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From the Editors' Association of Canada

Gretzky With a Zed:
Honouring Excellence in Editing

By Karen Virag


Once, when I was manning the Editors' Association of Canada/Association canadienne des réviseurs (EAC/ACR) booth at the Word on the Street literary festival in Calgary, a young boy approached the booth and asked, "Do you guys work on hockey cards?" We assured him that we did. Now, what a Canadian moment, eh? Sports and editing conflated in the person of one eager lad. And I must admit, I was tickled that such a young fellow actually understood what editors do. Of course hockey cards get edited. Just think of the fallout if a hockey-card maker, spelled, say, Gretzky with an "s" (which I actually once saw in a U.S. newspaper). As for our eager young man - future hockey player or future editor? We are not sure which, but, in any case, he had it over a later visitor to the booth, a much older person, who asked, "So, like, what do editors do?" Well, editors ensure that a writer's words and meaning can be understood by the intended audience, or, as an editing colleague pithily puts it, editors fix other people's writing. Editors usually work behind the scenes and are often unacknowledged, but they are a vital component in the publishing process. And while writers have their high profile GG and Giller prizes, the work of editors does not go unrewarded. Each year, the EAC/ACR confers the Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence.

The Tom Fairley award is named after a long-time Toronto editor and member of the association. Tom's editing career stretched from the 1930s to the 1980s and included stints at Canadian Press, the CBC, Macmillan of Canada, General Publishing and Copp Clark. He was keenly interested in Canada's North, which was reflected in his two books and his many newspaper and magazine articles on the Arctic. He is fondly remembered as a distinguished man with exceptional editing abilities, skill with language and a generous nature, who was always willing to help novice editors. Tom died in March 1982 at the age of 63, and the award that bears his name is both a tribute to the winner and to Tom Fairley himself, an outstanding editor and man.

This year at the awards ceremony held at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, the judges declared co-winners: Susan Goldberg and David Peebles, both of Toronto, shared the 2002 Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence and the prize money of $2000. Goldberg received the award for her work on Misinformed Consent: Thirteen Women Share Their Stories about Unnecessary Hysterectomy by Lise Cloutier-Steele, published by Stoddart, and Peebles for McGraw-Hill Ryerson Mathematics of Data Management by Barbara Canton, published by McGraw-Hill Ryerson.

According to the judges, Susan Goldberg did what superlative editors do: she took a lifeless manuscript and "worked with the thirteen women to restore their individual voices." The judges went on to say that "in doing so she displayed tremendous sensitivity to women traumatized by medical calamity. She conducted a substantial amount of research on her own to help her make the medical issues involved accessible to a lay readership."

David Peebles's acceptance speech told of his rather unorthodox entry into the world of editing: a colleague sent a manuscript on electrical wiring to Peebles's wife, Ruth Pincoe, herself an editor and former Tom Fairley award winner, hoping that Peebles, who has a background in science, theatrical lighting and electrical wiring, would pick it up. He did. Judges noted that Peebles's task in this award-winning project was almost opposite to Goldberg's in that his manuscript "also had multiple authors but his task was to make one voice of many. He organized and clarified a mass of complex mathematical material to shape it into a student-friendly text that met the new curricular requirements. He displayed remarkable attention to detail while retaining a firm grasp of the whole, and a sure-footedness with every phase of production."

While to date no one has won an award for editing hockey cards, the range of material editors work on is extremely broad. Recent winners include Camilla Jenkins, for her work on UBC Press's Couture and Commerce, The Transatlantic Fashion Trade in the 1950s, by Alexandra Palmer; Barbara Pulling for her work on Patricia Van Tighem's

The Bear's Embrace, A True Story of Surviving a Grizzly Bear Attack, published by Greystone; and Elizabeth McLean for her work on Finding the Right Treatment: Modern and Alternative Treatment: A Comprehensive Guide to Getting the Best of Both Worlds, by Jacqueline Krohn and Frances Taylor, published by Hartley & Marks. Other notable past winners include Rosemary Shipton, coordinator of the publishing program at Ryerson University, noted writer and editor Rick Archbold and columnist and Saturday Night editor Robert Fulford.

Judges for the Tom Fairley award are all professional editors with extensive experience. And the fact that the Tom Fairley prize is judged by one's peers enhances its value to editors - editors are their own toughest critics, after all. This year's judges, who examined a record number of entries, were long-time editors Camilla Jenkins, Olive Koyama, and Shaun Oakey.

This year's cash prize was made possible by grants from EAC/ACR and several publishers: HarperCollins, Random House of Canada, Breakwater Books, Orca Book Publishers, UBC Press, Madison, the C.D. Howe Institute, New Society Publishers, the University of Calgary Press and Macfarlane Walter & Ross.

At the time of this writing, the EAC had over 1,600 members in five branches that span the country and that represent both salaried and freelance editors working in a multitude of areas, from corporate to government to book publishing. EAC has published a number of publications that are indispensable to the practising editor, including Meeting Editorial Standards and two volumes of Editing Canadian English. EAC sponsors professional development seminars, promotes high standards of editing and publishing in Canada, establishes guidelines to help editors secure fair pay and good working conditions, provides vital networking opportunities and awards excellence in the profession.

Check out the Web site at www.editors.ca.

Karen Virag is past president of the Prairie Provinces Branch of the Editors' Association of Canada and past national vice-president of the same organization. She is presently supervisor of publications and acting managing editor at the Alberta Teachers' Association. She also acts as co-chair of the writing and publishing sub-sector of the Cutural Human Resources Council, a federal sectoral council that works to address human resource and employment issues in Canada's cultural industries.


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