Off the Page appears regularly on the Magazine Awards blog. Today we catch up with writer J.B. MacKinnon, winner of 11 National Magazine Awards and author of The Once and Future World (Random House Canada).
NMAF: In an essay titled “A 10 Percent World” (The Walrus, September 2010), you argued that humanity’s vision of an idyllic past is myopic; that in seeking to temper the impact that we have on our environment, our purpose “is not to demand some return to a pre-human Eden, but rather to expand our options”; that “our sense of what is possible sets limits on our dreams.” What did you mean by expanding our options beyond the limits?
J.B.: “A 10 Percent World” looks at the natural world of the historical past—a much richer and more abundant state of nature than we know today. We’ve largely forgotten this more plentiful world, and that limits our sense of the possible.
Yes, it’s depressing to find out that grizzly bears used to live on the Canadian Prairies and they don’t any more, or that Vancouver waters were home to a year-round population of humpback whales that were all slaughtered by 1908. But if we aren’t aware of these facts, then the absence of the bears and the whales seems normal. When we do become aware of them, we’re able to set a higher bar for our vision of what nature can be.
NMAF: That essay won a National Magazine Award in 2011. What impact did the magazine publication and the award have on your decision to pursue a book project, resulting in your recently published The Once and Future World?
“A 10 Percent World” was that initial foray into the depths. The story had an impact on readers, and when it also won a magazine award I was able to move forward on the book with a lot more confidence.
NMAF: You’ve been a professional writer for more than a decade, with 11 National Magazine Awards (and 31 nominations). What role do Canadian magazines play in your career, and what significance do you put on winning awards?
J.B.: I became a writer during the largely overlooked great recession of the early 1990s, and the limited opportunities of that time made a deep impression on me. Fortunately, a few Canadian editors took a chance on my work, and I’ve been able to build from there. But I’m always trying to sharpen my teeth—to push toward deeper themes or better writing. It doesn’t always work, and I appreciate that Canadian magazines are still giving me chances. They don’t always expect me to show up with all my t’s crossed and i’s already dotted.
Awards are one way to measure whether or not what I’m doing on the page is working—the awards themselves matter less to me than the nominations. Consistent nominations tell me that I’m continuing to do work that is recognizably among the best in the country. Actually taking home a gold or silver is a much less predictable matter. Of course, when it happens, well… it never gets old, let’s say that.
J.B. MacKinnon is the award-winning author of The Once and Future World, The 100-Mile Diet and Dead Man in Paradise. His writing has appeared in great Canadian magazines including Explore, The Walrus, This Magazine and more. He was the writer for the documentary Bear 71, which explores the intersection of the wired and wild worlds through the true story of a mother grizzly bear. Discover more at jbmackinnon.com.
Off the Page appears regularly on the Magazine Awards blog. Today we catch up with Sierra Skye Gemma, winner of the 2012 National Magazine Award for Best New Magazine Writer.
[This post has been updated to include the new deadline for the Prism International Creative Non-fiction contest deadline: Dec 5.]
NMAF: Earlier this year you won the National Magazine Award for Best New Magazine Writer for a story called “The Wrong Way” (The New Quarterly), a personal essay and critical meditation on the stages of grief. Tell us a bit about how you developed this story and why you decided to submit it in the annual non-fiction writing competition from TNQ?
Sierra: The Wrong Way came out of an assignment in a Creative Non-fiction course with Andreas Schroeder. I had never written a personal essay before and when I started I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to say. Not exactly, anyway. I looked up Kübler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief because I thought it would explain my experiences. I thought I could structure my essay according to the stages, but I realized that Kübler-Ross’s theory didn’t apply to my life at all. My essay then developed as a sort of antagonistic call-and-response with conventional grief theories.
I sat and wrote it in two sittings, straight through from beginning to end. I didn’t move things around after that and I barely edited it. That said, I had bits and pieces of it already written. Little vignettes that I hadn’t known what to do with before, like the story of buying my son the fish and aquatic frog. I had also taken extensive notes when my sister died and I wrote down lots of dialogue. Maybe that sounds weird; maybe not, if you’re a writer. But what do you do with a short “scene” between siblings that, when read on its own, seems to make light of the death of another sibling? Well, I guess you build an elaborate home in which it can live. The Wrong Way was that home for many of my disjointed experiences with grief.
I submitted the essay to The New Quarterly’s Edna Staebler Personal Essay Contest because Andreas Schroeder told me to submit it to a contest (and not through the slush pile of regular submissions); he thought the essay was good enough to win. The New Quarterly’s personal essay contest seemed like the obvious choice. The lesson here? Always listen to Andreas Schroeder.
NMAF: What was the significance for you as a young writer winning that contest and then the National Magazine Award?
Sierra: Winning both the contest and the NMA gave me confidence in my writing, which I never really had before. Winning the NMA also got my work noticed. After I won Best New Magazine Writer, the essay was selected to appear in the Best Canadian Essays 2013 anthology, alongside some very successful writers. It is an amazing honour that I feel would not have happened without the National Magazine Awards.
NMAF: As a writer and also an editor of PRISM International, a literary magazine published by the Creative Writing Program at UBC, you are in a good position to survey the landscape of Canadian literary arts. What are the challenges and rewards of devoting yourself to this industry?
Sierra: I think the greatest challenge to being an editor of a literary magazine (or a writer for that matter) is money. There is not a lot of money in literary magazines. Small lit mags live and die by the decisions of the Canada Council for the Arts and the various provincial Arts Councils. They live and die by the seemingly small financial decisions of their staff. They live and die by their contest entries and subscriptions and by the ebb and flow of their donations. Editing and managing a literary magazine is not a career for the lazy or the extravagant. It takes a lot of careful, cautious, and sometimes tedious work to keep a literary magazine alive.
That said, it is so emotionally rewarding. I have been a reader for the past two Creative Non-fiction Contests at PRISM and I will be a reader again this year. The emotional rollercoaster that this work has taken me on is intense. You feel the author’s highs and lows. I’ve cried and I’ve laughed until I’ve been in tears.
