originally contained a clever work of "art" adapted from an
image at Upper Canada's website - it was their banner containing
links to "Arts," "Culture," etc. We had crossed
out "Arts" and "Culture" and circled "Buy
Stuff" in an effort to highlight the seemingly bottom-line
oriented nature of this decision... Upon receiving an email from
Bill Lisowsky, Marketing Manager of Sleeman's Brewery containing the
a request to remove the image ("I would appreciate you removing
the Upper Canada doctored photograph image on your ninja site
immediately. This trademark was accessed without permission."),
we removed it at the earliest possible opportunity (the evening of
01/08/03). It seems Sleeman's has given up on the award and their
sense of humour both.
was a bad year for literary awards - several disappeared, including
the Milton Acorn People's Poetry Award and the National Magazine
Award for Poetry. Now the lucrative, high profile Upper Canada
Writers' Craft Award for Short Fiction (one of only about three
awards exclusively for short fiction in Canada) is also gone. You
didn't hear about it? Don't worry - nobody did. And that’s because
Upper Canada failed to inform anyone of their decision.
publishers and writers with eligible books inquired about deadlines
this year they were simply told the award was not being offered
anymore. As far as Bookninja.com is able to confirm, to date no major
media outlets with book or publishing pages have written stories on
its passing, nor have any publishers or news outlets received press
releases detailing the reasoning for cancellation or even advising
them that submissions were no longer being accepted.
seems the Upper Canada Brewing Company just quietly cancelled the
popular award and didn't
in 2000, the award was gleefully welcomed by both writers and publishers. Its former winners and
shortlisted authors include an impressive mix of large and small
press authors: Matt Cohen, Stephen Hayward, Sheila Heti, Alice Munro, Diane Schoemperlen, and Josef Skvorecky.
the years, Upper Canada has heavily branded itself as the thinking
Canadian's beer, and prominently features sections such as
"culture," "literature," and "outdoors"
on its website.
of January 7th, 2004, the Upper Canada Brewery website
(http://www.uppercanada.com/) still prominently
lists the Writers' Craft program
and profiles the 2002 award winners, yet there is no mention of its
an effort to provide Upper Canada (a subsidiary of Sleeman's Brewery)
with an opportunity to explain its decision, we tried calling several
times. When we were unable to reach a representative for a voice
interview, we tried inquiring by email about the basis for the
decision and asked how they thought this decision would impact their
branding and customer loyalty. We explained that many of
Bookninja.com’s readers were angry and disappointed by the
cancellation of the award and offered them a chance to respond in
writing. This time, the email was returned immediately by Mr. Bill
Lisowsky, the Marketing Manager of Sleeman's who said he "would
be curious to know who is 'angry' about this decision. It is funny
how a small initiative that we started and found very concentrated
interest in when it existed can actually sound like more are upset
when it is gone."
alone shows a serious lack of understanding about the nature and
importance of arts-based social marketing, but it gets worse. Mr.
Lisowsky’s email continues with:
decision to postpone the award was made in order to concentrate
limited marketing resources on other initiatives that required
attention. In an organization that has multiple brands to support,
sometimes you need to reallocate from time to time to be able to
make a greater impact in one thing as opposed to spreading them out
too thinly and not making any singular impact.
were especially disappointed that The Writers' Craft Award, one that
gave away $30,000 in prize money over 3 years to short story
writers, had to be postponed. I still would like to regard this
initiative as 'postponed' as it was important to us to help us
establish a greater connection with the arts community and one
that we hope can continue in the future. if [sic] there was a strong
interest in the publishing community, I would love to hear back from
anyone on this - perhaps there is more we can do.
Canada is a brand we will be continuing to support and will relook
at a number of initiatives it is associated with to continue to
build it into one of Ontario's preferred craft beer
November 2003, novelist Jonathan Bennett launched his first
collection of short stories to rave reviews (including a 2003 Top 10
ranking from January Magazine). At the launch Mr. Bennett delivered a
stirring defence of the short story (available
in transcript form on Bookninja.com),
a lately beleaguered form under siege by the economic pressures of
bottom-line oriented publishing houses. Today, publishers want to
sell books by buzz rather than talent, and short stories aren't seen
as glamorous or sexy for the most part. In his address, Mr. Bennett,
who would have been eligible for the award this year, said:
current publishing environment is hostile towards the short story.
Writer after writer will tell you that publisher after publisher
have taken to rejecting short story collections outright because of
the form. “We just can’t sell short story collections” has
become the ubiquitous line in every rejection letter. Indeed, if an
author does not also have an attractive novel to sell alongside
their collection of stories or, to put it another way, if an author
wished to be solely a practitioner of short stories, then I should
think only the smallest of presses might be interested in their
career. When short stories do, on occasion, make it on to literary
award shortlists, they are viewed as the surprise finalist, the
curiosity, the long shot.
in the country of Alice Munro. Of Mavis Gallant. Of Alistair McLeod.
I could go on as Canada has a rich and proud history of short story
writers. But lately it seems we have lost our way. Why is
question. Some would argue it's not just the short story that's
embattled, but literary endeavours as a whole. And given the sorry
state of attention for literature and publishing in this country, we
at Bookninja.com are frankly surprised to see so little press
coverage of such losses.
Canada has gone to great lengths to associate its brand with arts
causes, yet a decision to cancel this award after only three years
makes their involvement seem more like fair-weather marketing than an
effort to promote Canadian arts. One must wonder whether Upper Canada
is actually committed to the arts or committed solely to using the
arts as part of its brand positioning.
over three years is a paltry sum for a national brewery such as
Sleeman's. It barely registers as a blip in the annual budget, yet it
generates valuable nation-wide interest in both the works being
considered and the brand of beer being sold.
years does not a commitment make. In fact, three years smacks more of
testing the water than commitment. Was there not enough immediate
return on the dollar? Not enough interest? Did an Excel spreadsheet
somewhere have a graph plotting the date, the dollars spent, and the
sales of beer?
comments above seem to indicate that Sleeman's and Upper Canada were
unaware of the importance of the award - a reasonable mistake for an
award more indebted to a marketing department than any general
interest in literature. And, truth be told, the literary community
often takes such things for granted until they are gone. Yet, make no
mistake about it: people are angry and disappointed. Short stories,
considered one of the highest and most prestigious literary art
forms, get very little press as it is. The cancellation of this award
is just another sign of that Big Money is afraid to commit to funding
art unless an immediate pay-off is available.
at Bookninja call on Upper Canada to reinstate the award or remove
all marketing materials related to it from their website and issue a
proper public announcement about the cancelled status of the award.
We also call on Canada's arts media to pay more attention to
disappearing opportunities such as this.
Letters regarding this report:
To George/Book Ninja,
Just read the piece on the Upper Canada
Award's demise. Upper Canada was bought out by Sleeman's recently.
I'm presuming the award was started in the days when U.C. was still
its own brand. Upper Canada showed strong support for the arts
across the board. Sleeman fired most/all of the folks involved
in-house in promoting the arts. They have all/most been hired
by Steam Whistle Brewing. So this is also a story of corporate
takeover and its implications, a fact which doesn't seem acknowledged
in your press release. (Perhaps someone should approach Steam Whistle
about reinstating the award.)
Happy New Year to you guys.
Catherine Bush, Toronto
That's one less beer to drink, the bastards!
(It's BudLight from now on!) Good thing you're out there, G.
You're right to ask "where the hell's the rest of the
Adam Seelig, New York
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