The Winter 2015 issue of Prism International (Vol. 53, No. 2) is hot. Yes, we’re especially fond of the National Magazine Awards winners seal that adorns the cover, acknowledging writer Pasha Malla‘s silver medal for fiction (“The Actual” from Prism 51:3) at last year’s NMA gala.
The new issue features creative non-fiction by National Magazine Award winners Ayelet Tsabari–recent winner of the Sami Rohr prize–and Liz Windhorst Harmer, among others. And an impressive menu of short fiction and poetry, including a piece by NMA winner Alice Major.
You can find the new issue in select bookstores and literary newsstands, or online from the Prism store.
It’s minus-fifteen degrees. The pastel glow of an early dusk drapes over the bare walnut tree outside your window. You sit at a writing table with the seventh draft, poring over your final notes. You’re satisfied at last. But where to submit this poem, short story, memoir?
Answer: a Canadian magazine writing contest.
This guide, presented by the National Magazine Awards Foundation, is our largest yet, which hopefully indicates not only the vigour of the Canadian literary magazine scene, but also the unceasing desire to engage with new readers and writers that these wonderful magazines possess.
If you haven’t participated before, now is a great time to sit down with that story or poem of yours, polish it and put it out in the world. Along the way you may discover a great new magazine.
What this guide provides is a list of contests via Canadian magazines (or magazine-related organizations) open to unpublished works of Fiction, Poetry, Creative Non-fiction and Photography.
Please note: This list is organized chronologically by deadline dates from January 1 to June 15. If you know of a contest we missed, please email us or grab us on Twitter @MagAwards and we’ll update our guide.
Narrative MagazineWinter 2015 Story Contest Genres: Non-fiction; Fiction; Graphic Narratives; Photo Essays Deadline: March 31, 2015 Prize: $2,500 (1st); $1000 (2nd); $500 (3rd); $100 (finalist) Entry Fee: $22 Details: http://www.narrativemagazine.com/node/238622 Notes: Entries may be fiction or literary nonfiction, including essays, memoirs, or any other form of unpublished manuscript, with a word limit of 15,000. This year photo essays and graphic narratives are also accepted. All are judged in the same pool.
Recently the literary journal Echolocation published a great interview with Jess Taylor about her National Magazine Award-winning short story, “Paul,” the challenges of writing and her pursuit of a book project: the story collection Pauls will be published in 2015 by BookThug.
The interview was conducted by Liz Windhorst Harmer, herself a National Magazine Award winner earlier this year for Personal Journalism (“Blip,” published in The Malahat Review).
In this excerpt from the interview, Liz and Jess discuss the “hard place,” the core of the writerly being from which the literary art emerges.
Liz: What is exciting to watch as far as your “emerging” (a word with multiple meanings, it seems to me!) career, is just how many things you manage to balance and balance well. You recently wrote about ways of building community. You of course are the founder of Toronto’s Emerging Writers series. Your Puritan article discusses the joys and pitfalls of building community, and in it you use the phrase “the hard place”: you hoped “you’d meet people who’d understand you and what you describe as a hard place in yourself”. I love this essay. As we close out this interview, I hoped you could talk a little about the hard place.
I think I know what you mean by the phrase, and you don’t need to elaborate, but I wondered if your relationship to it has changed as your life as a writer has become more public. The transition from aspiring to published and awarded comes with its own costs. Have you found this?
Jess: Thanks, Liz! I’m glad you liked the essay.
The hard place for me is this little place inside of me that tells me I will always write, that I’m a writer. It’s the one aspect of my identity that is always consistent. It’s what spurs me on and gives me my sense of self. I know I’m a hard worker, I take pride in being a hard worker, and writing is my work. I hope this means that I will be able to build a life either from writing or around writing, but I know that even if no one publishes me, it will always be something I do and something that contributes to my sense of self. Some people may describe this as confidence. I think it’s different than confidence. It’s a baseline. More than knowing my name is “Jess,” that the word “Jess” refers to me, I know that this place exists in me.
To me, this is separate from any sort of public writing life or awards or publications. It’s a deeply personal and special thing. Of course, with public recognition comes a little validation that you’re doing the right thing, that other people can see it and know that you’re doing good work. But that’s almost an extra. Having the hard place in me has allowed me to not worry too much about whether or not my work fits into the current trends of writing. Having studied literature, it’s obvious that what’s popular changes and what’s lasting remains to be seen. So I’m just going to do what I like, write the type of work I like to write and read, and hope that the enjoyment comes across to other people. After winning an award or signing a contract, I guess all that changes for me is that I start to think, “Oh, ok, people are starting to see this my way. They like this too. Interesting.” But that could all change again in a moment.
