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The Vine Awards Kick Off Revamped Prizes with an Inspiring Year

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L-R_Winners_Emil Sher_Mark Celinscak_Beverley Chalmers_David Bezmozgis_Daniel Goodwin

2016 Vine Award winners 

After a previous incarnation as the Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Awards and a hiatus last year to re-focus and re-launch, the Vine Awards for Jewish Literature arrived on the book scene with a splash last week. Each of the five awards includes a $10,000 prize purse for an author (Jewish or non-Jewish) who engages thoughtfully and with outstanding literary merit with Jewish themes and traditions. Each year will see the presentation of awards in the categories of fiction, non-fiction, history, and children's writing, with an additional poetry award being presented every three years. 

This year's presentation took place at an awards luncheon at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto, with prize donors Lillian and Norman Glowinsky and their family in attendance. The Lillian and Norman Glowinsky Family Foundation has supported the prize for over ten years, in honour of Lillian's late parents, Holocaust survivors Helen and Stan Vine. 

Vine Awards Donors Norman and Lillian Glowinsky

Vine Award sponsors Norman and Lillian Glowinsky 

The winners of the five categories -- 2016 included the presentation of the poetry award -- were each present and spoke thoughtfully about their books and the tradition of Jewish literature. Fiction winner David Bezmozgis opened his remarks by saying "I think it's important to support Jewish literature in this country", after Koffler Centre Executive Director Cathy Jonasson read the jury's praise-filled endorsement of Bezmozgis' The Betrayers, which they described as being driven by "crisp, spare, engaging storytelling".

Emil Sher, whose book for young readers, Young Man with Camera, won the Children's Literature prize, discussed his ongoing journey exploring "what it means to be a Canadian Jewish writer" and made reference to "tikkun olam", a concept in the Hebrew language which means "to heal the world". "Literature," he said, "has always been a singular balm [that allows us to] reimagine what we might become".

The audience was visibly moved by History winner Beverley Chalmers' remarks about her book Birth, Sex and Abuse: Women’s Voices under Nazi Rule and the difficult research progress she undertook. She thanked her husband for listening to the horrific stories she uncovered in her reading for the book, noting "I'm sure he had nightmares". 

Mark Celinscak, a non-Jewish writer and academic and the winner of the Non-fiction prize, thanked the Centre for Jewish Studies at York University for their support of his doctoral thesis and research process (which grew into his winning book), citing his relationship with the centre as "a turning point in my academic career". 

Poet Daniel Goodwin discussed "the purpose of the Jewish tradition in literature", which he identified as being "to bear witness", and referenced the "primal place that words and stories hold in the Jewish tradition". 

The Vine Awards are administered by the Koffler Centre of the Arts. 

Full List of 2016 Vine Award for Jewish Literature winners:

  • Fiction: David Bezmozgis for The Betrayers (HarperCollins Canada)
  • Non-fiction: Mark Celinscak for Distance from the Belsen Heap: Allied Forces and the Liberation of a Nazi Concentration Camp (University of Toronto Press)
  • History: Beverley Chalmers for Birth, Sex and Abuse: Women’s Voices under Nazi Rule (Grosvenor House Publishing)
  • Children's Literature: Emil Sher for Young Man with Camera (Scholastic Inc.)
  • Poetry: Daniel Goodwin for Catullus’s Soldiers (Cormorant Books)

Vine Award Plaques (1)

2016 Vine Award for Jewish Literature

For more information about the Vine Awards, visit the Koffler Centre of the Arts website