Off The Page, with Adrian Forrow

Off the Page is a regular interview series featuring National Magazine Award winners. Recently we spoke with Adrian Forrow, who won his very first National Magazine Award in 2016, winning the Gold Medal in Illustration for his series of illustrations featured alongside the article “My Prescribed Life” (The Walrus). The story is a memoir about the longstanding link between mental health and prescription dependency, and it also received an Honourable Mention for Best Health & Medicine article.

NMAF: As splashes of colour that break up pages otherwise saturated by text, magazine illustrations give the reader a welcomed break, a moment’s pause before they jump back into reading. What do you think the role of an illustration is for people reading magazine articles?

Adrian: The role of editorial Illustration should be additive. It should help set the mood of the forthcoming text. The image can help evoke visual interest and transport the reader to a place where ideas and understanding intersect.

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NMAF: What details do you need before you can properly begin your creative, designing process? Are there certain elements or information that your client or partner needs to relay, in order for you to develop your concept?

Adrian: What I find that works best for me is to receive the brief and the text and really absorb the core idea before putting pen to paper. Once I feel I have a grasp of the idea, I might discuss the tone of the imagery that I feel is best for the article. This is where collaboration can happen with the art director and it’s a great way to help inform your imagery. I try not to think about the imagery at this stage–just the mood, atmosphere and tone of the picture.

The other detail that is critical for my process is the dimensions of the image. It’s really important for me to consider the whole compositional area. The dimension can ignite my conceptual approach and really make the art feel customized to the space available.

NMAF: You won Gold in Illustration at last year’s National Magazine Awards for your pieces featured in a memoir called “My Prescribed Life.” The story, published in The Walrus, discussed the link between the author’s mental illness and related dependence on medication. How did the subject matter of the memoir influence your creative conceptualization for the piece? How did you decide what tone would be most appropriate?

Adrian: This was a great article and so interesting. It was a delicate and somewhat saddening topic. I knew the colours were going to be really important. I didn’t want to do what was expected. I knew I had to take an approach that might have to be more ambiguous and surreal.

I didn’t want to use this illustration to summarize or define the problem. Instead my intent was to ask a question or pose a contemplative composition so the viewer would be left to decipher the visual symbols that I included.

The colours were mostly primary and that helped carry the idea of youth and aging. The colours also helped to create a surreal or even jarring feeling in relation to the content. The goal was for the colours and composition to carry ideas about an altered state of reality.

NMAF: Your Gold win last year was also your first time being recognized by the National Magazine Awards Foundation. How does winning awards for your illustration work help you, on both a personal and professional level?

Adrian: It feels great to know that my work is being received and appreciated within the industry. Personally, it helps to motivate me to keep developing my skills as a visual communicator. Professionally, it helps to open doors and possibilities for new and exciting opportunities.

NMAF: Your work has adorned coffee cups, been part of the creative for major music festivals and has been made larger-than-life by outdoor mural installations. Your work has also appeared in magazines, including The New Yorker, Corporate Knights and The Walrus. As an illustrator, what types of creative collaborations do you like to pursue? Do you try to not limit yourself to any one medium?

Adrian: I feel that in many ways I am just getting started. I have so many ideas and desires to push what I can do. The best thing about my profession is the variety it offers. One day I’m drawing a coffee cup, the next day I’m painting a huge outdoor mural. Variety is the spice of life, so I try to be diverse in the projects I take on.

I also love the collaborative process and making things that fulfill a need or desire. I have always experimented with different approaches and tools for making images.  I think it helps my clients see different possibilities and vary their experiences with illustration.

As of now, I have been collaborating with Warby Parker for a new store mural which I am really excited to share with people. I have also been collaborating with Keilhauer to make some artful promotional products.


Adrian Forrow is a National Magazine Award-winning illustrator whose work has been published in The Walrus, Corporate Knights, Canadian Running & Cycling Magazine and The New Yorker. His debut National Magazine Award was the Gold Medal in Best Illustration, for his series of illustrations featured in The Walrus memoir, “My Prescribed Life“. 

Check out his work at www.adrianforrow.com.

Read more Off the Page interviews with National Magazine Award-winning illustrators including Gracia Lam, Hudson ChristieByron Eggenscwhiler, Roxanna Bikadoroff, Jillian Tamaki and Selena Wong. 