Although I’ve also read for other contests and other magazines, it is PRISM’s Non-fiction Contest that really makes it worth it for me because the stories are real and they matter. They matter to the author, who is risking so much to share; to the readers with whom the stories will resonate; to the editors, who have the responsibility for creating the long list and the short list; and to the contest judge who has to make the toughest decisions.
Our Creative Non-fiction Contest deadline is coming up on
November 28th [Update: December 5] and I can’t wait to start reading again!
NMAF: What are your immediate goals as a writer, and what are you working on these days?
Sierra: This summer I received a grant from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada to perform research for a novel set in 1950’s California. I spent three months in northern California—taking notes, visiting museums and farms, interviewing seniors and experts, and exploring the countryside—so my research is nearly completed.
I’ve been meaning to finish my outline and start writing, but I’ve been a little distracted by another project that I have been working on for over a year: a humorous and irreverent parenting book that I’m co-writing with blogger Emily Wight. We have completed our non-fiction book proposal and one sample chapter, but I’d like to get a few more chapters done before I launch into the novel.
Sierra Skye Gemma is an award-winning writer and journalist working towards an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia. Aside from the National Magazine Award for Best New Magazine Writer, this year Sierra was also honoured with the first-place award in creative non-fiction in Rhubarb’s Taboo Literary Contest, a long-list nod in House of Anansi’s Broken Social Scene Story Contest, and a BC Arts Council scholarship. She is an executive editor of PRISM international, western Canada’s oldest literary magazine. Her work has been published in The New Quarterly, The Vancouver Sun, Plenitude, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter @SierraGemma.
The National Magazine Award for Best New Magazine Writer
Meet the finalists for Best New Magazine Writer
A Writer’s Guide to Canadian Literary Magazines
Your Guide to Fall 2013 Canadian Magazine Writing Contests
More Off the Page interviews
The Canadian photographer, now based in New York, won the Gold National Magazine Award last year in Portrait Photography, for “Never Left Art School” (a series with Douglas Coupland) in Montecristo magazine. He was previously a finalist for the Best New Visual Creator award in 2010, for “A Man Called Cope” (Report on Business).
The exhibition, “Pictures,” is on display until December 21.
From the O’Born Contemporary site: Working within portraiture and documentary photography, Peckmezian attempts to leverage the analog-digital divide, producing work that draws into relief the enduring value of analog processes in our new digital-dominated photographic landscape. He recently completed his BFA in Photography from Ryerson University in Toronto, and is represented for commercial and editorial work by Stash. His photographs have been published in Prefix Photo, on the cover of Report on Business and Function, and have been selected for inclusion in Flash Forward, touring internationally.
This Friday, September 20 in Toronto Canadian Dimension magazine is hosting an evening with Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist Chris Hedges.
A former 15-year foreign correspondent for The New York Times, winner of the Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism, and author of a recent cover story in The Walrus, Mr. Hedges is the author of the new book The World As it Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress.
He famously sued the Obama administration last year over the constitutionality of the National Defense Authorization Act, and won.
Tickets for the Toronto event are available but nearly gone. A note on the site states that a few tickets are on sale via EventBrite or at Another Story Bookshop (315 Roncesvalles Avenue in Toronto).
Canadian Dimensions is an independent Canadian magazine with a global focus, founded in 1963 in Winnipeg. In 2005 it was nominated for a National Magazine Award for “The Battle for Canadian Universities.”
At the 36th annual National Magazine Awards gala last week, the Gold Award for Best Magazine Cover went to Adbusters, for the cover of their 100th issue, entitled “Are We Happy Yet?”
Why the judges picked this cover: “It resonated loudly and immediately on all counts, with its tight connection between the striking cover image and the solitary cover line. An instant classic… [it] challenges one of the primary goals of advertising–to stimulate desires–and implicitly answers its own question. At once strong, direct, incisive, compelling and complete: a brilliant magazine cover.”
The Silver award for Magazine Covers went to Maisonneuve.
Congratulations to all the winners of the 36th National Magazine Awards.
Meet the NMA Finalists for Magazine Covers
Off the Page is an exclusive series produced by the NMAF that reaches out to former National Magazine Award winners to find out what their awards have meant to them and what they’re up to now. Off the Page appears regularly on the Magazine Awards blog. Today we catch up with seven-time National Magazine Award-winning journalist Catherine Dubé, reporter for the French-language current affairs magazine L’actualité.
NMAF: Last year, you won the a Gold National Magazine Award for your article “Demain, des centres à 7 $ par jour pour les vieux?” [Tomorrow, $7-a-day Care Centres for the Elderly?] – your seventh National Magazine Award in the past five years! What prompted you to write this story?
Catherine Dubé: The idea was generated in an editorial meeting at L’actualité. We asked ourselves what we can expect over the next 10 to 20 years. We are all going to need care, after all! And the healthcare system is not prepared to take care of the horde of aging Baby Boomers.
The main challenge of the report was to engage our readers about an issue that may not be very sexy. I did what I always do: illustrate the information with lots of concrete examples. I tried to find innovative solutions, such as the one that inspired the title of the piece.
NMAF: When you write for L’actualité, how do you develop the idea for a new story? Do you draw inspiration from consulting health professionals or other media?
Catherine Dubé: I examine the current social issues, large and small, exploring for a new angle. Any source might be a good one, whether it is from the media here or abroad, public events such as conferences, or specialized publications. The people I interview often put me onto a new track for a story.
I also try to find information that may have escaped the attention of the daily news media, which is overwhelmed by the constant stream of news.
Last year, when I was working on a profile of the hypnotist Messmer, a popular Quebec artist, I discovered that his approach was quite controversial, and my article became instead an investigation of hypnosis, seeking out what is true and what is false, and highlighting the dangers of this method when it is misused.
