Briony Penn and Leslie Gentile Win Victoria Book Prizes

Briony Penn was awarded the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize for the biography of Cecil Paul, Following the Good River, The Life and Times of Wa’xaid, which was written in collaboration with Cecil Paul, and published by Rocky Mountain Books. Leslie Gentile won the City of Victoria Children’s Book Prize for her fiction title, Elvis, Me and the Lemonade Stand Summer, published by Cormorant Books.

Mayor Lisa Helps and co-sponsor Brian Butler announced the winners at the 18th annual Victoria Book Prize Gala on Sunday. The event took place at the Metro Theatre as part of the Victoria Festival of Authors. Both winners received $5,000 prizes.

“Congratulations to Briony Penn, and Leslie Gentile,” said Mayor Lisa Helps. “This book prize honours your exceptional work, and we are thankful for your contribution to the City’s creative community.”

Following the Good River, The Life and Time of Wa’xaid, is a resounding and timely saga featuring the trials, tribulations, endurance, forgiveness, and survival of one of North America’s more prominent Indigenous leaders. Born in 1931 in the Kitlope, Cecil Paul, also known by his Xenaksiala name, Wa’xaid, was one of the last fluent speakers of his people’s language.

At age ten he was placed in a residential school, operated by the United Church of Canada at Port Alberni, where he was abused. After three decades of prolonged alcohol abuse, he returned to the Kitlope where his healing journey began. He worked tirelessly to protect the Kitlope, described as the largest intact temperate rainforest watershed in the world. Wa’xaid passed away at the age of 90 on December 3, 2020.

Briony Penn is an award-winning writer of creative non-fiction books as well as a contributor to many anthologies and chapter books. She has been a feature writer and columnist for decades, with over 500 articles on environmental issues and natural history in newspapers, magazines, government publications, online news sources and peer-reviewed journals. She has also written numerous environmental guides and educational handbooks for teachers in British Columbia.

Leslie Gentile’s winning book tells the story of Truly’s unexpected summer.Truly wasn’t expecting to run a lemonade stand, but Andy El talked her into it. She wasn’t expecting to find out who her real father is, and she wasn’t expecting to come up with a secret plan to go visit him. But the thing she really wasn’t expecting was that Elvis Presley would come to live at the Eagle Shores Trailer Park. The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll – who everyone thought died a year ago – living on an Indigenous reserve on the West Coast? This summer is really shaking things up!

Leslie 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 with her husband. Elvis, Me, and the Lemonade Stand Summer, is her first novel.

“It was a challenging year for planning an event, with so many unknowns" said Victoria Book Prize Society President Darrell Joyce. “But we are delighted to have pulled off our first ever hybrid gala with free livestreaming. This would not have been possible without the amazing support of our many sponsors, talented local authors, volunteers, and a community that celebrates literacy. Congratulations to this year’s prize winners!”

Established in 2004, the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize is a partnership between the City of Victoria and Brian Butler of Butler Brothers Supplies. The City of Victoria Children’s Book Prize recognizes and celebrates exceptional literature for children and young adults. The prize was established in 2008 by the late Mel Bolen of Bolen Books. Additional sponsors include Munro’s Books, Greater Victoria Public Library, Island Blue Print, Chateau Victoria, Magnolia Hotel and Spa, Inn at Laurel Point, Friesens Corporation, CBC Radio, Ivy’s Bookshop, Russell Books, and Tanner’s Books. CBC’s Gregor Craigie hosted the event.

The Victoria Book Prize Society establishes the policy and criteria for the prizes, appoints the juries, and administers the competitions.

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