Sarah de Leeuw’s incredible story of abnormal childbirth, “Soft Shouldered,” featured in Prism International magazine, received an Honourable Mention in One of a Kind at last year’s gala.
Margo Pfeiff has won four NMA Honourable Mentions since 2001, and her essay “When the Vikings Were in Nunavut” was published in Up Here magazine, which won five Honourable Mentions at last year’s gala.
Dan Tysdal’s fiction piece, “Year Zero,” was published in the multiple NMA-winning magazine, Prairie Fire.
D.W. Wilson has received four awards within the fiction category, with three Honourable Mentions at the 2010 gala and a Silver Award for his piece The Elasticity of Bone in 2008.
Naomi K. Lewis’ essay, The Assault on Science, was published in NMA-winning magazine, Alberta Views. In 2011, she won an Honourable Mention in Health & Medicine for The Urge to Purge (Alberta Views).
Check out the complete list of essays by ordering the 2014 book from Tightrope Books.
Off the Page is a regular interview series produced by the National Magazine Awards Foundation. In today’s conversation we chat with Emily Urquhart, folklorist, mother and winner at last year’s National Magazine Awards gala. Her incredible memoir on raising a daughter with albinism, “The Meaning of White,” published in The Walrus, won Silver in the Personal Journalism category.
NMAF: Your background in folklore brought an interesting perspective to understanding human differences in your story “The Meaning of White.” How would you describe the creative process of writing this piece, in which you combined your study of folklore, experience as a mother and passion as a writer into a single story?
Emily:I knew right away that I wanted to document the early stages of my daughter’s life as we went through the process of discovering that she has a rare genetic condition. She was three months old when she was diagnosed with albinism—which is a lack of pigment in the hair, skin and eyes, and causes low vision. I started taking notes shortly after she was born. Back then, it was a way to process and understand what was happening.
I recorded the details of events and encounters, as well as my feelings and observations, on lined recipe cards that I stashed in my purse and around my house. I had a newborn, so sometimes I could only manage a few words, or a list, but as I found more quiet moments, the words became sentences and eventually paragraphs.
At that time I was in the final stages of my PhD in folklore at Memorial University in St. John’s, NL. I’d been studying folk tales, legends, beliefs, rumours, ballads and tall tales — the stories people tell to explain and illustrate their world. I realized that human differences were at the heart of many of these genres. I looked specifically at albinism and discovered worldwide beliefs and stories about this condition. Some were beautiful and I wanted to relate these tales to my own. Some were terrible and I wanted to turn away. Ultimately, exploring both good and evil helped me to come to terms with my own feelings about disability and difference, and what it means to be a parent. I wanted to write about how I came to this conclusion, both through my research and the story of our life.
After a year passed I pitched the idea to John Macfarlane at The Walrus. We worked on the idea together through a series of emails. He accepted the story and gave me far more space than I’d originally asked for. I’ll never forget receiving that message. I was so excited I couldn’t tell my husband, Andrew. I just handed him my phone so he could read it himself.
NMAF: Due to be released at the end of March is your debut non-fiction book, Beyond The Pale: Folklore, Family and the Mystery of our Hidden Genes. Your name appears oncountless listsfor books to look forward to in 2015 (alongside your mother and celebrated novelist, Jane Urquhart). Did you always intend to write a book, or was this something that came after publishing your story in The Walrus? What was the process in turning a 5,600-word memoir into a full-length book?
Emily:By the time I turned in my first draft of “The Meaning of White” I’d cut it by one third and it was still over my allotted 5,000 words. That was in June 2012. The next month we travelled to St. Louis to attend a National Organization of Albinism and Hypopigmentation (NOAH) conference. I’d never seen another person with albinism besides my daughter. Suddenly I was surrounded by hundreds of white-haired people of all ages and everyone had a story to tell. I also learned a lot more about the discrimination and violence against people with albinism in East Africa, particularly Tanzania.
We arrived home and I sat down with my husband and told him two things: I’m going to Tanzania, and I’m going to write a book. Either statement didn’t surprise him. He said, “OK, I’m coming with you.”
The book follows the first three years of my daughter’s life, so the narrative expands on the article published in The Walrus and also picks up where it left off.