Submissions to the 40th Anniversary National Magazine Awards
The 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards are open for submissions until January 20, including awards for Illustration and for Best New Magazine Illustrator.
Enter at magazine-awards.com.

In alternate years, the NMAF presents distinct awards for Best New Magazine Illustrator and Best New Magazine Photographer. For this year’s 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards, the Best New Visual Creator award will go to an illustrator whose early work in magazines shows the highest degree of craft and promise.

Read more about the Best New Creators Awards here.

Off the Page, with Marta Iwanek

Off the Page is a regular interview series featuring National Magazine Award winners. Recently we caught up with photojournalist Marta Iwanek, who in 2016 was named Canada’s Best New Magazine Photographer from the National Magazine Awards Foundation, in addition to winning the Gold Medal for Photojournalism & Photo Essay for her incredible reporting of the 2013-2014 Ukrainian crisis, titled “The Maidan” (Maisonneuve).

NMAF: In your award-winning photo essay, “The Maidan,” you take the reader on a journey to a winter in Kyiv, where thousands of Ukrainians gathered to take a courageous stand against their government. You capture the Maidan as a place of fear and uncertainty, but also of community and solidarity. How did you get a sense of the place when you arrived, and what were the human emotions that spoke to you as a photographer?

Marta: I first arrived in Kyiv in early November (2013) before any of the protests had started. I remember driving through the centre of the city and thinking what a bustling metropolis it was. Then I went out east to work on a film and returned in late November a little after the pro-European protests had begun. Everything was still calm at that point and there was a sense of hopefulness among the crowd.

The protest was to last nine days, but on the last night everything changed. The remaining protestors were chased out of Independence Square (Maidan) and beaten by police, angering many people. On December 1 a large demonstration occurred in Kyiv where the people re-took the square and the movement that became known as “the Maidan” began. I was supposed to fly back to Toronto shortly after, but realized I couldn’t leave.

The feeling was so powerful and strong among the people. It felt like people had been pushed to an edge and they had nothing more to lose. There were feelings of frustration, abandonment and urgency. At the same time, you could still find the glimpses of hope and community as people unified under one cause–to oust then President Yanukovych. I was always trying to show those emotions in my photos and trying to understand the situation deeper, trying to figure out what made it this way? I changed my flight and ended up staying three months, living among the protestors and spending my days and nights wandering the square, talking to people and trying to make sense of it.

I like to immerse myself in stories as much as possible and I hope this translates in my photos. It was also a story I felt personally connected to because my roots are Ukrainian and I grew up in the Ukrainian diaspora in Toronto. I grew up listening to the stories of Ukraine’s constant struggle for independence and to be free of corruption, so the feelings of the people in the square were not foreign to me. However, this time, it wasn’t just my parents talking about it in Canada, detached from the situation and it’s consequences. It was happening in front of me. When it was finally time to leave, I will always remember that contrast I felt when I first arrived in the capital and when I left–the place, the people and the country had been changed forever.

During my years as the art director of Maisonneuve magazine, I had the opportunity to work with many talented women photographers—each one a unique visual voice. Marta Iwanek stands out for the way she brings her compassion to a body of work that sits on the edge of war and peace, among fire and smoke, between life and death situations, especially with her Ukrainian “Maidan” project.
Anna Minzhulina, former art director, Maisonneuve

NMAF: Over one hundred people were killed in the government reprisals, and you spent time not only on the front lines but also with those who were wounded and grieving. How did you balance your own safety with your passion for capturing every aspect of the story? And did you learn anything about yourself as a journalist that will assist you in the future?

Marta: There were certain days that felt very unsafe on the square, but the majority of my time spent there, things were peaceful. There would be flare-ups between police and protestors and then things would resume back to “normal.” I looked to other, more experienced photojournalists in the square for guidance and advice. I had only been freelancing for three months at that point, fresh out of college and had found myself in the middle of the news cauldron that was Kyiv.

There were many times that I was scared. Even today I think I still would be. The most important thing I learned in those kinds of situations is to trust your gut. There were certain situations I decided to be close-up and others I held back from. Sometimes, I beat myself up for not being in the right place or holding back too much, but you have to be honest with yourself and with what you’re willing to do. It took quite a while to reconcile these feelings, but the experience taught me that I’m not a conflict photographer.