The process of researching and writing articles for L’actualité, where I started working two years ago, is quite similar to the process at Québec Science where I worked for ten years. But the angle of attack is different: more scientific for Québec Science, more general for L’actualité.
NMAF: What is the significance to you of winning a National Magazine Award? And what’s next for you; what topics and issues are currently attracting your interest?
Catherine Dubé: An award is the culmination of our efforts and the recognition that we achieved our goal. Nobody picks up a magazine just to find out the news. Newspapers, television and the web provide tough competition for that. But it is up to us, the artisans of magazines, to offer the untold stories, and the new and surprising angles to those stories, which are what make magazines indispensable.
Writing is also a key element: it must be clear and polished. If the reader enjoys the story as much as if reading a novel, then the job is done. It’s a challenge every time. My ultimate goal is to articulate complex and often abstract issues. I must find the human stories through which these issues are embodied, and then tell them skillfully. Even after all these years, it doesn’t get easier. But the difference is that I’ve been able to do it better!
This month I have a long feature about the world of justice, which will be published as a mini-book insert in the magazine. This is a new format that we started offering our readers last year and it’s been a great success.
Catherine Dubé is a journalist with the magazine L’actualité. This year she is nominated for 3 National Magazine Awards. Special thanks to Avary Lovell for the interview with Catherine.
From the NMA Archives, by Catherine Dubé:
Demain, des centres à 7$ par jour pour les vieux? (Prix d’or, Santé et famille, 2011)
Marmot 2.0 (Prix d’or, Société, 2010)
1,2,3…bébés? (Prix d’argent, 2010, Santé et médécine)
Vive le mangeur libre (Prix d’or, Mode de vie, 2009)
Grippe A(H1N1) – Tout savoir (Prix d’argent, 2009, Santé et famille)
Des synapses et des lettres (Prix d’argent, Société, 2008)
Péril à la ferme (Prix d’argent, Article hors categorie, 2007)
More Off the Page, with:
The shortlists for the 29th annual BC Book Prizes were announced today, with five finalists in each category for fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children’s book, illustrated children’s book, and best BC book.
Carol Shaben, whose non-fiction book about Canada’s bush pilot industry (Into the Abyss) was partly based on her investigative article published in The Walrus that won two National Magazine Awards, is one of the finalists for non-fiction.
National Magazine Award-winning poets Evelyn Lau (A Grain of Rice) and Patricia Young (Night-Eater) are both nominated in the poetry category.
Anne Fleming (Gay Dwarves of America) and Bill Gaston (The World) are former NMA winners nominated for their works of fiction.
Read the complete shortlists for the BC Book Prizes here. The winners will be announced at the 29th annual Lieutenant Governor’s BC Book Prizes Gala on Saturday, May 4, 2013, at Government House in Victoria, BC.
Visit the NMA Archives to read the award-winning stories by these and other great writers.
The best gifts in life are free! The 35th anniversary National Magazine Awards ebook is now available gratis for your iPad — or the iPad of your magazine-loving friend.
This unique collection of Canada’s finest magazine journalism includes more than 30 award-winning stories, covers and photography/ illustration collections, including the top winners from this year’s National Magazine Awards and the best of the best from the past 5 years.
Each individual piece maintains the look and feel of its original publication (The Walrus, Explore, Cottage Life, Toronto Life, Maisonneuve, Eighteen Bridges, Swerve, and many more), while the digital platform offers a dynamic interface with the award-winning content.
The perfect gift for the magazine fanatic. It’s portable. It’s educational. It’s fun. And it’s free.
Sometime on Saturday the Earth’s equatorial plane will appear to tilt away from the sun and welcome its rays more southward, signaling the autumnal equinox for those of us in the northern hemisphere.
Which means the summer of our Reading Series is about to end. We close with a National Magazine Award category known as One-of-a-Kind, stories particularly unique within the magazine craft.
And, if you have read all thirty award-winning stories we anthologized in our online reading series this season, congratulations! You’ve clearly had a fulfilling summer and you’re ready for the leaves to change!
1. “Adrift on the Nile” by Paul Wilson in The Walrus (Gold, One-of-a-Kind, 2011)
A year and a half later, what began in Tahrir Square in Cairo (after it began in Tunisia) seems not yet to have run its full course. Paul Wilson was there when the new liberation movement erupted in Egypt in 2011, and while demonstrations across the Arab world are once again dominating headlines, this National Magazine Award-winning story is worth revisiting, especially given the author’s keens senses of place, scale and history.
“And so began a hair-raising dash through the traffic swirling around Tahrir Square, Phillip always a few paces ahead of me. It was Friday, and another large demonstration had taken place that afternoon; now it was evening, the crowd had thinned, and the atmosphere was more relaxed. A line of skinny kids who looked about twelve years old filed by to the rhythmic beating of an oil drum. Their faces were painted red, white, and black—the colours of the Egyptian flag. ‘Welcome!’ ” [Read more]
2. “The Lizard, the Catacombs & the Clock” by Sean Michaels in Brick (Gold, One-of-a-Kind, 2010)
The intoxicating story of the underground labyrinths of Paris and the cataphiles who spelunk within them, Sean Michaels explores one of the more mysterious sides of the world’s most-visited city.
Parisians call it a gruyère. For hundreds of years, the catacombs under the city have been a conduit, sanctuary, and birthplace for its secrets. The Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables’ Jean Valjean both haunted these tunnels, striking students descended in 1968, as did patriots during the Second World War. The Nazis visited too, building a bunker in the maze below the 6th arrondissement. [Read more]
3. “Driving Mary Seigel” by Chris Koentges in Swerve (Silver, One-of-a-Kind, 2008)
Chris Koentges is a three-time winner in this category and any of his pieces is worth a good long look, but this story in particular is topical since it recounts the author’s trip across the United States of America in the summer and fall of 2008, trying to figure out what made its ordinary citizens so hopeful about a presidential candidate named Barack Obama.
