The Georgia Straight’s Travis Lupick is the 2018 recipient of the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature.
He’ll receive the award for his first book, Fighting for Space: How a Group of Drug Users Transformed One City’s Struggle With Addiction, which was published by Arsenal Pulp Press in November 2017.
Fighting for Space recounts Vancouver activists’ fight for harm reduction, which culminated with the opening of North America’s first supervised-injection facility, Insite, and which continues today with the city’s response to the fentanyl crisis. The book primarily follows the lives of two women—Ann Livingston of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) and Liz Evans of the Portland Hotel Society (PHS)—and their work concerning addiction and mental health in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
“I hope that Fighting for Space receiving this award encourages discussion of Canada’s overdose epidemic,” Lupick said. “I worry that public attention is beginning to wane, or that a feeling of hopelessness is leading people to block the crisis from their minds. But the number of deaths remains higher than ever.
“In 1998, the worst year of the overdose crisis that’s recounted in Fighting for Space, there were 400 drug-overdose deaths across B.C. It was a number so high that in response, Vancouver revolutionized how it responds to addiction. In 2017, there were 1,436 fatal overdoses across B.C. Something needs to change, and radically so.”
The Ryga Award is coordinated by Alan Twigg and B.C. BookWorld. Each year, it is given to an author who has demonstrated an “outstanding degree of social awareness”. Past recipients include Wade Davis, Maggie de Vries, Bev Sellars, Joel Bakan, Andrew MacLeod, Bob Hunter, and Richard Wagamese.
Twigg described the story in Fighting for Space as one in which the city should take pride.
"As a native Vancouverite, I see my city as an overly boastful and self-satisfied bubble of unreality that is going downhill fast," he said. "But there is one thing we have given to the world that can truly be described as 'world class' and that's our courageous and hard-won drug addiction treatment program.
“At the outset of his journalism career, [Lupick] has done an exemplary job documenting how a small group of activists put their hearts and minds into inventing a harm reduction program for the city that is saving lives on a daily basis."
In addition to Fighting for Space, the Ryga Award's shortlist for 2018 included Medicine Unbundled: A Journey through the Minefields of Indigenous Health Care by Gary Geddes and Just Cool It! The Climate Crisis and What We Can Do by David Suzuki and Ian Hanington.
Lupick will receive the award at a ceremony at the Vancouver Public Library’s Central Branch on June 28.
Later this month, Lupick will host discussions about Fighting for Space and Canada’s ongoing opioid crisis in Montreal (March 14), Ottawa (March 16), and Toronto (March 19). More information is at fightingforspace.com.