The National Magazine Awards Foundation is all about celebrating Canadian creators and storytellers. Our mission is to recognize excellence in magazine writing and art production.
At the NMAF we tip our hats to the storytellers who skilfully fill the pages of Canadian magazines and to do this there’s a lot of hard work that happens behind the scenes. This year 232 judges volunteered their time and expertise in evaluating submissions from across the country for our 39th annual National Magazine Awards program.
In addition, our Board of Directors and staff members dedicate themselves year-round to the recognition of Canadian magazine creators. In this second instalment of our Portrait Series: National Magazine Awards Storytellers – Behind the Scenes Edition, we’re featuring the people who make the NMAs possible. They’ve also told us why they’re proud to be a part of our awards program and what our judges are looking for in an NMA-award-winning piece.
“I know firsthand how much of a magazine writer’s life is anonymous toil, often for nowhere near enough pay, and how rare it is to find just the right story, editor and outlet to produce something truly transcendent despite it all. That’s why it was such a joy to get to be the person to say ‘The winner is’ before so many deserving names this year. It was like being Santa Claus at freelance Christmas!”
“Magazine writers practice “immersion journalism;” we immerse ourselves in our subjects for multiple weeks or months, sometimes longer, to record the depth and breadth of things, trying to the best of our abilities to understand things in all their complexity. This American Life’s Ira Glass has said that when you read a well-told story “you feel inherently as if you are on a train that has a destination.” The engineer on that train is the writer who organizes and synthesizes all those facts and stats and anecdotes and quotes and scenes into a dramatic narrative that takes readers on a voyage of discovery.”
“For almost 40 years the National Magazine Awards have been a kind of annual compendium of great Canadian stories. What I love most of all about working with the NMAs is fulfilling the twin roles of recognizing current stories and storytellers, and inspiring new ones. Our stories are a grand mosaic of our culture, and for publishers, creators and judges alike, this is why, I think, the National Magazine Awards continue to have so much value.”
“Anything in terms of taking a risk and getting the story (makes for great storytelling); risks in terms of on-scene reporting and even risks in terms of how you tell the story, the structure of the piece as well as what details you decide to pick to show in the scene. (Another successful risk is in) finding someone to talk, someone who would trust you enough to tell you their story, even whistleblowers who will tell you their part of the story; that’s always tough to do. ”
“Reading a magazine is really like travelling; it’s like an adventure, an exploration and there are moments when you pause and moments maybe when you run and other moments when you read really slow — there’s a flow to the book and when the flow is nice then you are always comfortable. You actually sense it when you’re comfortable in it, because it takes you along. Like, it’s taking me by the hand and I’m just following them and that’s really an art form when they are successful.”
“I think the NMAs have an important job in celebrating Canadian excellence and in some ways helping the world recognize that we have outstanding talent in this country. I think the awards help the creators themselves set their own level and aspirations and hold themselves and their colleagues to a higher standard.”
“Singling out and recognizing great work elevates all of us. When I can take examples of what’s happening in our industry from our peers back to my team, they get inspired, they get ideas and they set their own bar higher. Recognition isn’t everything, but it is important.”
To learn more about the award winners and nominees from the 2016 awards program, please visit magazine-awards.com. You can read the biographies of this year’s awards program judges here and can view a list of our Board of Directors and Staff here. To follow this photo series on social media, you can find the NMAF on Instagram (nationalmagazineawards) or on Twitter@MagAwards.
Credit: photos taken by Steve Goetz; interviews conducted by Melissa Myers.
Did you win a National Magazine Award at this year’s gala? Were you a nominee? If so, we’ve created a guide just for you.
The NMAF is pleased to introduce the first volume of our Best Practices Guide. This guide is an extensive resource for how National Magazine Award winners and nominees can best leverage their recognition of magazine excellence.
The guide provides detailed promotional strategies, insightful personal testimony and plenty of other useful resources to help award winners and nominees best leverage and optimize their National Magazine Awards.
On November 25, 2015, the National Magazine Awards Foundation presented Winners’ Circle, an exclusive learning and networking event. More than 70 NMA winners and nominees gathered at The Spoke Club in Toronto’s King West district to meet, mingle, network and learn about how a National Magazine Award can be a boost to your career.
In addition to our Best Practices Guide, the NMAF has created this webinar to uncover other effective ways to leverage and optimize your National Magazine Award win. In a discussion led by D.B. Scott, three NMA winners–Penny Caldwell of Cottage Life, Matthew Blackett of Spacing and Katherine Laidlaw of The Walrus–share their best practices on how they leveraged their recognition of winning a National Magazine Award.
Please stay tuned for when we announce our next Winners’ Circle event.
Download this year’s National Magazine Awards Winners’ Seals here.
The National Magazine Awards Foundation is all about celebrating Canadian creators and storytellers. Our mission is to recognize excellence in magazine writing and art production.
At the NMAF we tip our hats to the storytellers who skilfully fill the pages of Canadian magazines. To highlight the hard work and meticulous crafting that goes into creating an NMA-winning piece we’ve produced a portrait series of this year’s winners and nominees, discussing what makes for great storytelling.