Many photojournalists starting out often have a dream of covering foreign stories and conflicts. I didn’t go to Ukraine searching out a conflict to photograph, I just happened to be there when it all started. And a part of me left feeling like I had failed as a journalist because I hadn’t gotten the most heated moments, and I was actually back in Canada on the day that over a hundred protestors were shot. For me, it was more emotionally heavy to be away from the square during that time than when I was in it. Not knowing about the fate of many friends who were there, as well as feeling the guilt of not being there, took a toll.

We’re taught to want to be this travelling, conflict photographer, but that’s not who all of us are. The whole time on the square, I found myself being much more drawn and interested in the quieter moments and it took me a while to realize those moments are just as important too.

We are all unique and we will all notice different things in similar situations and we will be better at photographing in certain situations over others. Journalism is a communal effort and we need to be honest with ourselves, find out the type of stories you’re best at and are drawn to. Then don’t be afraid to do it.

NMAF: That was over three years ago, and since then Ukraine has experienced war and occupation perhaps beyond the worst fears of those who gathered on the Maidan. How has this story stayed with you since then? 

Marta: My time on the Maidan has been one of the factors that keeps driving me to keep coming back to this region and exploring the underlying issues more deeply, looking at why things are the way they are now, what’s caused them and what keeps causing them?

It’s also something I’ve always wanted to do because my background is Ukrainian. I’ve always been drawn to Ukraine and Eastern Europe because I’ve grown up with my cultural heritage being so central in my life, from participating in folk activities, being involved in the diaspora community to regular dinner table conversations about Eastern European politics. I actually started primary school barely speaking English because at home we just spoke Ukrainian. It has a huge place in my heart. I’ve started looking at my own family’s history in the area, connecting with relatives and following the story of Ukrainians in Poland who were deported from the South-Eastern territories in 1947 under military Operation Vistula. Deportations are a huge part of Eastern Europe’s history and play a huge factor in why things are the way they are today.

There has definitely been media fatigue with Ukraine as the conflict reaches yet another year. It’s why I think it’s more important than ever to stay with the story and understand what is happening there, to put the past and the future in greater context for the average viewer.

NMAF: For the camera nerds, what bodies and lenses do you shoot with? And what was your technical approach to the photography on the Maidan? 

Marta: Back then, during those three months on the Maidan, I was using a D600 and a 35mm f/2 and a 24-70mm. This is still my favourite set-up although now I have a D810 with a 35mm f/1.4. My technical approach is to go as light on gear as possible, zoom with your feet and build intimacy with the people you are photographing. This will create a much better photo than any lens or camera body can.

NMAF: You worked with Anna Minzhulina, then the art director of Maisonneuve, who said she was stunned by the evocative scenes and characters that jumped out from your images. Can you describe the creative process of how the two of you edited your body of work into a story that connected with the magazine reader? 

Marta: Anna is an extremely talented and passionate editor and I am so grateful for her eye. Editing is an art of its own and a skill many photographers often lack, myself included. It was also a story I had immersed myself in, so it can be very hard to be objective about the photos when editing, which is where Anna came in.

So often, I would attach a personal memory or story to a photo and Anna was able to single out the photos that could still speak to a viewer who was encountering them without all the backstory. She chose the photos that could speak on their own and spoke together cohesively to tell the story of the square.

It was also exciting to be able to tell a story in a magazine over so much space. The majority of my time I’ve spent working in newspapers where it’s usually one image to tell a story, but here it was a different process of how the photos work together to form a narrative.

Women photographers are still an anomaly in the male-dominated documentary photo world, with its emphasis on traditionally masculine values like the courage and bravery to ‘shoot’ with a camera. We need to encourage more female visual voices like Iwanek’s here in Canada and around the world. Death does not distinguish between genders. It takes all. But I’m interested in how the female eye looking through a photographic lens might see it differently. It’s important that we have different perspectives, that we pay attention to what they might show us that we haven’t considered before. That’s why we need exposure to more work of female war photographers, such as Iwanek.
Anna Minzhulina, former art director, Maisonneuve

NMAF: The night of the 2016 National Magazine Awards, you didn’t have a ticket to get in, but as the show started you were hanging out in the foyer in case your name was called. And it was—twice! What was that experience like? And when you were on stage accepting your awards, what was your message to the audience?