“From an SUV, someone yelled ‘Obama guy.’ I pretended to ignore it, waiting for the lights to change. ‘Hey, Obama guy!’ There was this goading Phillip Seymour Hoffman inﬂection, and this similar kind of concentration in his face. He had ﬂown in from L.A. because Southern Florida—the battleground—was what he wanted to remember 50 years from now. He spoke about watching the 2000 election on TV, about the fact that he and I simply being here was enough to break the karmic loop.” [Read more]
Photograph of Tahrir Square courtesy Roger LeMoyne
What makes a person tick? We sometimes ask a question like that anticipating an equally laconic answer. Ah, but the magazine is among many things a forum for nuance and context. The best personal portraits are those that explore the underlying connections between a character’s traits and his or her environment, both past and present, and therein construct a deeper connection between the character and the reader.
The penultimate installment of our 2012 Summer Reading Series exposes the art of the profile, with three Canadians–a politician, an athlete and a scientist–whose lives jump off the page.
As you probably know by now, these stories and those of all finalists and winners from the past few years can be found in the National Magazine Awards archive (magazine-awards.com/archive).
1. “Madam Premier” by Lisa Gregoire in The Walrus (2011 Gold winner in Profiles)
One quickly derives from her matter-of-fact depiction of Nunavut premier Eva Aariak that 6-time NMA nominee Lisa Gregoire is describing someone composed of the arctic itself: vast, powerful, and capable of great transformation. The challenges facing the present and future of Canada’s youngest political territory may be greater than one woman can bear, but as Ms. Gregoire patiently investigates, Madam Premier is a person of uncommon determination and clarity.
“Eva Aariak is a patient January Capricorn, born when people in my world were building rockets and people in her world were navigating frozen moonscapes with homemade qamutiik (sleds), when people from both our worlds were founding Frobisher Bay, now Iqaluit, so my people could encourage her people to stop wandering and start praying. Nunavut has been imagined, designed, negotiated, legislated, and commemorated, all within her lifetime.” [Read more]
2. “The Unstoppable Lena Rowat” by Geoff Powter in Explore (2009 Gold winner in Profiles)
The title sums up this piece superbly. Lena Rowat was determined to ski from Vancouver to the Yukon’s formidable Mount Logan and then beyond to Alaska, the very idea of which is so bizarre and so compelling to most of us couch-based mortals as to beg the inquiry: Surely, someone or something would stop her; otherwise, there would have to be some degree of insanity involved, or else some untold truth of human motivation that demands a complete explanation.
“These are the days of a typical Lena Rowat ski traverse: Up with the dawn, breakfast is whatever liquid you’ve kept in the water bottle in your sleeping bag through the night. You break through the brain fog of the morning and find your pace, often on your own, in silence, up and down and across kilometre after kilometre of white ridges and glacial rolls. You stop and dig a pit for lunch, the big meal of the day, a carefully planned allotment of mega calories, with gobs of olive oil in every dish to get you through the long afternoon. You ski until your legs or the terrain tell you to stop.” [Read more]
3. ”The Trials of Saint Suzuki“ by Ken MacQueen in Maclean’s (2007 Gold winner in Profiles)
The gradual transformation of activist David Suzuki from drum-beating environmental voice in the wilderness to political and corporate environmental consultant has not gone unnoticed by those who have long held his tireless work as gospel. And yet there is no paradox in the character of one of Canada’s most famous citizens; rather, an evolution that is very much of the environmental movement itself.
“Climate change, doing what it does, has indeed changed the climate of debate. New tactics are called for from environmentalists, too, and that includes a corporate rapprochement, of a sort. Suzuki—whose organization, in the past, has taken pride in its lack of corporate donors—admits he’ll need an attitude adjustment.” [Read more]
Read these stories and more at the National Magazine Awards archive: magazine-awards.com/archive.
Two days hence and the stars and starlets of Hollywood will park their jets in Hogtown for the Toronto International Film Festival, and you’ll pardon this blogger if he’s camped at the corner of Bellair and Cumberland streets ready to ambush Shia LaBeouf or Gwyneth Paltrow and get them to plug the new National Magazine Awards eBook (free download on iTunes) to their Twitter followers.
Apropos of which, this week’s installment of our Summer Reading Series is cinematically themed: 3 award-winning stories from the category Arts & Entertainment with a nod to the film industry descending on our fair city.
These stories and so many more can be found in the National Magazine Awards archive (magazine-awards.com/archive).
1. “Man Standing” by Timothy Taylor, Canadian Art (2011 Silver winner in Arts & Entertainment)
Canadian Inuit filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk is no stranger to TIFF; his masterpiece Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner won the honour of Best Canadian Feature Film back in 2001. Timothy Taylor travels (with NMA-winning photographer Donald Weber) to the Arctic hamlet of Igoolik to interview Kunuk about his latest film, Qapirangajuq: Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change. It’s a rare opportunity to acquaint oneself with the ecology of this transcendent artist, who by rights and geography is more than a bit removed the rest of the country yet has helped his audiences (and his neighbours) redefine their notions of history.
“Walking around Igloolik, meanwhile, I sense the reach that Kunuk’s work has had in the community. He downplays it, saying, ‘My hunting buddies are still my hunting buddies.’ But if you’ve watched his films closely, you recognize a surprising number of faces in town. Even people I don’t recognize turn out to have had off-camera roles, like the woman I speak with at the high school who is proud that she learned to sew traditional caribou-skin parkas while working in the wardrobe department for Atanarjuat.” [Read more]
2. “My Dad, the Movie and Me” by Noah Richler, The Walrus (2010 Gold winner in Arts & Entertainment)
The son of the late Canadian literary icon Mordechai Richler is more than just behind the scenes on the Montreal sets of Barney’s Version, the Richard Lewis adaptation (starring Paul Giamatti, Minnie Driver and Dustin Hoffman) of Richler’s famous novel. Noah Richler employs his unique position intersecting the writer and the film to reflect on his father’s notions of family, marriage and sense of belonging; the re-animation of his father’s personality through the title character is both stimulating and calming.