This isn’t to say that I don’t have moments of doubt. We all do. Right after I was nominated for the National Magazine Award, I had a huge crisis. It was one of the first times I really doubted the hard place existed. I was happy about the nomination and starting to think about focusing on Pauls instead of the novel I was currently working on. A couple of my male colleagues who I really respected told me I should wait until I was older to publish. One was barely older than I was! It made me desolate. Normally someone else’s opinion about that sort of thing wouldn’t faze me; it might make me a little annoyed, but it wouldn’t put that doubt in me. It made me feel that awards were pointless because it wouldn’t change the fact that I was young and a female writer. There would still not be the same level of respect, even if I was doing good work and working hard. And having the award nomination just meant that people would gossip about me and form these opinions about me, about whether I deserved it, and I had no interest in being the subject of this sort of gossip or these dismissive attitudes.
But then everyone was surprised because I did win. The hard place was restored, as it was the one time I think I needed some external validation for that hard place. I’d been sending work out and getting rejected (as we all do), had never had a paid publication in my life, and all of a sudden I had won an NMA. It changed a lot in my life. I finally qualified for TAC grant, which only requires one paid publication, people were actually reading my work and coming to my readings, people were respecting me for my work instead of just as a promoter, it helped me with my job, and I signed a contract for Pauls. The hard place whispered, “I told you so, Jess, you big idiot.”
People are always going to talk, they are always going to be critical, haters gonna hate. But I know I can’t let it interfere with me and my work. Nothing can interfere with that. And that’s what great about having a hard place … everything else could be gone, they could take away the NMA, the book deal, my job, everything, but I’d still be me. The hard place would still be there. I’d keep trying to communicate and write in anyway I could. I always will. At this point, I’m still emerging, I would hesitate to say I have any real public writing life or that I’m the center of anyone’s focus, but if things were to go that way, the experiences I had over the summer really helped prepare me and reaffirmed why I write and why it’s a necessity.
Off the Page is a regular interview series produced by the National Magazine Awards Foundation. Today we catch up with Charles Yao, publisher and art director of Little Brother, a literary magazine which won its first NMA this past spring. The 2014 National Magazine Awards are now open for submissions.
NMAF: Little Brother only recently burst onto the Canadian lit-mag scene, with your first issue released in 2012 (and alreadysold out, I see). What is your perspective on the value of literary magazines to Canadian readers and culture, and how did this influence what was no doubt a bold decision to launch LB?
Charles: Literary magazines are valuable, for sure. They’re like this living system—new writing, lovingly packaged, parceled out every few months—that keeps the culture moving, keeps it evolving. That’s the best-case scenario anyway.
When we started Little Brother, we wanted to be a part of that, but also do our own thing. If it’s not new, why bother? So we junked what we didn’t like, and made a magazine that we personally would want to read. LB has always been very DIY. No grants, no open submissions, no army of slush readers, no affiliations with universities. Just two people pushing out their literary and aesthetic sensibilities onto the world! We’ve run 10,000-word essays on hot dogs, professional wrestling, illness and laughter, women in print media, the influence of America on Canadian writers. We’ve commissioned photo essays on pop bottles and “boring” apartment buildings. It speaks to the breadth of Canadian literary culture that there’s room—even a relatively sizeable audience—for what we’re doing.
As far as the “bold” decision to launch our own mag. Back then, [founding publisher] Emily M. Keeler was thinking a lot about Canadian literature: whether there was anything new under the sun—that kind of thing. Little Brother is like this candy-coloured mag that, twice a year, says, “Yes. Yes there are new things coming out of Canada that will more than repay your commitment.”
NMAF: Emily hassaidthat she decided to pursue LB as a print publication (as opposed to digital) in part because the magazine wanted to create space for long pieces and experiments, for “prose that isn’t forced to hurriedly unfurl itself.” And she spoke of the rhythm of reading a printed magazine over digital. Is this sense of writer-reader engagement on a kind of special sensory plane a motivating force for you as a publisher, and why is this important in a media landscape with so much content?
Charles: A beautifully designed, thoughtfully paced magazine is simply the best medium for reading a certain kind of literary writing. If you want to read work that requires and rewards sustained attention, then a quality print mag, like McSweeney’s, like The Paris Review, like Little Brother, is still where it’s at.
And part of that, for sure, has to do with the sensory appeal—with, as you say, the rhythm of turning pages. You get that “space” that Emily mentions. You get the literal white space of the margins surrounding nice typography, which is its own kind of minor luxury these days. But you also get the mental space of uninterrupted reading. And you just don’t get that, at least not right now, with the junky impermanence of most web sites. (Just to be clear, though, the web is great for 95% of all reading. Most of my reading—most of everyone’s, I imagine—takes place on the web.)
I’ve also mentioned this elsewhere that an important aspect of publishing is excitement. Does the reader get excited when something is released? I think people still do get genuinely excited when a new issue of a print magazine comes out. They’re probably less excited when a web site gets refreshed. And, let’s be honest, they’re hovering in the bottom rungs of excitement when an eBook is released.
Finally, as producers, making a print, as opposed to a digital, magazine is a necessary motivator. We could have made a Tumblr. That would have been easy, but a little struggle is good. The fact that a print magazine costs money to produce, takes time to design and distribute, requires a wide skill set, forces you to learn new things—these are all pluses. Having stakes is important.
