The 2014 Governor General’s Literary Awards have been announced, and we are delighted to see several wonderful books by National Magazine Award winners among those chosen as Canada’s best of the year.
In Children’s Literature (Illustration) the winner is Jillian Tamaki for This One Summer (Groundwood Books), with text by her sister Mariko Tamaki. Jillian is a 4-time National Magazine Award-winning illustrator whose work has appeared in The Walrus, More and other great Canadian magazines. Read our Off the Page interview with Jillian about her career and illustration work. Check out Jillian’s award-winning illustrations in the NMA archive.
In Non-Fiction, the winner is Michael Harris, for The End of Absence (Harper Collins), an exploration of the gains and losses of living in a hyper-connected world. Michael has twice been nominated for a National Magazine Award for his journalism in The Walrus, most recently for his profile of civil rights attorney Joseph Arvay. Read more in the NMA archive.
In Fiction, the winner is Thomas King, for The Back of the Turtle (Harper Collins). Thomas King won a National Magazine Award for Fiction in 1991 for his story “Borders” published in Saturday Night.
The ceremonies to honour this year’s Governor General’s literary award winners will be held on November 26 (English-language winners) and November 27 (French-language winners) in Ottawa. Read up on all the finalists and winners at ggbooks.ca.
Off the Page is back. In the latest installment of our popular interview series, we chat with National Magazine Award finalist and freelance writer Arno Kopecky, author of The Oilman and the Sea, shortlisted for this year’s Governor General’s Literary Awards.
NMAF: You’re an intrepid magazine journalist. We’ve read your reporting fromIcelandandColumbiaand others in The Walrus, fromBeaver Lakein Alberta Views, and recently from the British Columbia coast in the Reader’s Digest story “The $273 Billion Question,” for which you were a finalist for a National Magazine Award this past spring. How did you get started on this journey to a freelance magazine writing career, and what do you find personally or professionally rewarding about it?
Arno: Intrepid? Thanks, but groping in the dark is usually how it feels. I studied creative writing at the University of Victoria, and when I graduated in 2002 I realized I had no idea how the world worked, let alone how to write about it; so, on Bertrand Russell’s advice, I travelled. Moved to Spain and got a job teaching English, and after two years I’d learned (barely) enough Spanish to land a reporting internship in Oaxaca, Mexico. A string of magazine and newspaper internships followed: New York, Toronto, Nairobi. I was basically a professional intern for a few years. Somewhere along the way I started selling the odd story to various publications, and before long I was too old to be an intern, but the writing and travelling continued.
The thing I love about my “job” is what I think many journalists love, whether they travel or not: Writing gives us an excuse to meet interesting people doing interesting things. We get to join the conversation.
NMAF: The RD feature story appears to have led to an even larger project, your latest bookThe Oilman and the Sea(Douglas & McIntyre), which won the 2014 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction and is shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award. Was there momentum from your fascinating voyage up the BC coastline to the magazine article to the book, and how did your writing journey proceed?
Arno: Actually it was the other way round: the book contract came first. I pitched the idea to my then-editor at Douglas & McIntyre about two days after my friend Ilja Herb (whose photographs are in the magazine story and book) bought a 41-foot sailboat. We wanted to see the oil tanker routes proposed by Northern Gateway for ourselves, and it was clear from the beginning that the trip would generate tens of thousands of words, if only we could find a home for them. Douglas & McIntyre signed on early and gave us the reason we needed to pursue the expedition.
But Reader’s Digest signed on very quickly as well, and was hugely supportive from the outset. My editor there fought to get me real estate for one of the longest stories that magazine has published in recent history.
Two weeks after I got home from the sailing trip, D&M went bankrupt. Suddenly that Reader’s Digest feature was the only thing I had going for me. Thankfully, Harbour Publishing swept in to the rescue and resuscitated D&M, so that by the time my RD feature was on the stands I had a book contract once again. All I had to do was… write a book.
NMAF: Your approach as a writer to the complex debate about the Northern Gateway pipeline could be characterized by journalistic curiosity, a sense of adventure (to say the least) and perhaps a sense of responsibility, at least with respect to seeking out grassroots perspectives in places such as Bella Bella, Kitimat and others. Was there a particular place or event in the evolving process that made you think, This is the heart of the story, this will grab the reader’s (and editor’s) attention?
Arno: The Great Bear Rainforest–as the north and central coast of British Columbia is known– was itself the thing that captivated me from the outset. In some ways it’s the story’s central character. Here’s this Switzerland-sized labyrinth of whale-jammed fjords and evergreen islands on BC’s north and central coast, the biggest chunk of temperate coastal rainforest left on earth, that also happens to be one of the oldest continually inhabited regions on the planet–Heiltsuk, Haisla, Haida, Gitga’at and many other coastal First Nations have called this place home since the last ice age. I’m not sure how many Canadians are aware of its existence. The fact that oil tankers are now poised to navigate through those waters for the first time was, in some ways, just an excuse to talk about this teeming, volatile, amphibious zone, the likes of which happen not to exist anywhere else on the planet.
NMAF: What is the significance to you of being nominated for or winning awards for your work, whether National Magazine Awards or others? Is there (or do you foresee) a measurable impact on your career?
Arno: I heard a debate on CBC a while back as to whether there weren’t too many awards in Canada’s literary scene these days; that may well be true, but it doesn’t feel so when you get a nomination yourself. It’s become a cliché, how hard it is to make a living at writing, and anyone who wants to give writers a few bucks and some attention-grabbing praise has my everlasting gratitude.
That said, it’s hard to measure what the impact is on your career. Doors crack open, but you still have to push through; money comes, and then it goes. I guess for me personally, insecure hack that I am, the psychological boost that comes with an award is its most lasting aspect. Recognition helps put the self-doubting demons to rest, and it can be called on to subdue them when they inevitably reappear.
