The Mennonites flexed their literary muscle Sunday night at the Manitoba Book Awards, nabbing three of the top-dollar prizes.
Veteran Winnipeg novelist David Bergen, the odds-on favourite, took home $8,500 by winning the $5,000 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award and the $3,500 Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction for his novel The Matter With Morris, about a newspaper columnist mourning the death of his soldier son in Afghanistan.
Bergen urged the approximately 300 people who attended the low-key event at the Centre culturel franco-Manitobain to get in the book lineup rather than the beer lineup.
"Both start with B," he said. "We need readers as much as writers."
Winnipeg writer and editor Dora Dueck won the $5,000 McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award for her second novel, This Hidden Thing, about a Russian-Mennonite woman who immigrates here in the 1920s.
"If you are surprised, so am I," Dueck said. "I'm happy to be in the company of these wonderful writers."
The 23rd annual event saw more than 50 authors, designers, photographers and publishers competing for 12 prizes worth almost $30,000.
The speedily paced evening was MCed by University of Winnipeg English professor Catherine Hunter, a mystery novelist in her own right. The winners, most in attendance, gave short, polite acceptance speeches. The only comic relief was supplied, as usual, by presenter Kelly Hughes, the proprietor of the Aqua second-hand bookstore.
University of Manitoba native studies professor Emma Larocque won the $3,500 Alexander Kennedy Isbister Award for Non-Fiction for her academic study When the Other Is Me: Native Resistance Discourse, 1850-1990.
The $2,500 McNally Robinson Book for Young People Award (older category) went to Winnipeg's Maureen Fergus for her comic youth novel, Ortega, about a talking gorilla.
Michelle Elrick, a poet and fiction writer who moved here in 2007, won the $2,500 John Hirsch Award for most promising Manitoba writer.
"I came to Winnipeg from somewhere else with the hope of establishing myself as a writer," she said. "I feel like this is my new home."
The $2,000 Eileen McTavish Sykes Award for best first book by a Manitoba author was picked up by Oakbank-based Sheila McClarty's short story collection High Speed Crow.
The Mary Scorer Award for Best Book by a Manitoba Publisher, worth $1,000, went to the Turnstone Press novel I Still Don't Even Know You, penned by Ontario's Michelle Berry.
Winnipeg's Ariel Gordon, a Free Press poetry columnist and last year's John Hirsch awardee, won the $1,000 Aqua Books Lansdowne Poetry Prize for her debut collection, Hump. Coincidentally, Gordon works as a bookseller at Aqua, though the prize was juried independently.
The $3,500 Rue-Deschambault award for best French-language book went to the short-story collection Lointaines by Collège universitaire de Saint-Boniface literature professor Lise Gaboury-Diallo.
The graphic novel The Imagination Manifesto, by Greg Chomichuk, with James Rewucki and John Toone, received the award for best illustrated book, while the cookbook A Dog's Breakfast by Jess Young and Relish Design Studios, won the Manuela Dias design of the year award.
The Matter With Morris, Bergen's sixth novel, released last September by HarperCollins of Toronto, was shortlisted for the 2010 Giller Prize, Canada's top fiction prize.
Local theatre stages have also seen a proponderance of Mennonite-penned plays, including works by Armin Wiebe, Patrick Friesen and Vern Thiessen.
Bergen's fellow Manitoba Mennonite star novelist Miriam Toews has just released her fifth novel, Irma Voth, which is a good bet to be in the running for several 2011 literary prizes.
However, the Steinbach-born Toews will not be eligible for next year's Manitoba Book Awards because she moved to Toronto in 2009 and Irma Voth is published by a Toronto-based house, Knopf, an imprint of Random House Canada.