“Barney’s Version, like his earlier novels St. Urbain’s Horseman and Joshua Then and Now, draws on my parents’ exemplary love and what, even to his death, struck my father as the wild unlikelihood of having been able to love and raise a family with this striking woman. From Jake Hersh’s beloved wife in St. Urbain’s Horseman (‘Nancy. Nancy, my darling’) to the third Mrs. Panofsky of Barney’s Version (‘Miriam, Miriam, my heart’s desire’), there exists in his work a portrait of the shiksa wife as love object that his author hero is stunned to have acquired but also believes, in some buried and persecuted Jewish part of himself, he is besmirching.” [Read more]
3. “L’étoffe des héros” (“Heros’ Fabric”) by Mélanie Saint-Hilaire, L’actualité (2010 Silver winner in Arts & Entertainment)
Nine-time NMA finalist Mélanie Saint-Hilaire was the runner up to Noah Richler in 2010 for her scintillating portrait of Quebec costume designer Mario Davignon, one of Hollywood’s most celebrated couturiers whose atelier is stuffed with period-piece designs that have draped such luminaries as Leonardo DiCaprio (in Romeo + Juliet), Sophia Loren (Between Strangers) and the legendary Ava Gardner (City on Fire).
“Sa passion, c’est le vêtement d’époque. Ce maniaque du démodé pille les antiquaires partout où il va. Il en rapporte des artefacts bizarres, telle cette unique botte rouge qui aurait jadis galbé le mollet d’une tragédienne russe — « pour le modèle », se justifie-t-il. Sa bibliothèque ploie sous les livres de référence, les vieux catalogues et La mode illustrée, encyclopédie française du 19e siècle.” [Lire la suite]
Read these stories and more at the National Magazine Awards archive: magazine-awards.com/archive.
Sure, a lot of what makes magazines great is the freedom they give writers to compose elaborate, multi-faceted rock operas of meaningful prose. (To wit: David Remnick’s twelve-million-word profile of Bruce Springsteen in a recent New Yorker.)
But the short feature starts and finishes the story without leaving you feeling like you just stayed up all night listening to Darkness on the Edge of Town.
This year we had a tie for the Gold in BSF–a dead-even top score after six independent judges evaluated the submissions–so we’re glad to feature them both in our Summer Reading Series, along with the first-ever winner in this category.
As always, these complete articles and those of all finalists and winners from recent years can be found in the National Magazine Awards archive (magazine-awards.com/archive).
1. “JJ Lee on the first time he told a girl she was beautiful,” ELLE Canada (2011 Gold winner, tie, in Best Short Feature)
It’s an episode we can all relate to: first love. For memoirist JJ Lee–writing in ELLE‘s popular “First” series–it was the very moment that the comic-book femininity he’d come to know in early adolescence faded into the blinding eclipse of a real-life muse. And in that universally awkward moment of expression, he felt himself becoming an artist.
“The words had struck her. She would never look at herself in a mirror the same way again. They had struck me too. And I felt doomed because I knew we had our whole future to separate us from the simple closeness of the moment. That was the day I began a lifelong career as a maudlin nostalgic.” [Read more]
2. “When Your Mother is a Stranger” by Heather O’Neill, Chatelaine (2011 Gold winner, tie, in Best Short Feature)
In this vivid reconstruction of a singularly tender moment–meeting her mother after an absence of ten years–two-time National Magazine Award winner Heather O’Neill (she also won Gold in this same category in 2010) rewinds her childhood to each of the most potent memories that can help her re-imagine this stranger as her mother, a person of ancient familiarity in a suddenly foreign context.
“I went to the address she gave me. She was living in a building known as the Crazy People Building. It has the cheapest rent in the neighbourhood and is filled with people who can never quite pull it together. Bare-chested men hang out of the windows in the summer. A man who lives there carries around a white kitten that wears a tie and is introduced as Mr. Timothy. There is an old man who dances on his toes as he walks, blowing kisses at anyone he makes eye contact with.” [Read more]
3. “The Alchemy of Pork Fat” by Gerald Hannon, Toronto Life (2007 Gold winner in Best Short Feature)
When the NMAF launched the Best Short Feature category in 2007, Toronto Life‘s foodie memoirs turned out to be an ideal fit (the judges that year awarded four of the ten finalists’ spots to these tasty TL shorts, each consisting of a personal essay and a recipe), and none better than the Gold-winning piece by 13-time National Magazine Award winner Gerald Hannon.
Hannon–warts and all–reminisces on the great motherly myths of food, especially those involving lard, and wonders how he could have evolved such a passion for gastronomy without them.
“Food, perhaps because it was scarce and unvarying, always seemed to tremble with the potential for good or ill. Even in her old age, [my mother] could not add cucumber to a salad without first neutralizing its ‘poison’ in a way she had learned from her mother: you cut about an inch off the end, rubbed that piece vigorously against the other cut edge until a milky liquid—the poison—appeared, then you threw out the small, now noxious piece to render the rest of the cucumber safe to eat.” [Read more]
Read these stories and more at the National Magazine Awards archive: magazine-awards.com/archive.
“Poetry, whose material is language, is perhaps the most human and least worldly of the arts, the one in which the end product remains closest to the thought that inspired it.”
– Hannah Arendt
As our Summer Reading Series continues with a selection of poetry, we prefer not to linger too long by way of introduction. As A. E. Housman wrote, “Even when poetry has a meaning, as it usually has, it may be inadvisable to draw it out… Perfect understanding will sometimes almost extinguish pleasure.” We tend to agree. Better to let the poets speak for poetry and let the poems speak for themselves.