Marta: I was generously given a seat at the sponsor table and so in the end I was able to attend the awards. I had a small cheer crew at the table and we had a lot of fun. I hadn’t prepared a speech, but I just went up there and spoke from my heart. I thanked everyone who helped me and it was great to see Anna in the audience as I spoke. I was also thankful that the recognition of the award would bring more attention to the story, which had greatly fallen off the news cycle. It’s a story close to me and so I’m grateful for any opportunity to talk about it.

Marta Iwanek accepts the National Magazine Award for Best New Magazine Photographer at the 2016 Gala.
Marta Iwanek accepts the National Magazine Award for Best New Magazine Photographer at the 2016 Gala.

 

NMAF: Can you tell us about some of your latest projects, and what you’re up to next as a journalist? 

Marta: A project titled “Darling” was actually one of my first projects and still one close to my heart. It is a story about an elderly couple in Trenton, Ontario, where Lex Duncan is the at-home-caregiver for his wife Mary Duncan, who has dementia. I started it as a way to reconnect with a generation I felt I didn’t get a good chance to know after my last grandparent died.

It was a project to deal with the loss and also understanding what my parents, as well as countless others in our country are facing as they care for an ailing loved one. I am so grateful to the Duncan family who opened up their home to me and gave me a chance to get to know them and tell this story.

Lex Duncan wakes his wife Mary up in the morning in Trenton, Ontario. Mary was diagnosed with dementia in 2008 and Lex cared for her in their home until she died in 2015. (Photo courtesy Marta Iwanek.)
Lex Duncan wakes his wife Mary up in the morning in Trenton, Ontario. Mary was diagnosed with dementia in 2008 and Lex cared for her in their home until she died in 2015. (Photo courtesy Marta Iwanek.)

 

This year I started photographing in the villages my grandparents came from. They were once Ukrainian villages but after WWII became part of Poland and the majority of the Ukrainians who lived there were deported and dispersed either to Soviet Ukraine or throughout Poland, my grandparents included.

I’ve always been curious about my roots and grew up with a father who has worked as a historian, making films and writing books on eastern European history. So after the Maidan I became interested in exploring Eastern Europe on a deeper level and understanding events in the past that have an effect on the present. Through this project I want to explore how identity changes when a culture is displaced from its ancestral land. It’s been a very personal project, but I’ve also found it to be incredibly universal through the many forced migrations happening throughout the world today.


Marta Iwanek is a National Magazine Award-winning photojournalist whose work has appeared in Maisonneuve, Maclean’s, the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, and other publications. In 2016 she was named Canada’s Best New Magazine Photographer by the National Magazine Awards Foundation. Discover more of her work at martaiwanek.com

The 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards are open for submissions until January 20, including three different categories for photography. Enter at magazine-awards.com.

Read more Off the Page interviews with National Magazine Award-winning photographers including Roger LeMoyne and Ian Willms.

NMA gala photos by Steven Goetz for the National Magazine Awards Foundation. 

Holiday Magazine Subscription Guide

Looking for that perfect (okay, perfect last-minute) stocking stuffer? Do they love to read, laugh, cook or shop? Do they love great writing, photography and illustration? Then stuff a great, National Magazine Award-winning magazine in that stocking. Here are some of our favourites from 2016. (And for more ideas, check out our holiday book guide, with new books by NMA-winning writers.)

Maisonneuve
A quarterly magazine of arts, literature, ideas and culture, published in English in Montreal. You’ll find a great mix of new and established writers, artists and photojournalists packaged around award-winning design. A perfect magazine for an afternoon on the sofa or a long train ride home. Also, it’s Canada’s Magazine of the Year in 2016 (1 of 5 NMAs it won this year), so you know every issue is a must-read.
2 years (8 issues) for just $30

Ricardo
Absolutely required magazine reading for any foodie and aficionado of food culture. Ricardo won the National Magazine Awards for Best Brand and Best Service Editorial Package, and delivers recipes, dinner party plans and lots of other great ideas.
6 issues for $30, plus a gift, a free iPad edition, and 15% discount at the online store