NMAF: A wonderful emerging writer namedJess Taylorwon last year’s National Magazine Award for Fiction, for a short story called “Paul” in LB No. 3. Describe your experience of the nomination and the award, and what were you thinking when Jess walked up on stage?
Charles: Well, funny story. We first heard Jess read an early version of “Paul” at a live reading series, and we immediately wanted it for the mag. Wanted it quite badly. The problem was that she had already submitted it to this other journal, which, incredibly, couldn’t decide if they wanted to run it! I still remember the day that Jess sent us an email to say that we could have the story and start the editing process. That was a good day.
Still, I didn’t think Jess would win. It’s not because “Paul” isn’t great. And it’s not because Jess isn’t amazingly talented. It’s because, you know, she’s a relative newcomer. At that point, she hadn’t published very many stories and Little Brother wasn’t even finished its second year! So: you have a 24-year-old writer with an offbeat but beautiful story about three guys named “Paul,” and it’s published in a small-run magazine that’s only on its third issue—and it’s up against Michael Winter and Pasha Malla [and 3 other nominated writers]. Yet, somehow, she won! Actually, that’s some false modesty, I know: Jess’s story is a stone-cold classic!
When they announced Jess as the Gold winner, we pretty much lost our shit! She ran up on stage, and gave this really endearing speech. Her speech, and the one from an editor at Torontoist, were the best of the night. They were both deeply appreciative and a little shocked and very happy. I remember talking to Emily about whether we should even go to the ceremony; the price of the tickets was not inconsequential—that’s money we could put to good use elsewhere. But it turned out all right in the end. Also: there were two chocolate fountains at the post-awards gala, so I really can’t complain.
NMAF: What are your publishing goals for Little Brother, and where do you see recognition, such as that of the National Magazine Awards helping, to fulfill those goals?
Charles: Our goal is to keep growing, to get in front of as many potential readers as possible.Little Brother No. 5, the meta issue, is the first where we have proper national distribution. It’s important that LB be in stores across the country, in a lot of cities. It’s cool to see a spreadsheet of all the places selling it. My hope is that someone who’s never heard of LB stumbles on it, finds it intriguing enough to pick up, and brings it home. That kind of serendipity was how I found a lot of magazines—like early McSweeneys and Speak—that were important to me.
We’ve also launched a speaker series, called What We Talk About, which was originally started by the late Alicia Louise Merchant and Peter Merriman. Both of them, coincidentally, wrote essays for LB2. One reason we started LB was to build this community of like-minded writers, artists, and readers. So the lecture series is an extension of Little Brother! The first–about Witchy Women!–was held on November 19 at the Drake Hotel.
With Emily now the Books Editor at The National Post, we’ve grown the administrative side to compensate: Lydia Ogwang from Worn Fashion Journal is now our publishing associate, and Evangeline Holtz, who talked us into letting her be our publishing assistant (really!), will be helping us as she finishes her PhD. Jess Taylor, speak of the devil, will become our first fiction editor, which is very exciting. She’s as dedicated as anyone we know to nurturing, finding, and publishing new fiction writers, and she has a sensibility all her own—though it fits well within the context of LB. Emily will still work on the big essays, and I’m still the art director, but now also the publisher.
As for the National Magazine Award, I think it’s given us a certain legitimacy in the eyes of people who might have otherwise written us off as this upstart publication that just does what it likes. That’s true, but getting a Gold NMA is proof that there are other people who like what we’re doing, too.
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.
New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast published this instant classic not too long ago, which serves as an apt reminder of the value to readers of canny, captivating and creative writing.
So once again, as summer lingers here and there and autumn peeks behind, it’s time to get out those fountain pens or laptops or typewriters (maybe?) and submit your poetry and prose, as the National Magazine Awards Foundation presents the fall guide to Canadian magazine writing contests.
As always, the list below may be incomplete. Leave a comment here or hail us on Twitter @MagAwards#WritingContest if you know of any we missed.
And, for those whose lens is mightier than their pens (yeah, we went there), we’ve also included a section for Magazine Photography Contests at the bottom.
Unless otherwise indicated, these contests are open to unpublished works only.
If this year’s National Magazine Awards taught us anything, it’s that devoting yourself passionately to literary excellence has its rewards. Kim Jernigan, longtime editor of The New Quarterly, said as much when she accepted her Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement. “When it comes to matters literary, it is better to follow your own instincts than to give the reader what you presume she wants… Perseverance counts.”
Also, this nugget of wisdom: “Caring deeply about literature is not at odds with a sense of fun.”
Apropos of which, we present our annual Summer Guide to Canadian magazine writing contests.
As always, the list below may be incomplete. Leave a comment here or pull us aside on Twitter @MagAwards#WritingContest if you know of any we missed.
Check out the Contests section of this blog for frequent updates on opportunities from Canadian magazines.
Photo: Kim Jernigan accepting the Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement at the 37th annual National Magazine Awards, June 6, 2014. Photography by KlixPix for the National Magazine Awards Foundation.