The Atlantic Book Festival’s sweet success

The Atlantic Book Festival celebrates five years, and wraps up the week with unprecedented sales and exposure.

Kathleen Martin’s Kamakwie is nominated for the Ann Connor Brimer Award for Children’s Literature.
Kathleen Martin’s Kamakwie is nominated for the Ann Connor Brimer Award for Children’s Literature.

Spring is a great time to find a good book to read and the Atlantic Book Festival--- a one-week showcase of emerging Canadian authors---wants to help with that. The festival concludes with the Atlantic Book Awards at Alderney Landing on Thursday, May 16 at 7pm. This year marks the fifth anniversary of the ABA.

The story of the ABA begins in 2007, when various writing groups across the Maritimes decided to combine their respective awards. Soon the Atlantic Book Awards Society was born and held its first awards ceremony in 2008. "We were working in isolation without much exposure," says Peggy Walt, corporate secretary and treasurer of the Society, and executive director of the Atlantic Publishers Marketing Association. "We wanted to increase the sales and profiles of the writers. By working collectively, we get a lot more attention."

So far the strategy is working. During and after the festival, both Chapters and independent bookstores offer discounts on the winning books and feature the nominated books prominently on shelves. This year collective book sales of the nominees have increased by 123 percent from last year.

"It's kinda crazy how good sales are this year," says Walt. "We've really focused on promotion and it's good timing to have this event [around] Mother's Day. So far sales have been very positive."

The Atlantic Book Awards features an interesting mix of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, with 10 awards ranging from historical writing to illustration. Perhaps the most eye-catching title this year is Bruce MacNab's The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini. MacNab's book, chronicling the forgotten history of Harry Houdini's visit to Nova Scotia, is nominated for the APMA Best Atlantic-Published Book Award, which honours the publisher. MacNab worked on the book for five years and quickly acquired Goose Lane Editions as his publisher.

"This is my first book so it's gratifying to be nominated," says MacNab. "I've always been fascinated by Houdini and I've been really fortunate to have Goose Lane take my manuscript."

This year the ABA will introduce a new category, The Atlantic Book Award for Scholarly Writing. "These writers usually have a hard time submitting to book awards," says Walt. "They don't really fit into non-fiction categories so it's hard. Their work is really interesting and it's a great way to recognize their work."

This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the Dartmouth Book Awards, one of the longest-running book awards in Canada. Originally established by mayor Mike's dad, former Nova Scotia premier John Savage, the Dartmouth Book Awards celebrates local writers who showcase Nova Scotia in their work. The past winners are some of the most well-known authors in Canada, such as Ann-Marie MacDonald, George Elliot Clarke and Ann Emery. The Dartmouth Book Awards was incorporated into the ABA in 2008.

"It's a wonderful award that really honours local writers," says Heather MacKenzie, coordinator of the Dartmouth Book Awards. "We have dedicated people that really support this initiative. The awards are a great way to promote community."

Next year the ABA will be held in Charlottetown. The society hopes to continue to broaden the festival and the awards through different regional hosts. "We want to follow the model of the East Coast Music Awards and the Atlantic Film Festival," says Walt. "We want to have people in the same place to keep the discussion going."

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