Eighteen Bridges
Winner of 4 National Magazine Awards in 2016 including Essays and Investigative Reporting, this thought-provoking magazine of longform journalism published in Edmonton is consistent in introducing readers to Canada’s best writers and important stories.
4 issues for $26

CNQ: Canadian Notes & Queries
Winner of the 2016 National Magazine Award for Fiction, CNQ publishes some of this country’s finest literary criticism, poetry, graphic works, and short fiction.
1 year (3 issues) for just $25

Vallum
Winner of the 2016 National Magazine Award for Poetry, Vallum is one of Canada’s very best publications for poetry and literary reviews, and regularly features Canada’s best poets as well as emerging ones.
1 year (2 issues) for $20

Globe Style Advisor
Also a winner of 4 National Magazine Awards in 2016 for its photography and design, Globe Style is one of our favourites for fashion and style journalism. Get it with your Globe & Mail subscription. And you can get award-winning Report on Business magazine, too.

Western Living
An award-winning magazine of design, decor, lifestyle and more, Western Living was a 2016 National Magazine Award winner and consistently delivers quality ideas that are in line with the latest and greatest trends.
1 year (10 issues) digitally for just $18

The Feathertale Review
A literary magazine dedicated to great humour (twice an NMA winner in that category), Feathertale makes a great gift for anyone who loves to laugh and enjoys the lighter side of CanLit.
1 year (4 issues) for $30

Cottage Life
A Canadian tradition in a magazine, Cottage Life is not only the perfect companion to country living in all four seasons, it mixes practical advice with award-winning journalism. Don’t go into the woods without it.
1 year all access print and digital for $30

Check out all the winners from the 2016 National Magazine Awards for more great gift ideas.


Submissions are now being accepted for the 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards. Read all about it and enter at magazine-awards.com. Deadline January 20

Enter Best New Magazine Writer | 2017 National Magazine Awards

Are you an emerging Canadian magazine journalist? Have you published your first feature story in a Canadian consumer, B2B or university magazine within the last 2 years? 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 journalist whose early work in Canadian magazines shows the highest degree of craft and promise. The award includes a cash prize of $1000, an awards certificate, and nationwide recognition.

ELIGIBILITY
Eligible work–including profiles, personal essays, reporting, literary journalism and other non-fiction genres–must have been published in a Canadian magazine (print, online or tablet) between January 1, 2015 and December 31, 2016. Candidates must not have published any feature-length magazine work prior to 2015. The intent is to restrict this award to students and emerging writers with a maximum of 2 years’ experience in professional journalism. One entry per person. See the NMAF’s rules for further information about eligible publications.

HOW TO ENTER
Enter your submissions at magazine-awards.com. Submissions may be made by the writer or their editor or teacher, and must include a PDF of the work as well as a letter of reference (see requirements below). The deadline for applications is January 20. The cost to enter is $95 (freelancers who enter their own work may be eligible for the Freelancer Support Fund and an entry fee of just $50).

REQUIREMENTS

  • Upload a PDF of your story during the online application.
  • Upload a PDF of a letter of reference from a teacher, editor, mentor or colleague, which should introduce the candidate to the jury, attest to their eligibility for this award, and provide context for the work submitted. Both the story and letter are reviewed by the judges.
  • Pay the submission fee by cheque or credit card.

FINALISTS AND WINNERS
A shortlist of up to 5 finalists will be announced in the spring, and all finalists receive a certificate and recognition in NMAF publications and at the gala. The winner will be revealed at the 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards gala.

PRIZE
There is a cash prize of $1000 and an awards certificate, and the right to call yourself a National Magazine Award winner. We’ll interview you for our blog and newsletter, and promote you and your work to art directors and magazine readers nationwide.

PREVIOUS WINNERS
Recent winners of the award for Best New Magazine Writer include Desmond Cole, Genna Buck, Sierra Skye Gemma and Catherine McIntyre.

Don’t forget the deadline: January 20, 2017.

Ready to submit? Click here.

ABOUT THE NMAF
The National Magazine Awards Foundation is a bilingual, not-for-profit institution whose mission is to foster, recognize and promote editorial excellence in Canadian publications. The annual program of awards are presented in the spring and are followed by a year-long national publicity campaign and several professional development opportunities.

