Burla awards (originally published for Share Newspaper)

they are all winners but one takes prizethey are all winners but one takes prize

BURLA Awards Recognize Youth

Published December 15, 2006, in Share Newspaper

The 2nd annual BURLA awards at Burke’s Books and Picture Framing highlighted three young women for the first time last week, but in the end only one took home the prize. Crystal Hosannah of Oakwood Collegiate won for her essay on literature that was inspired by her Mom.

“I talked about when I was a little girl and my Mom used to lead me into the bookstore and I would just wander around there for hours just reading the backs of books,” says Hosannah.

Her favourite book is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which she read when she was eight. Hosannah says winning the award is a pleasant surprise.

Among the other nominees for the BURLA were Hannah Watson-Jackson and Nyomi Puil, also of Oakwood Collegiate. Watson-Jackson wrote about how writing has treated her, compared to the kids she sees in her co-op placement who hate writing. Puil wrote about how more young people are turning away from books and discovering a virtual self.

Veteran writers like Pamela Mordecai also received an award. Among Mordecai’s books is Her True-True Name, a blockbuster work on Caribbean women, edited with her sister Elizabeth Wilson.

“I can only say that I am very honoured to receive the award and I think Sam and Rita (Burke) are wonderful people,” says Mordecai about the owners of the bookstore. “I can’t think of any other persons I would have liked to receive it from. I remember Lenny and Gwen Johnson from Third World Bookstore and Crafts. But I see Sam and Rita as continuing that tradition and I am just completely honoured, delighted and humbled to receive it.”

Mordecai shared the stage with the Governor-General’s award-winning poet Dr. George Elliott Clarke. Clarke read from his new book Illuminated Verses, with photos by famed photographer Ricardo Scipio. The book celebrates the beauty of the Black woman’s body through pictures and poetry.

“I’m extremely pleased that we’re doing the launch for the book here at Burke’s Books,” said Clarke. “I’m also pleased to be part of the program that will honour Pamela Mordecai. I’ve known her for a number of years and whose work I respect greatly.”

Elliott Clarke teaches at the University of Toronto and has numerous books of poetry, including an anthology Fire on the Water Vol 1. and Vol. 2, and George & Rue which came out earlier in 2005. His latest book, Illuminated Verses, consists of 38 nude photographs.

“It’s the first book of its kind ever,” says Clarke. “People can decide for themselves. I think it’s a gorgeous book; it’s a beautiful book because of the photographs. If they want my opinion, the photographs are absolutely great, and the poems are pretty good too.”

Books like Clarke’s and Mordecai’s can be found at Burke’s Books which hosted the event with the help of CBC radio producer, Nick Davis, and educator Linette Spence. The celebration of Black literature was the brainchild of the wife and husband team, Rita and Sam Burke.

“We started the bookstore 11 years ago, without one customer,” says Sam Burke as he greets guests who congratulate him on his success. “It was like giving birth to a child, and you watch that child grow and evolve into an adult. Last year, when we celebrated our 10th anniversary, it just seemed a natural thing to reach out even more because there are some wonderful people in this community.

“We’re privileged where we are here to meet and to interact with them. The BURLA is just an evolution. And especially this year, we’re very excited because of the student award that we’ve added to that. That’s really what it’s all about, it’s about the young people and tomorrow and all the hopes and the aspirations that they have, and to know that someone can say, yes you can do it. Yes, you’re capable. It’s just exciting.”

Next year, the Burkes have some plans in place for the BURLA. They plan to expand the student participation. He says he’s not at liberty to say at this point.

For this year, the winner of the youth BURLA, Hosannah, gets that extra push to continue reading and writing. She says reading becomes especially important because the media is telling people what to think and what to do.

“It’s time that we kind of gets back to the reading,” says Hosannah.


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