Books

B.C. writers Briony Penn and Leslie Gentile win Victoria Book Prizes

Penn won the Butler Book Prize for Following the Good River while Gentile won the City of Victoria Children's Book Prize for her first book Elvis, Me and the Lemonade Stand Summer.
Briony Penn and Leslie Gentile are the winners of the 2021 City of Victoria Book Prizes. (Submitted by authors)

Briony Penn and Leslie Gentile are the winners of the 2021 City of Victoria Book Prizes.

Penn won the Butler Book Prize for Following the Good River: The Life and Times of Wa'xaid while Gentile won the City of Victoria Children's Book Prize for her first book Elvis, Me and the Lemonade Stand Summer.

The City of Victoria Butler Book Prizes were established in 2004 to celebrate the accomplishment of an outstanding writing community and its readers. 

Following the Good River is a biography of Cecil Paul (Wa'xaid), the prominent Indigenous leader and activist. It was written based on Paul's recorded interviews and journal entries.

Paul, also known as Wa'xaid, was a residential school survivor and one of the last fluent speakers of Xenaksiala. The book documents his three-decade-long alcohol abuse, his healing journey, which began when he returned to Kitlope, and his tireless work to protect the land and his community.

"Penn melds archival research, journal entries, and transcripts of Wa'xaid's oral storytelling in a fragmented but fluid style that befits its complex subject," the jury said in a statement.

"Covering the horrors that befell what remained of Cecil Paul's people in residential schools and beyond, Penn tells a story of injustice and resilience, sorrow and hope as she tracks Cecil's journey from alcoholism to activism on behalf of his ancestral home of the Kitlope."

The B.C.-based Penn is a creative non-fiction author, feature writer and columnist. She has published over 500 articles on environmental issues and natural history. 

Elvis, Me and the Lemonade Stand Summer tells the story of 11-year-old Truly Bateman and takes place in the summer of 1978. Though most people think Elvis Presley has been dead for a year, Truly knows Elvis is alive and well and living in her trailer park. While Truly's mother is constantly drinking, smoking and juggling new boyfriends, Truly finds sanctuary and connects with her Indigenous roots through Salish Andy El, a Salish woman who runs the trailer park.

The book embodies "a whole lot of realism to show how kids who have to parent themselves get past resiliency and toward healing through the love of those around them," the jury commented.

"This is first-rate storytelling, with a surprising plot twist, a twist on the twist, and a believable happy ending."

Gentile is a singer-songwriter of Northern Salish, Tuscarora and Scottish heritage. She performs with her children in The Leslie Gentile Band, and with one of her sisters in The Half White Band. Gentile currently lives on Vancouver Island.

"It was a challenging year for planning an event with so many unknowns, but we are delighted to have pulled off our first-ever hybrid gala with free live streaming," said Darrel Joyce, the president of Victoria Book Prize Society. 

"This would not have been possible without the amazing support of our many sponsors, talented local authors, volunteers and a community that celebrates literacy."

The jury members for both prizes were comprised of members of Victoria's literary arts community.

Past winners of this prize include Lorna Crozier for The House the Spirit BuildsBill Gaston for A Mariner's Guide to Self Sabotage and Yasuko Thanh for Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains.

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