Enter Best New Magazine Illustrator | 2017 National Magazine Awards

Are you an emerging Canadian magazine illustrator or graphic artist? Have you published your first major piece of visual work in a Canadian consumer or B2B magazine, a university magazine, or an arts journal within the last 3 years? Chances are you’re eligible to be named Canada’s Best New Illustrator from the National Magazine Awards Foundation.

The National Magazine Award for Best New Illustrator  goes to the artist whose early work in Canadian magazines shows the highest degree of craft and promise. The award includes a cash prize of $1000, an awards certificate, and nationwide recognition.

ELIGIBILITY
Eligible work–including illustration, photo illustration, infographics, graphic narratives and digital images–must have been published in a Canadian magazine (print, online or tablet) between January 1, 2014 and December 31, 2016. The work can be a single illustration or a series accompanying an article or editorial package. Candidates must not have published any magazine work prior to 2014. The intent is to restrict this award to students and visual artists with a maximum of 3 years’ experience in professional journalism. One entry per person. See the NMAF’s rules for further information about eligible publications.

HOW TO ENTER
Enter your submissions at magazine-awards.com. Submissions may be made by the artist or their art director or teacher, and must include a PDF of the work as well as a letter of reference (see requirements below). The deadline for applications is January 20. The cost to enter is $95 (freelancers who enter their own work may be eligible for the Freelancer Support Fund and an entry fee of just $50).

REQUIREMENTS

  • Upload a PDF of your work during the online application.
  • Upload a PDF of a letter of reference from a teacher, art director, mentor or colleague, which should introduce the candidate to the jury, attest to their eligibility, for this award, and provide context for the work submitted. Both the visual work and letter are reviewed by the judges.
  • Pay the submission fee by cheque or credit card.

FINALISTS AND WINNERS
A shortlist of up to 5 finalists will be announced in the spring, and all finalists receive a certificate and recognition in NMAF publications and at the gala. The winner will be revealed at the 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards gala.

PRIZE
There is a cash prize of $1000 and an awards certificate, and the right to call yourself a National Magazine Award winner. We’ll interview you for our blog and newsletter, and promote you and your work to art directors and magazine readers nationwide.

PREVIOUS WINNERS
Recent winners of the award for Best New Magazine Illustrator include Byron Eggenschwiler and Hudson Christie.

Don’t forget the deadline: January 20, 2017.

Ready to submit? Click here.

ABOUT THE NMAF
The National Magazine Awards Foundation is a bilingual, not-for-profit institution whose mission is to foster, recognize and promote editorial excellence in Canadian publications. The annual program of awards are presented in the spring and are followed by a year-long national publicity campaign and several professional development opportunities.

Off the Page, with Richard Kelly Kemick

Off the Page is a regular interview series featuring National Magazine Award winners. Recently we caught up with Richard Kelly Kemick, who was nominated for 2 National Magazine Awards in 2016–winning the Gold Medal in One of a Kind for his story “Playing God” (The Walrus), a reflection on his singular obsession with building Christmas villages. The story also won him a nomination for Canada’s Best New Magazine Writer.

NMAF: “Playing God,” your story that won Gold in the One of a Kind category at last year’s NMAs, was developed at the Banff Centre for Literary Journalism. Can you describe your experience there, and how this somewhat unconventional idea was developed into an award-winning magazine story. 

Richard: During my month at the Banff Centre––as every tagline on their website attests––I worked alongside some of the best editors and writers in the business (Ian Brown, Victor Dwyer, Charlotte Gill, to say nothing of the exceptional participants I was writing alongside). What I wasn’t expecting, however, was how affirming it would be for me as a writer. 

As I’m sure we all do, I wrestle a lot with insecurity and mediocrity. Banff’s LJ program placed me an environment where I had a month to only write, read, and sit in Michael Lista’s room to watch The Bachelor (he forced us to watch, like, every episode with him). It was an environment which told me––day after day for a month––that as long as I’m writing, I am a writer.

Anytime I get an opportunity to work with an editor, it’s an absolute privilege. The “Playing God” piece was edited, edited, kicked around, and edited again. And while I came to develop a profound hate for the Track Changes bubbles on a word document, my editor, Victor, took the piece from the ramblings of a limp-wristed despot into something with form, narrative, and an actual arc. 