The following winners in the category of Poetry, and many others, can be found in the National Magazine Awards archive (magazine-awards.com/archive)
1. “Pa” and “Bq” by Matthew Holmes, Arc (2011 Gold winner in Poetry)
Though we do not always need perfect understanding before (or even after) the reading of a poem, an author’s insight into the creative process is often as delightful as the poem itself. Holmes offers a welcome hint or two in a thought-provoking introduction, followed by the award-winning pair of poems from his project, “The failing of purity”:
how water bends before letting your finger in, how
rain is coming (the flower says), how
rain is coming, how
luck falls, like salt thrown by a god, it falls not. [Read more]
2. “St. Anthony’s Fire” and “The Perfect Fatherhood” by Shane Neilson, The Fiddlehead, (2011 Silver winner in Poetry)
In these fluid configurations, Neilson muses about two profoundly manifest contemplations of the heart: the ironies inherent in god, and the mysteries of parenthood in its wondrous responsibility for another life.
Robbed of touch with peripheral neuropathies and the visible sores, the manna from heaven contaminated with Claviceps purpurea, whole civilizations monster-movied, disease being the measure of purity in a lost, misbegotten heaven… [Read more]
3. “Paradise, Later Years” by Marion Quednau, Malahat Review (2009 Gold winner in Poetry)
In this playful and insightful work, Quednau composes a rhythmic meditation on the nature of our relationship with nature and, ultimately, with ourselves:
I’ve taught them everything I know: that greed is largely forgivable grandstanding, and making a small ruckus is good, might still change the world, and thirst when it hits you, despite an abundance of water and wine for some, and nothing dripping down the spout for all the rest, is merely stoppered-up desire, and what makes humans so different from that lobster not going at all gently is that we can have what we want – scary thought. [Read more]
Read these stories and more at the National Magazine Awards archive: magazine-awards.com/archive.
The fifth installment of the National Magazine Awards’ summer reading series turns your attention to Personal Journalism. For anyone unfamiliar with this type of magazine writing, let’s borrow a line from the Creative Nonfiction Mandate of The Malahat Review–the literary journal of the University of Victoria and a winner of 26 National Magazine Awards for fiction, poetry and personal journalism. What we find in this genre of writing are stories:
“… strongly based in reality that enlighten or educate the reader via fresh insights, powerful use of language, and compelling storytelling. It is not always enough that the stories have a personal basis–they must move the reader into an apprehension of wider human situations or issues.”
Well put. These NMA-winning personal essays certainly fit that bill. As always, these and other award-winning magazine articles may be mined at the National Magazine Awards archive: magazine-awards.com/archive.
1. “Parti sans bruit” (“He Left Quietly”) by Anne Marie Lecomte, Châtelaine (2011 Gold winner in Personal Journalism)
A woman desperately in mourning retraces the path of her motherhood after the shocking suicide of her son, probing for a psychology that will repair the catastrophic disorder of grief. Ms. Lecomte’s soulful firsthand account of enduring and transmuting the ultimate family crisis, converting it into wisdom and stark advice for all parents, won a Quebec Magazine Award as well as a National Magazine Award this past spring.
“Ce n’est que maintenant que je vois la cruelle parenté des structures que j’avais tenté d’ériger autour de lui. L’OPP pour lui faire aimer l’école, le PPO pour le mettre à l’abri des pires dérives. Mais, qu’importe nos efforts inouïs, nos enfants ne sont jamais à l’abri. J’invente maintenant un acronyme: POP, pour parents orphelins perpétuellement.” [Lire la suite]
2. “Tourists of Consciousness” by Jeff Warren, Maisonneuve (2010 Gold winner in Personal Journalism)
A superdrug for the overworked psyche may have been found in the form of an elixir distilled from a tropical plant long known locally for its psychedelic properties, and the curious Jeff Warren heads down to investigate in this article that just about puts the mercy in immersive journalism.
Of course, he’s not the first outsider to try this super secret sacrament (he can’t even tell us in which Latin American country he imbibed this magical ayahuasca), and not the first Canadian magazine writer to experiment on himself for the benefit of us readers (read Michael Posner’s 2006 Walrus piece “Plants with Soul” for a nice complement to the story of the drug).
But Warren meditates on how the drug can answer the call of the spiritually needy who may still endure blueness despite a century of psycho-analytic attention from Western science.
“I was even more skeptical about the metaphysical assertions. We don’t believe dreams are “real”—why should an ayahuasca vision be any different? Nevertheless, the rich history of ayahuasca usage has undeniable authority; in the end, the only way to really answer these questions was to launch into the psychedelic troposphere and find out for myself.” [Read more]
3. “Cause and Effect” by Lynn Cunningham, The Walrus (2009 Gold winner in Personal Journalism)
A stirring, eighteen-year portrait of a woman’s unexpected encounter with fetal alcohol syndrome–which affects her step-grandson–and the battles she fought in both his life and her own, this memoir by former NMAF Outstanding Achievement Award winner Lynn Cunningham is the essence of the genre: splendid research and fact-finding couched in dramatic, introspective and exquisitely written personal experience.
“[S]obriety finally made it to the top of the list, along with completing the last two courses of my Ph.D. I figured quitting drinking would at least free up some dough to pay down my debt and help with the many hundreds of dollars’ worth of required reading. Besides, Andrew was already smoking dope; booze—about as healthy as heroin for FAS kids—would doubtless follow, but it’s hard to lecture about why drinking is dangerous with a third glass of wine in your hand.” [Read more]
Read these stories and more at the National Magazine Awards archive: magazine-awards.com/archive.
“Fiction has been maligned for centuries as being ‘false,’ ‘untrue,’ yet good fiction provides more truth about the world, about life, and even about the reader, than can be found in non-fiction.”
– Clark Zlotchew
We read essays to learn, to taste slices of history, to keep up on current events. Not so with fiction. We begin reading every story without any idea of what awaits us. Reading fiction is an act of discovery, a small journey that is never the same twice, and all that we can hope to discover along the way is something of ourselves.
Our Summer Reading Series continues this week with a selection of award-winning fiction, all (and more) available at the National Magazine Awards archive (magazine-awards.com/archive).
