Presentation of the Graeme Gibson Award
It's my privilege and honour to present The Graeme Gibson Award to Andreas Schroeder.
Established by the Union in 1991 for “varied and remarkable contributions to improve the circumstances of writers in Canada,” the award has previously been given to Graeme Gibson, Pierre Berton and Heather Robertson. Andreas Schroeder is only its fourth recipient.
I cannot imagine anyone more deserving. I don't know when I met Andreas, but it was certainly through the Union – and my most vivid early recollection of him is of awaiting his arrival in Ottawa in 1975 to take over as the first non-Toronto Chair-elect of the Union immediately upon his release from prison – which meant that, with an ex-con at the helm, this finally was a real, proper union.
Andreas and I became friends, colleagues and conspirators at once, and our achievements were many and varied. I particularly remember a rather fine cavalry action agains the pay scale at Weekend Magazine, when Andreas made a feint from the west and I quickly struck with a sally from the east, the two of us jabbing and parrying until we had increased the magazine's freelance rates by something on the order of 50%.
Andreas's long career of service to Canada’s writing community begins in 1966, when he was a founder and long-serving leader of the League of Canadian Poets. In 1972, he was a founding member of this Union, serving on its first National Council for six years. In 1975 he became Vice-Chair, and in 1976 the first non-Toronto writer to serve as chair. He went on to help found the Federation of BC Writers, and to serve as an advisor to the National Book Festival and a board member of the Woodcock Foundation.
But the keystone of his life’s work of service to Canadian writers was his leadership in achieving and establishing Public Lending Right in this country. The PLR initiative had been launched by Marian Engel, who was quickly forced to give it up because of illness. Andreas took on the challenge with his trademark optimism and energy, ultimately devoting 34 years to the creation and development of this program. First , he spent 6 years criss-crossing the country, pitching the idea with increasing urgency to writers, publishers and librarians. Once the idea had the support of all three groups – a remarkable achievement in itself – Andreas led a seven-year lobbying effort to persuade the federal government to implement and fund it.
That finally happened in 1986 – but the program had to be up and running by December 31 of that year, or the money would evaporate. Schroeder and his newly-minted Public Lending Right Commission had just four months to find offices, furnish them, hire and train staff, acquire computers and custom-designed software to run the program, launch a registration drive to enlist all eligible Canadian authors, build a data-base of 17,000 eligible titles, search the holdings of ten of the largest libraries in Canada, convert this data into payments, and mail out cheques to 5,000 authors. And they did it.
Andreas became the founding Chair of the PLR Commission, and continued on its executive committee for another 21 years. By the time he stepped down, the program was serving more than 15,000 Canadian authors, with a budget of nearly $10 million and an administrative cost that rarely exceeded 4% of its budget. I just did a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation that indicates PLR has put nearly a quarter of a billion dollars into the hands of Canadian writers. When people ask me about the Union's achievements, the first one I mention is PLR.
And that's not to mention Andreas' contribution as university teacher and administrator, as mentor to many writers, and as organizer and host of festivals, readings programs, literary competitions, publishing initiatives and conferences – including one just this week. And then there's the little matter of 23 excellent books.
But for many of us, Andreas Schroeder is above all a treasured friend, a peerless adviser and colleague, a magnificent example – and for me, one of the most delightful and admirable people on the whole round globe. Andreas, this award is just a token of the debt we owe you.