NMAF: More recently, your debut collection of poetry, Caribou Run was included in this year’s CBC must-read poetry list. How is recognition — from the NMAF and other organizations — significant to you and your work? 

Richard: The CBC list was bizarre. I had no warning; I received an email from my publisher with the link and a note saying “this better translate into book sales” (just kidding, they’re incredibly supportive). It was a very rewarding surprise, just like the NMA. 

These types of recognition are indeed significant. So much of what we do as writers is sit at a desk and clack away in an isolation the rest of the world would refer to as cruel and unusual punishment. (If you’re lucky, you’ll have a dog to aid you through this.) Any recognition that someone has actually read your work and––god forbid––actually enjoyed it is inexpressibly quenching. 

On the other hand, however, I don’t want to think that recognition objectively signifies quality. There were poetry collections which were far stronger than mine but not included on the CBC list. Same goes for the NMA. A writer once told me that saying you “deserved” to win an award is like saying you “deserved” to win the lottery because you played the numbers well. (That writer was Michael Lista and it was on a commercial break of The Bachelor.)  

Rewards are fantastic; anybody who says otherwise is either lying or Buddha. But it’s boom/bust. I was on the boom for a bit. Now is the bust. And I’m finding it hard not to become petty, jealous, and focused on recognition instead of the writing. But I’m trying to work against that, work through it. Because I think there is a name for writers, and the writing they produce, who are like that: fucked.  

NMAF: Robert Moore, English professor at the University of New Brunswick, recently wrote a piece for The Walrus questioning the future of poetry as an art form. In Adam Kirsch’s review of The Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner, he claims poetry is “the site and source of disappointed hope.” He adds acclaimed poet Marianne Moore’s famous line “I, too, dislike it,” in reference to the craft. You’ve just published your first collection. What inspires you to write poetry? 

Richard: As a poet, the perpetual death of poetry is my favourite topic. Yes, poetry now panhandles in the literary ghetto––neighbouring junk mail and the academic essay. Yes, poems gather more dust than acclaim. Yes, when I write “Poet” on credit card applications I all but assure rejection. 

I think, however, that this apocalyptic setting is what enables Canadian poetry to be so exciting right now. We have an environment which produces writing, not writers. The pinnacle of this is when writers have brilliant collections (Michael Prior’s Model Disciple, anyone?) without floating off into the ether of poisonous pomp. Because the stakes are hedged, there is a democratizing force in contemporary Canadian poetry, a force which I’m not sure exists in any other commercial genre, a force in which free-verse upstarts and seasoned sonneteers are working within the same circles. Yes, there are politics within the CanPoetry community––just like anywhere. But at least we have the decency to wage our wars in divisive Facebook threads, rather than at the Giller’s or, for example, in a wildly offensive open letter. 

I started writing poetry (and still do) because I wanted to be a better writer. Poetry––for my money––is the genre that best develops your craft. The attention to language is merciless, and if you can make fourteen lines of ten syllables each tell a story, think of what you can do with some elbow room!

Richard Kelly Kemick accepts the award for One of a Kind at the 2016 National Magazine Awards gala.
Richard Kelly Kemick accepts the award for One of a Kind at the 2016 National Magazine Awards gala.

NMAF: Much of your work centres around animals. How does your love for animals influence your writing, and what inspired the theme of caribou migration in your latest collection? 

Richard: I write about animals because I’m unable to convey actual human emotion. Animals provide a healthy alternative. Like, if you’ve got a character that is unlovable but you want to make him lovable but you don’t know how–give him a dog. Then name that dog Maisy. Then let Maisy fool a woman, preferably a public school teacher because of the job security, into a long-term relationship. Then feel safe and loved and statistically unlikely to now die alone as you work on your poems all day, drinking coffee from small cups as your wife toils in a grade one classroom, with Maisy curled at your feet.

The caribou idea was just that I thought the migration was pretty rad and already had poetic elements within it. Four years later (which is about a third of a male caribou’s life), a book! Aim for the stars, kids. 

NMAF: Your writing ranges from fiction to nonfiction, poetry to prose — do you have a favourite form? And, if you can tell us, what can we expect to see from you next?

Richard: I don’t have a favourite form. I consider forms like my children: they all disappoint me for different reasons. 