1. “Four Corners” by Bill Gaston, Event (2011 Gold winner in Fiction)
“I want, I don’t want.
How can one live with such a heart?”
– Margaret Atwood
The intricacies of a relationship and the confusions of love will never cease to be fodder for the writer of fiction. In this poignant tale of a breakup gone askew, Bill Gaston probes the mysteries of discovering ourselves in others and why we often only want what we can’t have.
“He should have asked her more questions about herself, not let her get away with being so private. And he should have told her more about himself. And about Shannon, about how another new layer of skin grows to protect from each mean flick of the tongue. About how never really listening to Cheryl is part of that thickened skin of his. He really needs most of all to tell her that his ears, and his heart, are full of skin.” [Read more]
2. “Shared Room on Union” by Steven Heighton, The Fiddlehead (2009 Gold winner in Fiction)
“No one remains quite what he was when he recognizes himself.”
– Thomas Mann
A young couple. A carjacker who doesn’t drive. A broke, and broken, passer-by. What happens when a chance encounter forces us to confront the things we want above all else to hide about ourselves? Or wish above all else to keep hidden in others? Does the propensity of the human heart toward self-delusion outweigh the achingly desperate need for some semblance of intimacy? Exhausting every nuance of what it means to know, Steven Heighton writes with subtle prose and an exquisite sense of irony in this critically acclaimed short story.
“Though their bodies were jammed together at many points, in this extremity he was fully alone. She must feel the same. He guessed she must feel the same… Surely, whatever happened, they would live differently now.” [Read more]
3. “Dead Man’s Wedding” by Andrew Tibbetts, The Malahat Review (2008 Gold winner in Fiction)
In this unique and touching coming-of-age story, Andrew Tibbetts chronicles the interactions of two families, one Canadian and one American, celebrating Mother’s Day at their neighbouring cottages. With sharp humour and a keen sense of the profundity of the mundane, Tibbetts explores the clash of cultures, a mother’s desperate love, and the heartbreakingly earnest desire of a young boy to find his place in the world.
“We play nonchalantly. We look casual. Content. Only Sassafras is close enough to see that our calm is pretend, to see how bored we are with Crazy Eights and Old Maid and Go Fish. Only Sassafras sees how full we are of longing for something mysterious and wild, something that has nothing to do with us, but could swerve into our world to make all the known things new and dangerous. Shine your beam of light, Sassafras, to draw them here; come, tacky Yankees, come to spoil the peace and quiet.” [Read more]
Read these articles and more at the National Magazine Awards archive: magazine-awards.com/archive
Image of Clark Zlotchew courtesy www.clarkzlotchew.com
Like hundreds of millions around the world, we watched the opening ceremonies of the London Olympic Games not only to see what Danny Boyle could do with $43-million and a top-hatted Kenneth Branagh, but also because the grand procession of athletes is the final hurdle in our quadrennial wait between each staging of the greatest spectacle of sport on Earth. Now, at last, the games can begin again.
Fitting with the theme of day, for the third installment of our Summer Reading Series we present winners from the category Sports & Recreation, which are available at the National Magazine Awards archive (magazine-awards.com/archive).
1. “The Team that Disappeared” by Brett Popplewell, Sportsnet (2011 Gold winner in Sports & Recreation)
In this terrific investigative article that solidified the long-form chops of the new Sportsnet magazine, Brett Popplewell tells the true story of the greatest tragedy in the history of the sport of hockey–the crash of flight RA-42434 in northern Russia, which wiped out nearly the entire squad of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, one of the country’s premier professional clubs.
The pain of the loved ones left to grieve–including the family of the team’s Canadian coach–as well as the terror of the survivors, the chaos of the scene, the circus of the investigation, and the confusion of the one man who decided not to board the flight that day–all are recounted honestly in Popplewell’s masterful reconstruction of an event that affected countless lives all over the world.
“While the bells rang out above the dead, the phones began to ring. It was morning in North America. Late afternoon in Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, Germany, Latvia, Ukraine, Belarus and the Czech Republic, as news of the crash reached the families and friends of the men being pulled from the wreckage.” [Read more]
2. “Cycle of Life” by Rich Poplak, explore (2009 Gold Winner in Sports & Recreation)
An ode to a father’s enduring inspiration, Rich Poplak tells the story of how his dad’s passion for the pedal became his own, and how the pain of pushing his body to new frontiers of athleticism ultimately became instructive of the bonds between father and son.
“I once believed that the time I spent in the saddle amounted to nothing more than wasted hours acquiescing to a foolish obsession. This I no longer believe. As I matured as a rider—as piss and vinegar dried up, giving way to the canny wisdom of a veteran—I came to understand cycling as a means of managing will. The paradox of endurance sport is that it becomes about everything besides the body.” [Read more]
3. “High Standards” by Alex Hutchison, Canadian Running (2008 Silver Winner in Sports & Recreation)
Four years ago, just before the start of the Beijing Olympic Games, 7-time NMA nominee Alex Hutchison set out to investigate why the Canadian Olympic Committee had imposed extraordinarily tough qualification standards for the marathon–alone among all athletic events–that resulted in fewer Canadian runners winning the right to compete for their country.
As the Olympics come around again this piece is especially worth revisiting, not in the least because this year, again, no Canadian women qualified for the London Games’ marathon (3 men qualified, marking the first time Canada has had Olympic marathon competitors since 2000; the men’s marathon is August 12).
“Setting appropriate Olympic standards demands that we think carefully about the role of amateur sport in society. Do we want role models, or just medals? Ultimately, it’s a clash between two visions of what the Olympics represent.” [Read more]
Read these articles and more at the National Magazine Awards archive: magazine-awards.com/archive
Kenneth Branagh photo credit: Phil Noble/Reuters; courtesy The Guardian.
