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McNally Robinson Booksellers

Soon after McNally Robinson Booksellers opened its store in Winnipeg’s Osborne Village in the mid-eighties, Prairie Fire began to hold launches and readings there. McNally Robinson sold Prairie Fire on its newsstand and, occasionally, advertised in PF’s pages. Over the next several years, Holly and Paul McNally showed themselves to be great friends of local writing by establishing the Award for Manitoba Book of the Year, which was the precursor to the many awards that today comprise the Manitoba Book Awards. The current owners, Chris Hall and Lori Baker have generously kept up the tradition.

When Prairie Fire Press produced its first strategic plan nearly ten years ago, one of its priorities was to find additional sponsorship for our three writing competitions. The goal was to raise more money to be offered as prizes. McNally Robinson Booksellers was at the top of our list of companies to approach. To our delight, Paul and Holly agreed and the Prairie Fire – McNally Robinson Booksellers Writing Contests were launched in 2004 and have continued successfully ever since.

The Banff Centre

Back in the mid 1990s, when Prairie Fire had just begun to run contests, I was looking for ways to fund them. As a PS in a letter to our subscribers, I asked if anyone had any suggestions. To my surprise, I soon received a phone call from Graeme McDonald, President and CEO of the Banff Centre. He told me that, decades earlier, the Centre had received a gift (or bequest, perhaps) from the granddaughter of Bliss Carman. This gift had consisted of a sum of money and Mr. Carman’s silver and turquoise ring. By accepting the gift, the Centre was obliged each year to present a replica of the ring to its best writing student.

He asked me if Prairie Fire would like to award the replica ring to its first-prize winner instead. There would be a small sum of money attached, too. I didn’t hesitate to accept this generous and intriguing offer, and that’s how the Bliss Carman Poetry Award came to be. At first the cash portion consisted of only $300, but the Centre soon raised the prize to $500 and added its name to the title: The Banff Centre Bliss Carman Poetry Award.