I’ve currently got a collection of non-fiction essays (one of which is the piece that won the NMA) under consideration. I’ve also got a collection of short stories that was turned down for publication, but I’ve since been working on it and hope to submit again soon. 

I’m trying to view rejection as an opportunity for me to make the work better. In five, twenty, or a hundred years (I plan to live forever), I know I won’t mind having been delayed in publishing a collection of short stories, but I will mind if those stories are shitty. I’m not saying that every rejection a publisher makes is sound; but in this individual case, the rejection has given me the clarity to realize that I can make the stories stronger and (after I’d cried myself dry and drank myself wet) I’m trying to do that. 


Richard Kelly Kemick is a National Magazine Award-winning writer whose work has been published in The Walrus, The Fiddlehead, Maisonneuve and Tin House. His debut collection of poetry, Caribou Run, (2016, Goose Lane Editions) follows the Porcupine caribou herd through their annual migration, the largest overland migration in the world. Caribou Run was included as a one of CBC’s fifteen must-read poetry collections. Follow him on Twitter @RichardKemick.

Special thanks to Krista Robinson for her reporting on this interview with Richard.

Check out more Off the Page interviews with National Magazine Award-winning writers like Emily Urquhart, J.B. MacKinnon, Heather O’Neill and more.


The 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards are now accepting submissions for the best work in 2016. Deadline for entries: January 20. Submit now.

In Memory of Neville Gilfoy

The National Magazine Awards Foundation is deeply saddened by the loss of Neville Gilfoy, founder and publisher of Progress Magazine in Nova Scotia, who passed away yesterday from complications of lymphoma.

As an innovator and entrepreneur who built Progress Media Group into Atlantic Canada’s most trusted and important sources of business information, Neville was a strident proponent of economic development and entrepreneurial spirit in the region he dearly loved.

Neville often volunteered to serve on the jury for the National Magazine Awards, regularly offering his time and expertise in service to the industry and promoting excellence in Canadian magazines. Guests who met him at the annual National Magazine Awards gala were charmed and invigorated by his enthusiasm for the potential of magazine publishing and for business and innovation in Atlantic Canada.

For being an outstanding example to all who worked with him—and to the Canadian magazine industry—the NMAF in 2006 awarded Neville the Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement.

“Neville ached to see Atlantic Canada prosper and believed an entrepreneurial revolution was required to make it happen.”
Greg Keilty, publisher of Sky News

Neville spent more than 40 years in magazine publishing. He was been behind the launch of several magazines, including Atlantic Insight (50,000 paid subscriptions within eight months), Eastern Woods and Waters, and Atlantic Progress (later Progress; he also created a French-language counterpart, Progrès), and successfully built one of the most capable, committed and determined publishing teams in Canada.

He served as a CPPA/CMPA board member from 1979 to 1987, as president of the Atlantic Provinces Chamber of Commerce, and as chair of the board of the Greater Halifax Partnership. For 15 years he taught at the Banff Publishing Workshop. He presented at hundreds of seminars and conferences, from CMPA and Magazines University to economic development groups and high-school classes. In 1999 he launched Face to Face, one of the most remarkable entrepreneurial conferences produced by any magazine in North America. In 2006 he was appointed honorary consul of France in Nova Scotia.

At the core of Gilfoy’s success was his talent and determination for making those around him share his “uncommon delight” for the magazine industry. “He eats, sleeps and dreams the business of magazine publishing,” Dirk van Loon, editor and publisher of DvL Publishing Inc., told the NMAF in 2006 when nominating Neville for the Outstanding Achievement Award. “He gladly shares what he knows with anyone else crazy enough to get into the racket.”

“Publishing a magazine that has had such a positive impact on the Atlantic region is an accomplishment that I am very proud of. Progress has a purpose and a mission and its audience is impacted by that. The company wouldn’t enjoy the level of success it does without the team of professionals with whom I work. The people who produce our magazines, our events and our online product are the absolute best and are wonderfully committed to the success of our company and the region. It’s an amazing thing to be part of.”
–Neville Gilfoy 

He will be missed. The NMAF staff and board of directors offer our condolences to Neville’s family and friends and all those who will remember him well.

More on Neville from D.B. Scott at the Canadian Magazines blog.