Lorna Crozier accepts Woodcock Award for Patrick Lane
April 25th, 2019
Patrick Lane has been named winner of the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award posthumously in Victoria.
On Saturday, April 20, 2019, at a memorial event attended by more than two hundred people on the UVic campus, Howard White, as president of Pacific BookWorld News Society, presented Patrick Lane’s partner Lorna Crozier—who had received the same award the previous year—with a $5,000 cheque and a civic proclamation in honour of Patrick Lane.
Here is the text of his comments to the gathering.
Thank you for coming tonight to mark the passing of a great British Columbian and a great Canadian. I am here both as President of the Pacific Bookworld News Society to formally present the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award on Patrick’s behalf and also as long-time friend and publisher of Patrick. If that seems like a conflict—well, too bad. CanLit is such a cozy little family you can’t turn around without bumping into somebody you published, taught or loved, and as the past weeks have shown, Patrick was loved by many both as a great writer and as a wonderful, wise, warm human being.
We don’t normally crash people’s memorials to present the Woodcock Award and, in fact, we don’t give this award posthumously. The decision to name Patrick this year was made in February and we had planned to present it to him in person next week but alas, he couldn’t wait for us. Lorna kindly agreed to let us intrude on this event.
The Woodcock Award has been in existence for 24 years now and is awarded each year to a writer who has made an outstanding contribution to BC literature over the course of their lifetime. It is judged by the board of directors of the Pacific Bookworld News Society and is co-sponsored by the Writers Trust, Yosef Wosk, the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Public Library. Over the years it has been awarded to Jane Rule, Phyllis Webb, Audrey Thomas, P.K. Page, Alice Munro, Jack Hodgins, Joy Kogawa, Wayson Choy, David Suzuki and Jeanette Armstrong among others—although, interestingly, never to George Woodcock. For the first few years of its life the award was sponsored by a company called BC Gas and was known as the BC Gas Award, which I don’t miss although some people claimed to find it unintentionally apt. Anyway, BC Gas disappeared in a cloud of vapour one day and we welcomed the chance to re-christen in honour of the scholar, critic and journalist who was known as BC’s foremost man of letters.
When we first started giving out the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995, Patrick’s name was one of the first that came up because even then, when he was a mere lad of 56, it was obvious he should be near the top of any list of greatest BC writers. But there was a backlog of deserving authors to honour so the board set an unofficial age threshold of 70 so for the first 15-odd years Pat was disqualified on the basis of youth. It’s just as well because during his Sixties and Seventies he enjoyed a burst of productivity that made a whole new case for including him as a great BC writer. He wrote a prizewinning memoir, two dense, Faulknerian novels and five more books of poetry including his magnum opus, The Collected Poems of Patrick Lane, which is one of BC’s greatest books, and, indeed, one of Canada’s permanent additions to English literature. Pat was also quite busy accepting other honours during his later years, adding to his already impressive collection which included the 1978 Governor General’s Award for poetry, by collecting honorary doctorates from Vancouver Island University, UNBC, UBC, UVic and McGill, as well the BC Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence, the BC Prize for Non-Fiction and the Order of Canada.
When his name was submitted for the Woodcock Award this past February, the jury agreed in record time.
Although our timing with this presentation was just a little too slow, I was able to deliver the news to Patrick while he was still with us. I remember his first response: “Are you sure you haven’t given me that one already?” He was really very moved, however, and wrote this email to the prize administrator Alan Twigg:
“It is nice to be associated with George [Woodcock]. He wrote a chapbook summary of my poetry back in mid-career and compared my verse to poets such as Yeats, which, God knows, was excessive in the extreme, but still nice to imagine it might echo some small qualities of such a master, a poet I admired when I was young and still do… Nice too to have the ceremony here in Victoria if it can be arranged. As you might know, I’ve been ill these past three years with an ongoing, undiagnosed inflammatory disease which has attacked my immune system, I am on prednisone among many other pernicious drugs. The meds leave me a bit challenged, but short of being in hospital I will be there… Thank you for this award. It is most kind.”
The prize comes with an official proclamation from the Mayor of Vancouver which reads,
“Whereas the VPL is dedicated to collecting, preserving promoting and celebrating works by British Columbia writers;
“And Whereas Patrick Lane was a well-respected BC writer, widely acclaimed across the nation, the author of 32 books and a beloved teacher and mentor and a most worthy recipient of the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for an outstanding literary career in British Columbia;
NOW THEREFORE, I, Kennedy Stewart, Mayor of the City of Vancouver DO HEREBY PROCLAIM Saturday April 27, 2019 as “BC AUTHOR APPRECIATION DAY.”
The Woodcock Award also comes with a $5,000 cash prize and with its own form of immortality: a marble plaque inscribed with the author’s name that will be cemented into the Literary Walk of Fame outside the main concourse of the VPL. Thanks to the vagaries of the jury’s decision making, it just happens that Patrick’s plaque will end up nestled up against that of last year’s winner, Lorna Crozier, where they may eternally keep each other company.
I would like to now ask Lorna to come forward and accept the 2019 Woodcock Award on Patrick’s behalf.