Last night at the annual Giller Gala in Toronto, Montreal-based writer Sean Michaels won the $100,000 prize for his debut novel, Us Conductors. This remarkable story, noted the CBC, is
“… inspired by the life of Lev Sergeyevich Termen, the Russian inventor of the eerily beautiful theremin, taking him from the rambunctious New York clubs of the 1930s to the bleak gulags of the Soviet Union. The Giller jury praised Michaels’ writing, saying “he succeeds at one of the hardest things a writer can do: he makes music seem to sing from the pages of a novel.”
Like many a former Giller nominee and winner, Sean Michaels has built a successful career as a magazine writer. First nominated for a National Magazine Award for his music criticism in Maisonneuve, he won a gold medal National Magazine Award in 2010 for his essay “The Lizard, the Catacombs and the Clock” in the literary magazine Brick.
The intoxicating story of the underground labyrinths of Paris and the cataphiles who spelunk within them, Sean Michaels explored 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.
In 2012 Sean Michaels won a second National Magazine Award, alongside veteran Canadian photojournalist Roger LeMoyne, in the Words & Pictures category for “Ringmasters” – a portrait of Montreal’s Tohu circus published in The Walrus.
But the artists still remember what drew them under the lights: the risk, the thrill, the chance to brush up against another world. Experiments are once again taking place in the streets, in the metro — or even at Tohu, where management rents studios for as little as $2 an hour: a troupe called Recircle salvages equipment from the trash, while Cirque Alfonse reinvents the family circus with a show that turns Québécois stereotypes (sometimes literally) on their heads.
The sad news reached us recently of the passing of Mark Anderson. Mark was an accomplished and enthusiastic magazine journalist who won three National Magazine Awards for his work in Explore and Outdoor Canada.
We read his work in a number of other Canadian magazines, including Financial Post Magazine, Listed, Report on Business, MoneySense, Canadian Geographic, Reader’s Digest, Cottage Life, Ontario Nature and Canadian Business.
For us at Outdoor Canada, Mark was the complete package—an incredibly gifted storyteller with the added bonus of being a highly accomplished angler. Not only did he win major awards for his feature writing, he also earned laurels for his fly-fishing expertise, competing in both national and international competitions. Mark leaves a major vacancy in our stable of writers, and all I can say is we are so thankful we had him on our team when we did.
In one of his best-known stories for Outdoor Canada, “Requiem for a River,” Mark travelled to Quebec’s Rupert River, famous among anglers for its exquisite natural beauty and genetically unique brook trout, the summer before it was dammed as part of a massive hydroelectric project in the province. The story showcased Mark’s rare gifts as an inquisitive and thoughtful writer and conservationist.
I start working my way down the shoreline, all heavy brush and treacherous deadfalls, and when I break out into the open a half-kilometre later, I’m in for a shocking sight: clear-cut as far as the eye can see. It’s the slash Freddy Jolly warned us about, Hydro-Québec’s relentless drive to denude the banks of the Rupert in preparation for the coming flood. After three days surrounded by raw wilderness, it’s a dismal, depressing scene.
The story won a National Magazine Award for Travel writing in 2008 and was also nominated in Sports & Recreation. You can read the entire story here from the National Magazine Awards archive.
A Celebration of Mark’s Life was held at Algonquin College’s Observatory lounge on Sunday, October 26. Donations are being accepted in Mark’s name to Algonquin College Foundation’s Mark Anderson Memorial Bursary, via CanadaHelps.org. Mark’s obituary appeared in the Ottawa Citizen on October 22.
Yesterday’s revealing of the Giller Prize shortlist, today’s announcement of the Governor General’s Literary Awards finalists, both on the heels of last week’s release of the five finalists for the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, means that the big three Canadian literary prizes are counting down the days until we find out who wrote the best in Canadian literature for 2014.
Each year, it seems a handful of the nominees for these prestigious CanLit prizes have come from the magazine world; this year, almost all of the shortlisted authors have National Magazine Awards on their resumes.
When the lights came up on the final prize of the 2013 National Magazine Awards, the 500 gala guests at The Carlu and the thousands following the show on Twitter leaned in to hear the following words: “The winner of the award for Magazine of the Year: Cottage Life.”
It was announced today that The Grid, Toronto’s popular and award-winning weekly city magazine, is closing after an inspiring three-year run following its evolution from Eye Weekly. Publisher Laas Turnbull, a former director of the National Magazine Awards Foundation, told Marketing magazine that the shut-down is due to declining ad sales, changes in media buying patterns and a lack of time to develop new revenue generators that the magazine had been testing. “We ran out of runway,” he said.
Since it launched in May 2011 with the first of its annual Chef’s Guides to Toronto, The Grid won 15 National Magazine Awards (10 Gold, 5 Silver) from 53 nominations; over that span, only The Walrus, Report on Business and L’actualité won more.
As we bid it farewell, the NMAF looks back on some of the most remarkable Grid content to be celebrated at the National Magazine Awards. (You can find more in our online archive.)
The second-ever cover story by The Grid (May 19-25, 2011) swept the Gold medals in the categories Magazine Covers, Art Direction of an Entire Issue and Art Direction of a Single Article. That hadn’t happened at the NMAs since 1998.
At this year’s National Magazine Awards a new category for Infographics was introduced. The Grid snagged 5 nominations for this award, winning Gold for “How much does a street cost?”
Finally, Danielle Groen’s impressive story on public-school sex ed won a Silver National Magazine Award in 2012. Read the entire article and view more award-winning work from The Grid in the National Magazine Awards Foundation’s online archive.
Our best wishes to the talented staff and contributors who made The Grid so wonderful, informative and beautiful.