy adult; Susan Juby for The Woefield Poetry Collective (Harper Collins), a tabulation of an accumulation of mishaps that turn a simple rural inheritance into an intense but sham business interest involving an unlikely crowd of co-habitants; Shari Lapeña for Happiness Economics (Brindle & Glass), in which the stalled poetic creativity of a househusband has ramifications for his wife’s aspirations, so that what inspires philanthropy touches off a demanding chain reaction and asks the question: who are the real dreamers?; and Robyn Michele Levy for Most of Me (Greystone Books), a dark comedy about modern illness and the damage done by its progress and attempts at repair that cause additional harm.

Each of these shortlisted authors was presented with a plaque, certificate and a cash award of $1,500 – the latter also courtesy TD Financial – by the offices of Bruce Stanton, Member of Parliament for Simcoe North, and Garfield Dunlop, Member of Provincial Parliament for Simcoe East, and by Angelo Orsi, Mayor of Orillia.

Gill and Lapeña were on hand to accept the honours in person. Levy managed a brief virtual visit by Skype over the Internet.

In bringing greetings from TD Financial, Roy d’Sousa, TD’s regional vice-president, told the gathering, “We can’t think of any better way to support literacy than through humour.” TD Financial has supported the Leacock Award since 2004. The institution is presently in the second year of a three-year sponsorship totalling $75,000 in its funding of the annual award.

In welcoming remarks before lunch, Michael Hill, president of the Leacock Associates, presented Gill with a bag of potato chips in tongue-in-cheek recognition of her research, and Lapeña with a book, Brush Up On Your Poetry, to give to the unsuccessful poet in her story.

The Stephen Leacock Associates, which awarded its first silver medal in 1947, is guided by a working committee of 17 people, as well as four honorary directors. The group also presents an annual Student Award for humorous short-story writing, and a sporadically awarded honour called Order of Mariposa.

deWitt will receive his medal and cash award on Saturday, June 9, at a gala dinner to be held at Geneva Park Conference Centre, east of Orillia.