Friday, February 16, 2007

North America's largest library honours Rob

Science-fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer has just received the Toronto Public Library Celebrates Reading Award. Established in 2001, this is one of Canada's top book-related honours.

The award, which includes a cash prize of $2,500 and a crystal sculpture, was presented in front of a sold-out audience of 640 at the second annual Book Lover's Ball, a gala, $350-a-plate black-tie event held at Toronto's Liberty Grand on Thursday, February 15, 2007. Among those on-hand were Toronto Mayor David Miller and legendary Canadian authors Allan Fotheringham and Peter C. Newman. The master of ceremonies was Seamus O'Regan, co-host of Canada AM.

Margaret Atwood joined the proceedings from the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo via LongPen — the remote-control autographing and video-conferencing device she helped invent. Atwood was last year's winner of the TPL Celebrates Reading Award and, by way of passing the torch, she used the LongPen to autograph a copy of her latest novel to Sawyer. Other previous winners include authors Dennis Lee and Kenneth Oppel, and the provincial educational television network, TVOntario.

The Toronto Public Library is the largest and busiest library system in North America, and the second largest in the world. "The Award is one of the key means by which we strive to re-emphasize the importance of literacy and reading, and the continuing relevance of the Library," says Josephine Bryant, the Chief Librarian, who presented the award to Sawyer.

Says Sawyer: "Science fiction still struggles in some places for respectability, but that's never been the case in Toronto. The Toronto Public Library is known world-wide for its support of the genre." The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy, one of TPL's special collections, has the largest SF holdings of any public library in the world. "If someone who writes about the future might be termed a prophet," adds Sawyer, "then the old adage about a prophet not being honored in his own country is false, at least here."

According to Maclean's, Canada's weekly newsmagazine, "By any reckoning, Sawyer is among the most successful Canadian authors ever." The Ottawa Citizen calls him "the dean of Canadian science fiction," and The Montreal Gazette has dubbed him "Canada's answer to Michael Crichton."

The Book Lover's Ball program book had this to say about Sawyer:
From haunting the stacks of the North York Central Library in the 1960s, through working at a Toronto independent bookstore in the 1980s, to being writer-in-residence at various Ontario libraries (including TPL's own Merril Collection) in the 21st century, Rob has devoted his life to reading and writing. He has served on literary advisory boards for the International Festival of Authors at Harbourfront and the Toronto Olympics bid committee. Rob frequently mentors emerging authors, and has taught writing at the Banff Centre, Humber College, Ryerson, and the University of Toronto.
Sawyer is one of only seven writers in history (and the only Canadian) to win all three of the world's top awards for best science-fiction novel of the year: the Hugo (SF's "people's choice" award, which he won for Hominids); the Nebula (the field's "academy award," for The Terminal Experiment); and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (SF's major juried award, for Mindscan).

A full table of representatives from Tor Books, Sawyer's New York publisher, and H.B. Fenn and Company, Tor's Canadian distributor, were on hand at the Book Lover's Ball to cheer Sawyer's award, as was his wife, poet Carolyn Clink. Sawyer's seventeenth novel, Rollback, comes out in April 2007.

The text of Rob's acceptance speech is online.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


At February 16, 2007 1:48 AM , Blogger Drakkenfyre said...

Congratulations. :)

And you write awesome press releases.

At February 16, 2007 8:05 AM , Blogger Lou_Sytsma said...

Awesome! And Congratulations! You sure do make a tux look good. Love the 'Celebrity Author' ribbon!

At February 18, 2007 11:44 AM , Blogger Shannon said...

Congratulations! I noticed in your acceptance speech you mentioned The Handmaids Tale as an example of modern science fiction. I've always wondered how other sci-fi writers (especially another successful Canadian writer) views her catagorizing her own work as speculative fiction instead of sci-fi? Do you take offense to this? I once read an article I think in Asimov's Magazine (?) that blasted her for thinking she was too good for the sci-fi genre. Does the community as a whole feel this way? I sincerely hope not, as she is one of my favorite writers.

At February 18, 2007 11:49 AM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Hi, Shannon. Margaret Atwood was extremely gracious at the event.

I do wish she would always acknowledge that her works are science fiction (and she does, sometimes -- she accepted the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction Novel published in Great Britain, for instance).

But she knows that more people are turned off by the label science fiction than turned on by it, and so it is a savvy marketing move on her part to try to distance herself from the genre. :) She's hardly alone in that: Michael Crichton and Kurt Vonnegut also write science fiction and also distance themselves from the genre label not out of any antipathy to SF but because being labeled as such would hurt their sales.


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