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Writers disappointed in provincial cuts to literary prizes

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The organizers of the Manitoba Book Awards have been left with a shortfall of almost $9,000 a year after the province cut support to three prominent literary prizes.

The $3,500 cash prizes that accompany the annual Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction and the Alexander Kennedy Isbister Award for Non-Fiction and the biennial Rue-Deschambault French literary prize have been axed.

The Manitoba Writers’ Guild, which co-sponsors the book awards ceremony each April with the Association of Manitoba Book Publishers, issued an open letter of protest to the premier this afternoon.

A spokeswoman for Culture Minister Flor Marcelino on Thursday defended the province’s decision.
"We’re taking a balanced approach — finding ways to reduce spending responsibly while ensuring that funding is there for front-line services," a spokeswoman for culture minister Flor Marcelino said on Thursday.
"The province continues to provide more than $30 million annually to Manitoba’s arts, cultural and heritage organizations."

Book awards organizers are hoping to replace the cash with another sponsor or perhaps give out the prizes without a cash stipend, Michelle Peters, executive director of the AMBP, said today.

"Of course, we’re pretty disappointed," she said.

Winnipeg historian Allan Levine decried the decision.

"How utterly pathetic that the government sees $8,700 as a real saving," said Levine, who won the Isbister prize in 2011 for his nationally acclaimed biography of William Lyon Mackenzie King.

"I see government financial support of these awards as an acknowledgment that arts in the province are worth celebrating. In Ontario, for example, the government has stood behind the Trillium book awards."

The Laurence, Isbister and Deschambault book prizes were introduced in 2000 by former culture minister Diane McGifford.

In recent years, about $30,000 in prizes have been awarded annually to writers at the Manitoba Book Awards. These include the $5,000 Book of the Year Award from McNally Robinson Booksellers and the $5,000 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award from the city.

Last year’s Laurence award went to David Bergen for his novel The Age of Hope. The Isbister award went to Winnipeg Art Gallery curator Darlene Wight for her Inuit art book Creation and Transformation.

morley.walker@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Thursday, August 1, 2013 at 4:28 PM CDT: Added government comment

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