2018 Kobzar Literary Award. Contemporary Creative Writing on Ukrainian Themes in Canadian Literature

    Lisa Grekul (left) and Lindy Ledohowsky are the Kobzar Literary Award-winning editors of the anthology Unbound. Kobzar Literary Award

    John Pidkowich for New Pathway – Ukrainian News, Toronto.

    Standing out among the numerous worthy literary awards offered during Canadian Literature’s awards season, the Kobzar Literary Award is unique and distinguished by recognizing outstanding creative writing by Canadian authors who explore and develop Ukrainian Canadian themes in their work. Presented by the Shevchenko Foundation, the $25,000 Kobzar Literary Award 2018 Ceremony and Dinner was held on March 1 at the Palais Royale Ballroom in Toronto. True to form and in keeping with past award events, this year’s Kobzar Award was a glittering gala evening in an elegant lakeshore pavilion setting, bringing together the Ukrainian and Canadian literary communities to the “table for discourse” on the merits of writing on Ukrainian themes, and praise for its artistic contribution to the Canadian literary landscape.

    The Kobzar Literary Award was founded in 2003 and is presented biennially since 2006 by the Ukrainian Canadian Foundation of Taras Shevchenko, not only in support of literacy and reading books, but to celebrate Ukrainian Canadian Literature and promote the literary arts in Canada. The Award is open to a wide range of literary genres – non-fiction, fiction, poetry, young readers’ literature, plays, screenplays, and musicals. Previously, the Shevchenko Board of Directors agreed that each short-listed finalist shall receive $1,500 in addition to the Kobzar Literary Award winner’s $25,000 prize, $5,000 of which is to be shared with the publisher.

    A sold-out audience, over 260 strong, welcomed this year’s author finalists whose work reflected a varied short-list of four literary non-fiction titles and one poetry collection nominated for the 2018 Kobzar Literary Award: 1) Bohdan S. Kordan (political history), No Free Man: Canada, the Great War; and the Enemy Alien Experience, McGill-Queens University Press, 2016; 2) Erin Moure (long poem-performance script), Kapusta, House of Anansi Press, 2015; 3) Natalia Khanenko-Friesen (cultural anthropology), Ukrainian Otherlands: Diaspora, Homeland, and Folk Imagination in the Twentieth Century, University of Wisconsin Press, 2015; 4) Lisa Grekul and Lindy Ledohowski, editors (collection of essays), Unbound: Ukrainian Canadians Writing Home, University of Toronto Press, 2016; and 5) Alexandra Risen (autobiography), Unearthed: Love, Acceptance, and Other Lessons from an Abandoned Garden (a memoir), Viking, division of Random House Canada Ltd, 2016.

    Upon arrival to the award evening, guests entered a lively cocktail reception, welcomed with the warm atmosphere of a “Meet & Greet”, accessible to good networking and fun socializing. Interestingly, as a sprinkle of spice, guests were treated to a “Canadian Mosaic Hostyna”, hors d’oeuvres prepared to represent several Canadian ethnic groups. Once settled in their seats, the audience heeded their attention to follow fine Masters of Ceremonies who took control of the reigns for the Award event. In this role, broadcaster, narrator and producer Bohdana Bashuk, and national book columnist and writer Becky Toyne aptly lead a dynamic award event programme. Entertainment was provided by musician Alexander (Sasha) Boychouk, returning again this year to help maintain the evening’s upbeat pace and play musical interludes enjoyed during dinner courses. Now for the sixth time running of Kobzar awardings, in-house gourmet chef Steffan Howard first read all the short-listed works for inspiration to create an excellent original three-course dinner menu, with recipes that are a fusion of traditional Ukrainian and Canadian food, select ingredients and garnishes reflective of the current offering of Kobzar shortlisted books. For his dedication and culinary talent, Chef Howard was presented with a special Kobzar award.

    One of the best features of the award event were the authors’ readings, the true sought after “treat” between dinner courses. The Masters of Ceremonies introduced the 2018 Kobzar Award finalists, their accomplishments and awards as writers. Then, each finalist delivered a reading passage from their short-listed work from either of two mid-room platforms successfully placed for closer proximity to and more intimacy with a greater listening audience. From this reading vantage point, each author came across more personally to a captivated audience. Some shared their emotions as well as their motivations to write their story narrative. The listener experienced a better grasp of the author’s story in his/her own voice, not simply words.

    In the exceptional case of reading from the Kobzar shortlisted work of collected essays Unbound: Ukrainian Canadians Writing Home, co-edited by Lisa Greskul and Lindy Ledohowski, contributing writer Marusya Bociurkiw presented and read from her essay work Bringing Back Memory. Dr. Bociurkiw’s book Comfort Food for Break-ups: The Memoir of a Hungry Girl, was short-listed for the 2008 Kobzar Literary Award. It must be noted that contributing writer Erin Moure for her essay Tuteshni in Unbound was also nominated this year herself as a Kobzar finalist for her shortlisted (long) poem Kapusta.

