Local artist Niki Watts has won the honour of being the first artist to win Second Story Press’s Indigenous Writing and Illustration Contest.
Raised in Bella Coola, Watts is of Cree heritage and is a well-known artist in the community. She comes from an artistic family: both her sister, Caley, and her father, Dan, are also very active and well-known artists in their own right.
In December 2014, Second Story Press announced its inaugural Writing Contest to celebrate its 25th anniversary and to build on its already strong list of diverse children’s books.
In the fall of 2017 the press, known for publishing independent, feminist-inspired books for adults and young readers, announced that it was once again looking for contemporary writing for a young reader audience that reflects the experience of Indigenous peoples written by an Indigenous writer. This time the contest included a new category for illustration, open to Indigenous artists.
Jodie Callaghan, a Mìgmaq author from Listuguj, Quebec and Michael Hutchinson, a member of the Misipawistik Cree Nation from Winnipeg, Manitoba, were co-winners in the writing portion of the contest. Both are already published authors.
The winning submissions were chosen by a jury comprised of Second Story Press publisher Margie Wolfe; writer Jan Bourdeau Waboose, who is First Nation Anishinaabe and the author of The Spirit Trackers; and writer, speaker, and consultant Monique Gray Smith, who is of Cree, Lakota, and Scottish ancestry and is the author of Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation.
According to the jury, Watts submitted a portfolio of “beautiful illustration work done mainly in pencil, with a delicacy of line and realistic depiction of nature, animals, and people that immediately struck the jury.”
They liked that Watts noted in her bio that she believes that “art can be a catalyst for change and can be a voice for issues that need to be heard.” Juror Margie Wolfe was impressed by Watts’ ability, noting, “she has a great gift for drawing people, and particularly faces. It’s rare to find an artist who can capture such emotion. It’s something that is highly sought after for book illustration.”
“I am honored to be selected by Second Story Press for their Illustration Contest,” said Watts. “I’m looking forward to working on this project!”