“The question distinguishes the essay from the less adventurous forms of expository prose—the dissertation, the polemic, the article, the campaign speech, the tract, the op-ed, the arrest warrant, the hotel bill. Writers… begin the first paragraph knowing how, when, where, and why they intend to claim the privilege of the last word. Not so the essayist, even if what he or she is writing purports to be a history or a field report. Like Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, the essayist lights out for the territories, never sure of the next sentence until the words show up on the page.”*
Our summer reading series continues this week with a selection of award-winning essays, all (and more) available at the National Magazine Awards archive (magazine-awards.com/archive).
1. “The Ultraviolet Catastrophe” by Alice Major, The New Quarterly (2011 Gold winner in Essays)
Are the limits of our world finite, or can there be something beyond its edges? Is death a tragedy, or is it merely catastrophic, like the draining of waves of light into a black hole. Alice Major explores what the science of quantum physics can teach her about catharsis following the death of her father, in this essay that preceded her recent book, Intersecting Sets: A Poet Looks at Science (University of Alberta Press).
“How can a body be capable of so little and yet a mind be capable of so much? Humans are fascinated by such extremes. This is the material for our stories, the stuff of our legends. We don’t really find the ordinary terribly exciting. We seem to find that such singularities illuminate the human condition.” [Read more]
2. “A 10 Percent World” by J.B. MacKinnon, The Walrus (2010 Gold winner in Essays)
“I speculated in passing that, when seen through the lens of deep time, ours is a 10 Percent World–a blue-green globe that reflects just one-tenth the natural variety and abundance it once did.”
11-time National Magazine Award winner J.B. MacKinnon attempts to untangle prevailing notions of normality in humankind’s understanding of its own impact on the Earth. We tend to err not in our assumption that, previous to the age in which we live, the natural world was comparatively more vibrant and less degraded (though that is not uncommonly a disputed premise); rather, it is the scope of our vision of the past that is limited, perhaps so severely that it begs a completely new set of eyes.
“The purpose of all of this,” writes MacKinnon, “… is not to demand some romantic return to a pre-human Eden, but rather to expand our options. Our sense of what is possible sets limits on our dreams.” [Read more]
3. “The Big Decision” by Chris Turner, AlbertaViews (2008 Gold winner in Essays)
One of Canada’s foremost science journalists, Chris Turner lays bare the case for nuclear power in Alberta–yes, home of the oilsands–severing myth from fact while ruminating on both. Perhaps at its heart, it’s an argument for a badly needed argument, yet without vacillation:
“The most egregious myth, however–the one that could damn Alberta to a nuclear future as the 21st-century economy races greenly past–is the one that says it’s our only choice. Allow me to be exceedingly blunt: that’s just bullshit.” [Read more]
Read these essays and more at the National Magazine Awards archive: magazine-awards.com/archive
Previous editions of our Summer Reading Series: Travel
* From Lewis Lapham, “Figures of Speech” (Harper’s, November 2010, p.7)
Huckleberry Finn illustration from the wonderful 1885 edition of the novel, published by Charles L. Webster & Co, whose illustrations were commissioned of New York artist Edward W. Kemple.
A friend dropped us a note recently from his travels in Austria: “I never imagined this place would be so stimulating: the mountains, the gardens, the café life; even the stodgy old Habsburg homes have some life to them.”
It’s summer, deep summer, which means most of us are either travelling or dreaming of travelling. We of the latter shade perhaps are undertaking dozens of vicarious journeys on Facebook and Pinterest. And whether we’re actually on the road or just imaginarily so, we like our travel reading: none better than the collection of award-winning travel stories at the NMA Awards Archive.
A few suggestions for your summer pleasures and days:
“The Big Blue” by Charles Wilkins, explore (2011 Gold winner in Travel)
Sixteen brave souls, one uniquely engineered rowboat, 5000 kilometres of open ocean. The author–the unsinkable Charles Wilkins, admittedly not the youngest or fittest of oarsmen–spent 18 months training for this record-breaking attempt to cross the Atlantic from Morocco to Barbados without the aid of sail or motor. This blogger felt almost guilty reading of this adventure from the comfort of a Toronto patio, as Wilkins dispatched:
“I was cold, I was exhausted, I was starved… What’s more, I had been beaten up–slapped around by waves that sometime before midnight had started coming hard out of the east onto our port flank… At one point, when for the briefest of moments my focus had lapsed (my brain having detoured into fantasies of my former life as a human being), an uncooperative wave had snatched my oar, driving the handle into my chest, pinning me with savage efficiency against the bulkhead that defined the prow end of the rowing trench.” [Read more]
“Walking the Way” by Timothy Taylor, The Walrus (2009 Gold winner in Travel)
A fixture of bucket lists for centuries, Spain’s Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage trail seems, by the grace of those who walk it, an uneven plane of surrealism, uniting disparate senses of faith and devotion on a single, very literal path. And few writers put pen to trail as evocatively as Timothy Taylor:
“Nobody talks about religion, faith, metaphysics… Nobody says, because not long ago at a party I got into a drunken argument about philosophical materialism–the belief that the only thing that exists is physical matter–and found myself yelling at a woman, ‘Then why are we here? Why are you here?’ Nobody would admit to that. To losing it. To getting belligerent over the possibility of transcendence. Nobody would admit that, because it would indicate that you somehow needed to walk 800 kilometres across Spain.” [Read more]
“St. Petersburg the Great” by Noah Richler, enRoute (2008 Gold winner in Travel)
A mindful travelogue in the modern mold–a studious writer eager to discover what lies beneath; a photographer (Robert Lemermeyer) with a keen sense of place–it satisfies both the memories of those who’ve already been there and the desires of we who long to go. Not just restaurants–ingredients. Not just vodka–conversation. (Not just English–bilingual; it’s enRoute after all.) Richler keeps the reader at his elbow:
“In St. Petersburg, the noteworthy is either tawdry or a few steps underground or magnificent and palatial beyond imagining. It is as if Peter’s lofty dream and the lowly serfdom that made it possible persist in the soul of the city because neither ever existed without the other.” [Read more]
Read these travel stories and more at the National Magazine Awards archive: magazine-awards.com/archive