NMAF: Your memoir certainly received international attention. It was featured inReader’s Digest, Longform, Byliner and The Dish, and was even translated for an Italian magazine. How has recognition, such as your award from the NMAF, helped to propel your writing career and bring this story to a larger audience?
Emily: The National Magazine Award was a huge thrill. I’d finished writing the book based on the magazine memoir by the time I attended the award ceremony. Getting that kind of recognition at that point in the creative process was extremely validating. Winning a National Magazine award is up there with defending my PhD as one of my major career highlights, and I can only see it helping my career going forward.
When “The Meaning of White” went online I started receiving several emails a day. Some of the messages came from people with albinism, but a lot were from parents who related to the story and shared stories of their own with me. I’ve heard from people across North America, as well as Europe, Africa and Asia. Messages continue to trickle in now, almost two years after the memoir first appeared in The Walrus. My community expanded after publishing this story. I’ve met a lot of great people and received a lot of support. It’s been amazing. I see all of this as having a positive impact on my daughter’s future.
NMAF: You’ve written for many other award-winning Canadian magazines, such asAzure,FlareandThe New Quarterly. Did you always have aspirations of being a magazine writer, perhaps during your days as an undergraduate student at theRyerson School of Journalism? Or was this a career path that came as a result of your passion for writing?
Emily:Magazines are definitely my first love. When I was a teenager I read an article in Sassy magazine where the journalist wrote about touring with a heavy metal band. I wasn’t into heavy metal, but the writer crafted such an engaging tale that it didn’t matter. The story was fascinating, but so was the journalist’s career choice. She was paid to go on tour with these guys and write about her experience. I wrote a story about this experience in 2009 for The New Quarterly.
My mom is a writer so I understood that you could be a novelist, but I hadn’t seen non-fiction as a career choice until reading that piece.
I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing and it was during my two years in the graduate program at the Ryerson School of Journalism that I saw a professional outlet for this passion. I also loved—still love—the act of reporting. It gives me a rush to approach a stranger and then ask them to tell me their story. I’m still nervous before every interview and I still feel a sense of elation afterwards.
NMAF: Undoubtedly, 2015 will be a milestone in your career with the release of your debut book. As a Canadian writer, what else is on your list of things you hope to accomplish? What might readers expect to see from you in the future? Do you want to write more novels, continue with magazine writing or pursue any other creative endeavours?
Emily: I wrote a memoir ten years ago, but shelved it because the material was too difficult for me to revisit at that time. It concerns a period in my mid-twenties following the death of my oldest brother. I went to great lengths to escape my life—a reporting internship amidst the chaos of post 9/11 New York City, a soggy winter in Vancouver, and nine months at an English language newspaper in Kyiv, Ukraine during the lead-up to the Orange Revolution. Some of the material is dark, but revisiting it from a safe distance I can see that there’s also a lot of potential for humour. Transforming the original memoir into a more cohesive narrative is my next project. At the same time I hope to keep writing for magazines. There are a few ideas that have been waiting in the wings while I finished my book and it’s time to set those stories free.
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.
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.
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.
Looking for last-minute stocking stuffers and holiday gifts? A subscription to an award-winning Canadian magazine is a great place to start. Magazines Canada’s digital newsstand offers subscription deals on dozens of great magazines. A literary magazine would make any lover of fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction squeal with delight.
After magazines, books are every reader’s favourite gift, so here at the National Magazine Awards Foundation we’ve compiled a short list of great new books, all by National Magazine Award-winning writers.
The Dogs Are Eating Them Now, by Graeme Smith The winner of this year’s Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust prize for non-fiction, The Dogs are Eating Them Now is a comprehensive reportage of Canada’s role in the Afghanistan War, by 3-time National Magazine Award winner Graeme Smith.
The Once and Future World, by J.B. MacKinnon
Longlisted for the 2014 RBC Taylor Prize for Non-fiction, this powerful meditation on how we can re-imagine and restore the wilderness around us, by 11-time National Magazine Award winner J.B. MacKinnon, is a must-read for anyone who lives, works or plays in Canada’s great outdoors. (Read our interview with J.B. MacKinnon.)
Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter, by Alison Wearing In a compelling memoir about growing up with a gay father in 1980s rural Ontario, National Magazine Award-winning travel writer Alison Wearing weaves a moving coming-of-age story with the challenging social and political climate of the struggle for gay rights in Canada.