    Through the course of the award evening, speeches were kept to a minimum. Special guest remarks were delivered by the Honourable Senator Raynell Andreychuk, Honorary Patron of the Kobzar Literary Award Ceremony. Greetings from the Shevchenko Foundation were brought by its president, Andrew Hladyshevsky, Q.C. He stressed the significance of the Award in a broader Canadian context and not only within the Ukrainian Canadian community. The growth and development of Ukrainian Canadian writing in Canada’s literary arts become part of Canadian culture, our stories become known to all Canadians, as expressed by Mr. Hladyshevsky, otherwise “the Ukrainian Canadian story has lessons for all Canadians.” Recognised by applause, the award program is attributed to the strong vision and direction given by Dr. Christine Turkewych, Director of Literary Arts Program, Shevchenko Foundation and the success of the award event is the result of the tremendous contributions of the Kobzar Award Ceremony Committee, chaired by Alla Shklar and dedicated volunteer members known as “literati with white roses”: Aretta Anderst; Irene Bilaniuk; Odarka Chudoba; Sonia Holiad; Irene Hordienko; Lesia Korobaylo; Dr. Christina Kowalsky; Win Kuplowsky; Nadia Luciw; Iryna Revutsky; Olesia Romanko; Iris Sopinka; Lesia Stefaniw; Janice Taskey; Zenia Turkewych-Miner; Olenka Wasley; and Oksana Zakydalsky.

    The adjudication of works by writers entered for the 2018 Kobzar Literary Award was conducted by their peers to determine the shortlist of finalists and, ultimately, winner of the Kobzar prize. The esteemed jurors were novelist, critic and scholar Prof. Randy Boyagoda, award-winning author Charlotte Gray, and 2016 Kobzar Literary Award Winner Maurice Mierau, author of Detachment: An Adoption Memoir. Author of Kobzar shortlisted work No Free Man, Bohdan Kordan, expressed his gratitude to all the organizers of such a “wonderful celebration of letters and Ukrainian Canadian life – fittingly named the Kobzar,” but paid special recognition to the Award’s adjudicators, “who graciously committed themselves to the task of selecting and deciding among the many fine works that were submitted. I am honoured to be here with my fellow nominees whom I know are as grateful as I am for this opportunity,” added Kordan.

    Finally, the moment everyone was waiting for with anticipation. The climax of the evening had arrived when jurors Prof. Randy Boyagoda and Maurice Mierau (Charlotte Gray was unable to attend) announced the winner of the 2018 Kobzar Literary Award: Unbound: Ukrainian Canadians Writing Home, Lisa Grekul and Lindy Ledohowski, editors (literary non-fiction – collection of essays), University of Toronto Press, 2016. Accepting the award were contributing authors Marusya Bociurkiw and Erin Moure. The other essay writers are Elizabeth Bachinsky, Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch, Myrna Kostash, Janice Kulyk Keefer, and Daria Salamon, with foreword by Weronika Suchnacka.

    Unbound contributing essay writer Erin Moure (Tuteshna) stated in her response to being asked what it means personally to have collaborated with other creative writers in Unbound and the importance of this collection being chosen as this year’s winner as follows:

    “The Kobzar Literary Award is important as every two years, with its whole shortlist, it represents the contribution to Canadian and North American literature of the diverse communities of people who come from lands that today are Ukraine. It represents an energy that is important to society in general, especially in its increasing willingness to depart from old and fixed notions of the Ukrainian tale to embrace new metaphors, new discoveries, new visions and versions.”

    “Unbound is a collective work, and was created and nurtured by its editors and writers in a spirit of listening and of multiplicity, with diligence but also with compassion. For me, the nomination of Unbound, and its being granted the Kobzar Prize, is a recognition that the multiplicity of stories and ways of being Ukrainian, of having Ukrainian origins, can shed light not just on the past, but on directions for the future.”

    Among special guests recognised and attending the Award event were: Geoffrey E. Taylor, Director and Christine Saratsiotis, Associate Director, International Festival of Authors at Harbourfront Centre; John Degen, Executive Director of the Writers’ Union of Canada; comedienne Luba Goy, O.C. and 2014 Kobzar Award co-winner; Kobzar Writers’ Scholarship 2009 recipient Ulana Snihura, Paul Grod, National President of the Ukrainian Canadain Congress; and Mark Marczyk of Lemon Bucket Orkestra. It was announced during the evening that proceeds from the Award event will go to support the Kobzar Writer’s Scholarship delivered at the annual Humber Writers’ Summer Workshop in Toronto.

    Special gratitude was extended to the Kobzar Literary Award’s key sponsors for their generous support: Ihnatowycz Family Foundation; Huculak Foundation; Nexus; Mitchell, Bardyn & Zalucky LLP; BCU-Buduchnist Foundation; UCU-Ukrainian Credit Union; Delores Y. Buka-Huculak (for gifting of short-listed books), Nell Nakoneczny, as well as many other donors who were recognized in the programme booklet.

    For more information about the finalists and the content of their short-listed book, please visit the website.

    For more interesting reading about the importance of the Kobzar Award by Grace O’Connell, Senior Editor, Open Book, visit here.

    Also, for the Award’s mention in the Canadian literary landscape, visit here.