Nunavut’s children’s authors are gaining more and more recognition, but in Nunavut there are no awards like there are in the south and travel costs makes it impossible to get authors around the territory.
That’s why publisher Inhabit Media and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association teamed up for the second year to organize an author event in the capital, taking place this year on Feb. 25 at the Frobisher Inn.
“It’s bothered me forever – we’re the only territory or province that doesn’t have a way to award authors and recognize. There’s no book award in Nunavut. Typically, our authors compete in other jurisdictions. This is our way to celebrate them,” said the publishing company’s managing partner Neil Christopher.
The partnership between Inhabit and QIA dates back about eight years.
Both Inhabit and QIA are dedicated to ensuring Inuit children read Inuit and other Northern stories in their language – though the books often appear in both languages – by Nunavut authors.
“In addition to providing an important tool for children, parents and educators, this project allows us to champion Inuit authors who work in Inuktitut,” stated Idlout-Sudloverick. “Because of our help many of these authors are also able to produce English language versions of their books which are sold to larger Canadian markets. Some of the books we assisted in publishing, such as Sweetest Kulu, are best-sellers across Canada, available in many bookstores in the south.”
Huffington Post named Sweetest Kulu the Best Bedtime Story of 2014.
But many of the books are illustrated by outside illustrators.
“That’s because although there’s many fine artists in Nunavut, there’s not a lot of people that come with an illustration background,” said Christopher.
“That means you’re going to do sequential pieces of art. That means you’re going to deal with an art director asking for changes. All the things that happen for professional illustrators.”
Germaine Arnaktauyok is a rare exception, and that’s introduced her exceptional art to a whole new generation.
“You have guidelines to do books. There’s a slight difference between illustrating books and my own artwork. The cover of a book will be my own artwork, without any guidelines. Some (of my own) pieces take two to three months to do. But of course I have a deadline with illustrations,” said Arnaktauyok.
With a book, she has to produce 20 illustrations in two months.
“I took design for two years,” she said, crediting that experience for her ability to work with the spatial requirement of book illustration.
Christopher hopes more Nunavut artists will learn this specialized work.
Inhabit Media has published books for 12 years, and it publishes about 20 each year. A sister company, Inhabit Education, also publishes about 20 books each year.
Christopher says book ideas come to Inhabit in a variety ways: some authors send a full manuscript, some send a treatment or synopsis or idea.
“Sometimes we hear a story and consider turning it into a book,” he said, adding Inhabit then approaches the storyteller.
“Sometimes, with elders … We’ve done interviews with elders, and they tell us stories about life in the past. And every once in a while, in those interviews, we see a little piece of a story and we ask if they’d be willing to turn this into a story.”
Inhabit also publishes books in Inuinnaqtun.
Within the Inhabit/QIA partnership, QIA staff do meet with Inhabit staff to discuss topics and age target.
“For example, staff really wanted to capture a story of bowhead hunting told to us by Joanasie Karpik from Pangnirtung. This story was one of the books we published last year,” stated Idlout-Sudloverick.
“In many ways, we have paved new ground with this project, in fact, when we started this program, there were no Inuktitut board books available for young readers. The program produced the very first ones,” QIA’s director of social policy Hagar Idlout-Sudloverick stated via e-mail.
“We access funding from Canadian Heritage’s Aboriginal Languages Initiative program for this work. Since 2011, it has ranged from $52,000 to $97,000 per year. In total, approximately $713,000.”
Called the Pigiarvutittiavait program, the focus is on beginner and young readers.
“We aim to produce three products/books each year: a board book that helps children learn vocabulary, an elementary-level story book for kids in Grades 1 to 3, and a more advanced book for middle and high school readers, usually based on a traditional myth or legend,” stated Idlout-Sudloverick.