Walls: Travels Along the Barricades, by Marcello Di Cintio
Winner of the 2013 Writers’ Trust Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing, this gripping collection of travel narratives and reportage from divided lands–Israel/Palestine, Northern Ireland, Cyprus, the U.S.-Mexico border, and more–is truly inspiring.
An Inconvenient Indian, by Thomas King
Once a National Magazine Award winner for Fiction in Saturday Night (1991), aboriginal writer Thomas King (Cherokee nation) tells a comprehensive and witty history of North America’s indigenous people’s encounters with Europeans.
Let the Eastern Bastards Freeze in the Dark, by Mary Janigan
Also on the long list for the RBC Taylor Prize, this investigation into the regional rivalry between Western and Eastern Canada over issues of energy strategy and economic policy is scintillating. Mary Janigan is a former journalist with Maclean’s and a winner of a National Magazine Award in 1992.
Little Ship of Fools, by Charles Wilkins A story that began on an innovative rowboat attempting a first-of-its-kind crossing of the Atlantic Ocean and continued in the pages of Explore magazine, where it won a 2011 National Magazine Award, Little Ship of Fools, by one of Canada’s premier adventure writers, Charles Wilkins, is the complete chronicle of Big Blue, the record-breaking rowboat, and the incredible crew that propelled her across the sea.
Hellgoing, by Lynn Coady The winner of this year’s Giller Prize as Canada’s best work of fiction, Hellgoing by Edmonton’s Lynn Coady needs almost no introduction. Lynn Coady is a 5-time National Magazine Award nominee, including this year for the story “Dogs in Clothes” (Canadian Notes & Queries), which is part of the collection Hellgoing.
The Sky is Falling, by Caroline Adderson
Caroline Adderson won the Gold 2012 National Magazine Award for fiction, for “Ellen-Celine, Celine-Ellen” (Canadian Notes & Queries). She is the author of three novels and several children’s books. Her work has received numerous prize nominations including the the Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist, the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Rogers’ Trust Fiction Prize.
Ablutions, by Patrick deWitt
Patrick deWitt won the Silver National Magazine Award for fiction in 2012, for “The Looking Ahead Artist” (Brick). Originally from Vancouver, he is the author of the critically acclaimed novel The Sisters Brothers, which won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Scotiabank Giller Prize.
The World, by Bill Gaston
Victoria native Bill Gaston won the 2011 Gold National Magazine Award for fiction, for “Four Corners” (Event). His short-story collection Gargoyles was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, and won the ReLit Award and the City of Victoria Butler Prize.
Easy Living Stories, by Jesus Hardwell
Jesus Hardwell won the 2010 Silver National Magazine Award for fiction, for “Sandcastles” (Event). The story was also short-listed for the prestigiousJourney Prize and featured in the Journey Prize Anthology. He lives in Guelph, Ontario.
Ballistics, by D.W. Wilson
Born and raised in British Columbia, D.W. Wilson won 2008 Silver National Magazine Award for fiction, for “The Elasticity of Bone” (Malahat Review). He is the author of Once You Break a Knuckle, a collection of short stories. He was shortlisted for the CBC Short Story Prize and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize.
The Hungry Ghosts, by Shyam Selvadurai
Toronto’s Shyam Selvadurai won the 2006 Gold National Magazine Award for fiction, for “The Demoness Kali” (Toronto Life). He is the acclaimed author of the novels Funny Boy, which was shortlisted for the Giller Prize, won the Books in Canada First Novel Award and was a national bestseller, and Cinnamon Gardens, which was shortlisted for the Trillium Award.
Indian Horse, by Richard Wagamese
The winner of this year’s First Nations Book Award, Indian Horse, by Ontario Ojibway author Richard Wagamese, tells the story of the journey that Saul Indian Horse, a northern Ontario Ojibway man, takes back through his life, as he is dying.
The O’Briens, by Peter Behrens
Montreal-born Peter Behrens won the 2006 Silver National Magazine Award for fiction, for “The Smell of Smoke” (The Walrus). He is the author of the Governor General’s Literary Award-winning novel, The Law of Dreams, published around the world to wide acclaim, and a collection of short stories, Night Driving.
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. Continue reading →