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.
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.
Do you have a funny, quirky or heartfelt story of transformation to share with us? We would love to hear from campers and ex-campers about how your time at camp changed you. In our July issue, Reader’s Digest will publish a selection of memoirs about defining camp moments.
Entries should be short memoirs, not more than 450 words, of your noteworthy summer camp experiences. Photos are encouraged. The deadline for submissions is March 23. Winning stories will be published in the July edition of the magazine.
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.
Nicolas Langelier, cofondateur, éditeur et rédacteur en chef de Nouveau Projet, a accepté de répondre aux questions de la Fondation dans le cadre de notre série d’entretiens « En marge ». Nouveau Projet s’est illustré lors de la dernière édition des Prix en décrochant plusieurs mentions honorables, en plus d’être nommé finaliste au titre le plus convoité, Magazine de l’année.
FNPMC : Les membres du jury ont encensé le côté audacieux et original de Nouveau Projet, tout en soulignant la qualité exceptionnelle de la direction artistique et du design. Quelle fut votre réaction lorsque vous avez appris la mise en nomination de Nouveau Projet au titre de Magazine de l’année?
Nicolas : Ç’a été à la fois une grande surprise et une immense fierté. Pour un petit magazine indépendant qui compte seulement deux années d’existence, d’être finaliste au titre de Magazine de l’année, c’est un honneur inespéré.
Je me souviens aussi d’avoir ressenti une très grande reconnaissance envers les Prix du magazine canadien, pour arriver ainsi à prendre en compte des publications aux ressources et clientèles aussi diverses.
FNPMC : À quels facteurs attribuez-vous le succès remarquable que connait Nouveau Projet?
Nicolas: Je pense qu’il y a d’abord notre obsession pour la qualité, dans tout ce que nous faisons, du choix de nos sujets jusqu’à notre présence sur les réseaux sociaux. Nos lecteurs ressentent ce souci constant, et considèrent que c’est quelque chose pour lequel ils sont prêts à payer.
Et puis il me semble que nous venons combler un vide qui s’est créé dans le paysage médiatique. Avec la tendance générale vers des textes plus courts, des sujets plus sensationnalistes, du travail fait plus rapidement, s’est libérée une place pour des gens offrant justement une contre-tendance à tout ça.
Beaucoup de nos lecteurs nous disent que nous leur faisons du bien, et je pense que c’est parce que nous offrons quelque chose que beaucoup de publications considèrent que les lecteurs ne veulent pas, ou ne veulent plus.
FNPMC : L’excellence de votre travail vous a valu plusieurs mentions honorables aux Prix du magazine canadien. Quelle incidence cela a-t-il eue sur votre carrière et sur le rayonnement de Nouveau Projet?
Nicolas: C’est certainement quelque chose qui a eu un impact positif pour nous. Peut-être plus au niveau de notre perception par les autres membres de l’industrie que par le public comme tel, parce que ce dernier (au Québec du moins) ne les connait pas nécessairement beaucoup—mais cette reconnaissance de nos pairs, des annonceurs et des collaborateurs actuels et futurs a une grande valeur pour nous.
Et j’ose aussi croire que cela a permis à Nouveau Projet de commencer à avoir une certaine visibilité au Canada anglais, ce qui est important.
FNPMC : Vous avez contribué à de nombreuses publications québécoises. Que fait la singularité des magazines québécois et canadiens, selon vous? En quoi se distinguent-ils par rapport à d’autres publications internationales?
Nicolas: C’est déjà un exploit d’arriver à survivre dans un marché aussi petit, qui pourrait être envahi par les publications étrangères. Je pense que ça en dit long sur la persévérance et le courage des gens qui composent cette industrie. D’arriver à produire des choses de grande qualité dans des conditions aussi difficiles, c’est quelque chose dont on peut être fiers.
Nicolas: Ils sont essentiels. Bien sûr, ils ne sont pas parfaits, chacun a ses petits défauts, ses angles morts, ses chouchous. Mais d’avoir ce genre d’institutions qui valorisent l’excellence et tirent l’ensemble d’une industrie vers le haut, ça me semble absolument nécessaire. C’est vrai pour les éleveurs de vaches, les architectes ou les artisans qui fabriquent des magazines: nous avons besoin de ces incitatifs à nous comparer aux plus talentueux et rigoureux de notre industrie, et à sortir le meilleur de nous-mêmes.
