And the winner is … Commissioner of Yukon Award Joanna Lilley

Whitehorse author Joanna Lilley has won this year’s Borealis Prize: The Commissioner of Yukon Award for Literary Contribution. Though Commissioner of Yukon, Angélique Bernard, does not choose the recipient, she was happy to present it to Lilley. This year marks only the second year of the Borealis Prize, but Bernard hopes it will continue, as she emphasized the importance of the Yukon’s literary community and all those involved. 

“What is a bit different with the Borealis Prize is that we recognize writers, publishers and editors, but we also recognize community builders,” she said. “So, we recognize the volunteers that work behind the scenes that we don’t always see at events, but who always show up.”

The Borealis Prize only began in 2021, meaning Lilley is second winner of the annual prize. The inaugural award last year was given to Patti Flather and Leonard Linklater for their work in founding Gwaandak Theatre and other contributions to the local literary community. 

“It’s great to know that in the two years we’ve had it, we’ve had great recipients,” Bernard said of the award. 

Lilley arrived in the Yukon in 2006 and has published five books. She has made many contributions to the literary community with her works, which include a novel, a short story collection and three poetry books, as well as her support in the development of the community, according to the Commissioner. 

Bernard established the Borealis Prize last year in collaboration with the BC and Yukon Book Prizes. The process of picking the winner starts with online nominations, meaning each candidate has to be submitted by one or more supporters. When the jury picks a recipient, Bernard has that person visit her office where she presents the award. Since creativity and civic pride are two of her four pillars as Commissioner, Bernard felt it was important to create an award that would celebrate the Yukon’s literary contributors. Presenting the award has been a highlight of the process for Bernard.

“A trend I have seen is that people are really surprised to be nominated and chosen for the award,” she said. “Most of the people do their work to do good in the community and necessarily to get an award, so being recognized on that level is really humbling for them.” 

The criteria for the award is simple enough: literary contributors and writers of any kind who have lived in the Yukon for the past 12 months, or at least three of the past five years are eligible. Writers up for nomination can have writing published anywhere in the world, not just in the Yukon. Bernard said she wants to encourage anyone who can think of a literary contributor deserving recognition to make a nomination for whomever that may be. 

“As soon as you think of someone that has done wonderful things for the Yukon, don’t hesitate to get online and nominate them,” she said. “The more people that Yukoners nominate, it really shows the strength of the literary community.”

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