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The Richard Carver Award

Compiled in part from a Nelson and District Arts Council press release, May, 2020.

Richard Carver

The Richard Carver Award for Emerging Writers is presented annually by the Nelson and District Arts Council (NDAC). EMLF is proud to co-sponsor the 2020 Carver Award, which will be presented at an out-of-doors literary event to be held this summer (details TBA).

Richard Carver was a Nelson resident (and former president of NDAC) who embraced the arts and the artistic process with passion and enthusiasm. He moved to Nelson from Ottawa where he had worked for The Ottawa Citizen and after that had a distinguished career with the National Library for twenty years. After moving to Nelson in 2001, he found a community where he could explore his own passions of writing and painting while serving as a cultural volunteer and support of many young artists in the community. Carver passed away suddenly in 2009.

The Nelson District Arts Council is proud to honour Carver’s contributions to the Kootenay arts scene, with the support of the Carver Family. The Carver Award alternates annually between recognizing an emerging writer–one who has self-published one to two books (or through a small publisher)– and recognizing a literary legacy in the community. 2020 will see a literary legacy honoured. The recipient must be a West Kootenay resident and the published work can be of any genre. For more information visit The Nelson and District Arts Council.

Past recipients are:
2013 – Darcee O’Hearn
2014 – Jane Byers
2015 – Susan Dancer and Avi Silberstein
2016 – Donna MacDonald and Alanda Greene
2017 – Diana Morita Cole
2018 – Morty Mint and Ernst Hekkanen
2019 – Rayya Liebich


A Legacy of Words: remembering Holley Rubinsky

by Anne DeGrace

This article appeared in the fall 2015 issue of ARTiculate Magazine. Each year the Elephant Mountain Literary Festival offers the Holley Rubinsky Memorial Blue Pencil Sessions. To date, our celebrated Writer-in-Residence authors have been Caroline Adderson (2016), Fred Stenson, (2017), Susan Musgrave (2018), and Marilyn Bowering (2019).

L–R: Richard Lemm, Alistair MacLeod, Holley Rubinsky, Sandra Birdsell at the Banff Publishing Workshop c. 1982.
Left to right: Richard Lemm, Alistair MacLeod, Holley Rubinsky, and Sandra Birdsell at the Banff Publishing Workshop c. 1982.

In Holley Rubinsky’s 2006 novel Beyond This Point, five women find their way to the Kaslo-like town of Ruth during forest fire season.

Holley passed away in Kaslo from cancer on August 1, and in the smoky weeks that followed I thought about the novel, and I thought about Holley. As word spread in the writing community, I suspect that a lot of people were thinking about the fire that was Holley: in her writing, her energy and enthusiasm, her generosity, and her legendary straightforwardness.

In her four published books of fiction Holley displayed a talent for describing complex ideas with a remarkable economy of words. Her style was sophisticated, insightful, sharply drawn and starkly rendered. Her stories could be humorous, difficult, dark, and unforgettable.

Holley moved from California to Kaslo with her daughter Robin in 1976. By then she had won the Samuel Goldwyn Creative Writing Award, acquired a Master’s degree in education and earned her pilot’s license. In Kaslo she taught elementary school and became entrenched in the community. And she wrote.

Attending the Banff Publishing Workshop (BPW) in the early 80s, Holley rubbed shoulders with literary luminaries including Alistair MacLeod, Sandra Birdsell, and W.O. Mitchell. It was there that she met and fell in love with BPW founder Yuri Rubinsky; they married in 1984. And she became friends with Douglas Gibson, who with McClelland & Stewart would publish Beyond This Point 30 years later.

BPW “changed the face of Canadian publishing” explains Doug. “Yuri lured us all out there, where the mountains had an extraordinary effect of everyone. Just as it was wonderful to see Yuri in action, it was even more wonderful to see Yuri and Holley in action. They were wonderfully well suited, and it was exciting to be around them.”

They settled in Toronto, where Holley went on to win the National Magazine Award, the Foundation Award for Fiction, and the Journey Prize for her short story “Rapid Transits,” which became the title story in a collection published by Polestar in 1991. At First I Hope for Rescue (Knopf 1997) was nominated for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize.

After Yuri’s untimely death, which Holley drew upon for Beyond This Point, she moved to Arizona. There she gathered the characters and setting that would inform South of Elfrida, published by Brindle & Glass in 2013. But the mountains called, and Holley returned to Kaslo where she found new ways to embrace the literary life.

Holley hosted The Writers’ Show on Kootenay Co-op Radio from 2006 to 2008, interviewing writers and publishing insiders. The list is a who’s who of literary notables, including George Bowering, John Vaillant, Angie Abdou, and Kathy Page. She hosted writing retreats at her Kaslo home, offering support, mentorship and critique, drawing gratitude and occasionally blood; Holley said what she thought. Linda Crosfield describes Holley’s retreats:

“A typical retreat consisted of five or six writers working manuscripts. We’d meet in the morning around her big oak table, share a little of our work and talk about what we planned to do over the next few days. Then we’d go to our various work places and have at it. At the end of the day we’d wind up in her kitchen, put together a communal meal, and unwind over a glass of something,” says Linda, adding that Holley was “an insightful editor and a tireless supporter of emerging writers.”

Holley worked with Mandy Bath on her memoir Disaster in Paradise. “Holley was an exacting and inspiring teacher. Her advice was clear, blunt and sometimes hard to take, but always worth following,” she says. “Our collaboration over more than two years marked one of the most fulfilling periods of my life.”

Author Rita Moir taught writing workshops with Holley, who, she says, “was as brutal with her own work as she was with others. Holley was also exuberant, full of piss and vinegar, generous, always inventing new ways to survive. She was curious, a sprite, a vixen, a hag. I mean that in all the fullness of those terms, for the best and the worst.”

If Holley demanded the best in others, she expected the best in herself. Unhappy with the published version of Beyond This Point, she reworked and self-published her own limited edition version, Weight of the Bear. Self-critical as she may have been, her work drew praise. The Globe and Mail called her writing “incendiary.”

“As with all her writing, Holley was fearless about her material and about showing the prickly, mean and miserable side of humanity,” says author Caroline Woodward. “It takes courage to write with such depth about darkness the way she did and with such clear-eyed compassion for each and every character.”

“I was struck by Holley’s fierceness in arguing for good writing,” says poet Jane Byers, and Holley will be remembered for championing the written word.

It was important to Holley that literary mentorship and critique continue. And so, thanks to a generous bequest, Nelson’s Elephant Mountain Literary Festival will host a Holley Rubinsky blue pencil intensive workshop with an established writer in 2016.

The legacy of a writer lies in the words she leaves behind. In Holley’s case, the legacy can be found not only in her own words, but also in the words she drew from others, sometimes gently, sometimes kicking and screaming, demanding always that the work be the very best. And that’s a legacy indeed.

Holley Rubinsky bibliography:

South of Elfrida (Brindle & Glass 2013)
Weight of the Bear (self-published limited edition, 2008; a shortened and edited version of Beyond This Point.)
Beyond This Point (McClelland & Stewart, 2006)
At First I Hope for Rescue (Knopf Canada, 1997; Picador (USA), 1998)
Rapid Transits and Other Stories (Polestar Press, 1990)