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Top shelf awards for Northern authors

NorthWords book prizes awarded
From left are: author Jay Bulckaert, Robyn Scott, NorthWords president, and Amber Henry, nominee in the Youth Category for her book Northern Princess, and also vice-president of NorthWords. The annual NorthWords NWT book awards were recently announced. Bulckaert’s graphic novel King Warrior won in the Youth Category and Richard Van Camp’s book Gather: Richard Van Camp on the Joy of Storytelling, won in the Adult Category. Photo courtesy of NorthWords NWT

The Yellowknife library now has two more award-winning books on the shelves of its growing Northern collection.

NorthWords NWT recently announced its 2022 book awards for books published in 2021.

King Warrior, written by Jay Bulckaert and his wife Erika Nyyssonen, and illustrated by Lucas Green, won top prize in the Youth Category, while Richard Van Camp’s Gather: Richard Van Camp on the Joy of Storytelling won in the Adult Category.

King Warrior, published by Renegade Arts Entertainment, is a graphic novel that weaves a fantastical tale of a Somalian immigrant who works as a cab driver in Yellowknife while struggling to maintain family bonds in his homeland.

Considering it was his first book, Bulckaert said he was incredibly happy that it won this years’ award.

“Initially, it was meant to be a film. I’m a film producer. And I was taking part in a script writing competition. So initially, it was envisioned as a film, and then when it became apparent that it was going to cost a lot of money, I just decided to transition it and try to write it, flush it out and have it become a graphic novel,” Bulckaert said of the original story idea he developed several years ago while on vacation in Germany.

As co-owner of the media/production company aRTLeSS Collective, Bulckaert said he already knew Green who had previously done visual effects and graphic designing for the company and so he said along with Nyyssonen, the trio started the process of expanding on the story and developing the graphics in the book. “it was just a really wonderful kind of adventure into the creative world,” Nyyssonen said of the process. “The story has so much magic to it because it brings elements of Yellowknife to it but then also that connection between the father and son and finding bravery…that’s a story that you can continue to tell, which is really nice.”

Green said working on a graphic novel is a unique experience. “I think the beauty of comics and graphic novels in general is that it really opens up storytelling - visual storytelling - to anyone.

“And it’s a really great outlet. If you have an idea for something, but you don’t know quite where to take it, doing it as a comic is a really wonderful way to make it real. It bridges that gap between something that’s just in your imagination and something that is real and exists and it’s so satisfying,” Green said.

Paying it forward

For Richard Van Camp, in a letter addressed to the NorthWords selection committee, he said he was honoured and grateful to have his book, published by the University of Regina Press, chosen for the award. “How blessed are we to mentor and support one another as writers and witnesses to the beauty of the North?” he wrote.

Van Camp indicated he would use the funds from his award to help continue his scholarship program in honour of the late Lawrie Hobart and Maynard Bates - two of his favourite teachers from PWK High school in Fort Smith.

“I send funds to PWK High School every year in Fort Smith for creative writing awards for students, and I also have a national scholarship to honour the late and great Trevor Evans to honour someone who deserves support for their dreams. Mahsi cho.

“Let’s continue the great work of acknowledging and supporting and mentoring and cheerleading Northern voices and trailbreakers,” Van Camp wrote in the letter.

John Mutford, Yellowknife Public Library librarian, holds a stack of books written by Northern authors. Mutford said the Northern Collection section in the library continues to expand and now contains about 1,000 books, both fiction and non-fiction. Jill Westerman/NNSL photo
John Mutford, Yellowknife Public Library librarian, holds a stack of books written by Northern authors. Mutford said the Northern Collection section in the library continues to expand and now contains about 1,000 books, both fiction and non-fiction. Jill Westerman/NNSL photo

Stories to tell

For Yellowknife librarian John Mutford, he said he is pleased the annual book award continues to be presented from when he was on the board of directors of NorthWords over a decade ago and has since expanded to include a Youth Award.

“We thought this would be a nice accolade for them as well as for us, and it was a win-win for everybody, as we got to promote NorthWords, of course, and also celebrate the great work that’s been done.”

Mutford said the Northern collection in the library contains approximately 1,000 books, both fiction and non-fiction, and is very popular.

“We’re very excited whenever a Northern book is published,” he said.

“And we’re very excited as well that more Northern voices are being heard. And again, from people born and raised here and not necessarily people who just visited for a week and telling the stories. We’re getting more people that are telling their own stories and a lot more Indigenous writers, which we’re really excited about,” Mutford said.

Elevating voices

Robyn Scott, president of NorthWords NWT, said encouraging people to author their stories in the North is “still something that needs to be nurtured.” “I think that a lot of people here, especially people who are from the North, don’t necessarily see their stories as important, and I continue to reassure them that eyes from the South continue to look Northward and that our stories are unique,” Scott said.

By presenting such awards, Scott said it helps to elevate Northern voices in the literary community. “I also think that our annual festival that we have the first weekend in June every year is a good way to make people aware of the incredible talent that is in the Northwest Territories.” Scott said a call out for books published in 2022 that meet the criteria for the NorthWords book award will soon be made public.