2009 Tom Fairley Award Winner Aims for Cultural Preservation of an Historic People

Media Contact:
Michelle Ou
Communications Manager
Editors’ Association of Canada
Association canadienne des réviseurs
416 975-1379 / 1 866 226-3348


Toronto, June 2, 2010—The Editors’ Association of Canada is pleased to announce the winner of the 2009 Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence. The award recipient is Mary Lou Roy, Production Editor at the University of Alberta Press in Edmonton, Alberta, for her role in the publication of People of the Lakes: Stories of Our Van Tat Gwich’in Elders/Googwandak Nakhwach’ànjòo Van Tat Gwich’in, by the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and Shirleen Smith.

Roy accepted the $2,000 award at the association’s annual banquet, held on May 29, 2010, in Montreal.

It took Roy and her editorial team over a year to bring this complex book to print. She coordinated and integrated the efforts of a comprehensive group of in-house and freelance staff.

A number of challenges faced the editing team. The size of the 465-page, large-format book was only the first. The Gwich’in language, which is written with numerous apostrophes to indicate glottal stops and includes one character not present in the English alphabet, appeared throughout; its complex, accented spelling made for challenging copy editing and proofreading. To complicate matters further, Gwich’in orthography has changed in the last decade, so decisions had to be made about how to standardize spellings while accommodating both writing systems. Integrating the academic and cultural components of the book also presented a major challenge. The more scholarly component focused on the history of the Van Tat Gwich’in, a people whose language and oral tradition are in danger of disappearing. The balance of the book was based on the recorded and subsequently transcribed stories of elders, gathered over several decades—most translated into English from the Gwich’in language. Roy met the challenge of seamlessly blending both portions, maintaining scholarly conventions while ensuring general accessibility. Overall, the editing required a high degree of cultural sensitivity and involved intensive consultation with the authors, in particular Shirleen Smith, who served as a valuable conduit to the Van Tat Gwich’in community in Old Crow, Yukon.

The community of Old Crow has a population of about 300 people. It is the heart of the traditional lands of the Van Tat Gwich’in, whose roots go back millennia in the area. Roy’s primary goal throughout the editing process was to honour the elders of this community by presenting the stories of their oral tradition with accuracy and integrity.

Roy has been revising, proofreading and working with words all her life, but has only been editing professionally since joining the University of Alberta Press in late 2007. She considers herself a generalist, both in terms of subject matter and editorial function. “Editing is really an invisible art,” says Roy. “It doesn’t stand out—and it shouldn’t, if it’s done well.” Her advice to beginning editors: “Indulge your love of reading, feed your intellectual curiosity, seek out a mentor, ask lots of questions, develop a connection with your authors, trust your instincts and—despite what others may say—it’s perfectly fine to ‘sweat the small stuff’.”

Of all the projects on which she has worked, Roy has found People of the Lakes to be the most rewarding. She says, “The University of Alberta Press has a tradition of bringing important books to the world, and we all worked very hard to give the Van Tat Gwich’in a real gem. I hope they are as proud of this special book as we are.”

The two other editors short-listed for their excellent work were Mary Reeve of Toronto, Ontario, for Math Focus 3 Student Book and In-class Activity Book by Marian Small (senior author) and Lenee Fyfe (Nelson Canada) and Donald Ward of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, for Negotiating the Numbered Treaties: An Intellectual and Political Biography of Alexander Morris by Robert J. Talbot (Purich Publishing Ltd.).

Judges for the 2009 Tom Fairley Award were Heather Ebbs of Ottawa (1986 Tom Fairley Award recipient), Melva McLean of Vancouver (2008 Tom Fairley Award recipient) and Bruce Porter of St. John’s.

The Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence, established in 1983 and presented annually by the Editors’ Association of Canada (EAC), recognizes the editor’s often invisible contribution to written communication. The cash award of $2,000 is made possible by grants from EAC and several publishers: HarperCollins, Random House of Canada, Breakwater Books, Orca Book Publishers, UBC Press, Madison, the C.D. Howe Institute, New Society Publishers and the University of Calgary Press. www.editors.ca/tomfairley/index.html

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About the Editors’ Association of Canada

The Editors’ Association of Canada/Association canadienne des réviseurs began in 1979 as the Freelance Editors’ Association of Canada to promote and maintain the highest standards of editing. EAC is the voice of editors in Canada, with 1,600 members, both salaried and freelance, who work in the corporate, technical, government, not-for-profit, education and publishing sectors. EAC’s professional development programs and services include seminars, certification, guidelines for fair pay and working conditions, an annual conference and networking with other associations. EAC has six regional branches: British Columbia, Prairie Provinces, Saskatchewan, Toronto, National Capital Region and Quebec/Atlantic Canada. Please visit www.editors.ca.

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