FNPMC : Votre maison d’édition, Atelier 10, a récemment lancé la collection « Pièces ». Quel avenir souhaitez-vous pour Atelier 10 et pour vos publications? Quels sont vos objectifs à plus long terme?
Nicolas: J’ai envie que nous devenions une référence pour tout ce qui est culture et idées au Québec—et dans le reste de la francophonie, éventuellement. Publier les meilleurs auteurs et artistes visuels, et les faire découvrir à nos lecteurs. Produire différents types de publications, mais toujours avec une grande rigueur, et un souci constant des moindres détails.
Je crois encore beaucoup au papier, en tant que médium pour transmettre des idées, des informations, des valeurs, et j’ai envie de prouver qu’ils ont tort, tous ceux qui prédisent la mort de l’imprimé. Cela ne veut pas dire que nous négligeons le numérique pour autant: tout ce que nous faisons est aussi disponible en version numérique. Mais le papier a une place spéciale dans mon cœur, et je pense que c’est le cas aussi pour la majorité du public. Aussi bien en profiter!
Sinon, ultimement, je souhaite que notre travail ait un impact positif au niveau culturel, social, intellectuel. Si nous faisons tout cela, malgré les obstacles et les conditions difficiles, c’est parce que nous croyons que des changements sont nécessaires, dans notre société, et nous croyons aussi que les médias continuent d’avoir un rôle primordial à jouer pour faire avancer les choses, dans tous les domaines. Oui, les dernières 15 années ont fait mal à notre industrie, mais c’est à nous de trouver les manières de continuer à jouer notre rôle, en dépit de tout ça. Ce serait extrêmement dommage pour l’humanité, si un simple changement de contexte économique la privait de ce moteur essentiel que sont les médias de qualité.
Are you an emerging Canadian magazine journalist or creative non-fiction writer? Did you publish one of your first major stories in 2014 in a Canadian consumer magazine, university magazine or literary journal? Chances are you’re eligible to be named Canada’s Best New Magazine Writer from the National Magazine Awards Foundation.
The National Magazine Award for Best New Magazine Writer goes to the writer whose early work in Canadian magazines (print, online or tablet) shows the highest degree of craft and promise.
Last year’s winner, Catherine McIntrye, published an investigative story in THIS Magazine about cancer rates in New Brunswick and correlations to heavy industry. Read our interview with Catherine about her story and ambition to become a magazine journalist.
The 2012 winner, Sierra Skye Gemma, published a personal essay about grief in the literary journal The New Quarterly. Read our interview with Sierra about her approach to creative writing and how she came to enter her story for a National Magazine Award.
Previous finalists and winners have been published in Ryerson Review of Journalism, The Walrus, Maisonneuve, Prairie Fire, Chatelaine, Alberta Views, NOW Magazine, Toronto Life, Maclean’s and more.
ELIGIBILITY Eligible work must have been published in a Canadian magazine (print, online or tablet) between January 1 and December 31, 2014, and must be at least 1000 words in length. Open to non-fiction work only. Articles published in university/college magazines are eligible. Candidates must not have published any magazine work longer than 1000 words prior to 2013. The intent is to restrict this award to students and magazine writers with a maximum of 2 years’ experience in professional journalism. One entry per person. See the NMAF’s general rules for further information about eligible publications.
HOW TO ENTER Submit now at magazine-awards.com. Submissions may be made by the writer or by their publisher, editor or teacher. Entrants must complete the online application and submit required hard copies (see below). The deadline for applications including all required hard copies is January 19. The cost to enter is only $25 +HST.
Upload a PDF of your story during the online application.
Submit in hard copy four (4) sets of original tear sheets and four (4) copies of a letter of reference from a teacher, editor, mentor or colleague which attests to the candidate’s eligibility and provides context for the work submitted. Both the article and letter are reviewed by the judges.
Pay the submission fee ($25 + HST) by cheque or credit card.
FINALISTS AND WINNERS
A shortlist of 3 finalists will be announced on May 4, and each finalist will receive recognition in the NMAF’s publications and a certificate. The winner will be revealed at the 38th annual National Magazine Awards gala on June 5.
$500 cash; plus the right to call yourself a National Magazine Award-winning writer. We’ll interview you on our blog and promote you and your writing across Canada.
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.