“The key to great storytelling is respect for the person whose story it is that and a willingness to develop that trust with them as well as a recognition of the responsibility that you carry as a storyteller. Good storytelling is a way for us to connect to somebody else’s reality. It can capture us in reflecting on an experience we thought was unique to us and that we discover is universal.”
“I really appreciate development of plot at delayed intervals, when the writer can suspend action, but still keep interest in the development of the story. I find that fascinating. That works really well to keep the reader attached to the story as it unfolds.”
“A great story is when I have a lot of different kinds of information coming to me, so I have the person telling me what they remember or what they went through or what they think and I also have documentary evidence, so I see medical records or I see emails from the time or contracts or documents or official letters. I like the detail.”
“If you do a good job in the investigation, the story almost tells itself and so you have a sense of story while you’re doing the investigation. I think another thing, too, that makes for a good and important story is finding people who normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to speak.”
“Storytelling is uncovering stories that haven’t been told or finding a new way to tell those stories. In our world, we write a lot about inanimate objects, buildings and bridges, so we rely on good storytelling, simply because we’re not writing about people. We’re writing about things that have been around for 100 years, so it’s about getting that hook in there and getting that hook in there early.”
From left to right: Haley Cullingham, former Editor-in-Chief; Jennifer Varkonyi, Publisher; Anna Minzhulina, Art Director; Daniel Viola, Editor-in-Chief. Daniel Viola (right), Editor-in-Chief: “For me (scenes are) what separates what’s going to be a good story from a great story and a really great story, because that’s what’s interesting – people are interesting, events are interesting. You need to be able to have both the ebbs and the flows of the story, great scenes, research to back it up, all of the context needed, but it’s knowing the role of all these different elements of storytelling and how you put them all together to make an 800-word story or a 2, 000-word story and how you adapt to the length that there is.” Anna Minzhulina (seated), Art Director: “I think that art and the words, they should exist together, but at the same time they should exist separately and individually as well. It’s not necessarily that art should be an illustration of what the story is word-by-word, but it should be an interpretation, not a narration.”
“I think that’s the key to any good storytelling is the listening part, so you need to hear what they have to say and take the time to consider it and string it together. The best part is to have many different voices to make sort-of a tapestry of voices. I think that’s the key to storytelling.”
“I think an underdog makes a great story, because cheering for somebody that you know is going to win is not interesting and exciting. What’s gripping about storytelling is the unexpected and I think most of the time the unexpected is when somebody who doesn’t win, somebody who doesn’t get to talk, somebody who gets ignored finally gets that chance to talk, to win, to say something.”
“It’s through the language of emotion and how we connect as humans that you can tell stories through photography. I think I’m always trying to dig deeper into that level of what people are feeling and where they’re at, at that moment. It’s from being there and immersing yourself in the story that you start to recognize those moments that tell it because you’re side by side with the people who are experiencing it.”
“A great story is when someone, through their artistic intelligence, creates a beautiful shape out of hours or weeks or months or years of total chaos.”
“It all starts with a recipe. The recipes that are in the magazine that are on the cooking show and all of the stuff that you need to make those recipes is available in the store. You walk through the store, you can buy everything that you see on the show, in the magazine; you walk into the restaurant, you will be served the food that is in the magazines, on the TV show – it’s just this symbiotic universe.”
“We try to be indispensable to our readers with our service journalism and we try to be very relevant through our other stories, and just give them a great read, where they sit down and it puts them in the moment. It makes them feel like they recognize that moment and they’re there.”
“(The key to great storytelling is) timelessness! A story that transcends time, that can be told today that’s pertinent to today and that people know that it happened in this era, or you can tell it 20 years from now and people can still glean universal truth from it.”
“You need tension to make it an interesting story. (The most important thing when writing profiles) is that there are as many levels as possible within that person, from public persona to inner struggles. No one’s a simple story and so what you have to do is create that trust so that people will bare those levels of tension and it’s a gift when someone does that with you.”
To learn more about the award winners and nominees from the 2016 awards program, please visit magazine-awards.com. You can also follow this photo series on Instagram (nationalmagazineawards) or by following us on Twitter @MagAwards.
Credit: photos taken by Steve Goetz; interviews conducted by Melissa Myers.
Like the heirloom tomatoes soaking up the sun and the rain and the urban-air particles on this blogger’s Toronto balcony, summer writing season is ripening on the vine, still green with youth but tantalizingly close to fruition.
In his National Magazine Award-winning poem from this year’s NMAs, David McGimpsey writes of the self-defeating anxiety of creating something significant:
There is your life with the coffee-stained pants,
paint-stained pants and oxy-contin-stained pants.
O, your unfinished novel’s hero yearns—
he’s been sleeping on an army cot
in a Wendy’s basement in Los Robles.
Read the entire award-winning poem “The High Road” (Vallum) by David McGimpsey.
Summer is no time to put off writing. Be inspired to create your next work of poetry, fiction or personal essay. Take the opportunity to finish your latest literary creation and submit it to a Canadian magazine writing contest.
Our annual Summer Contest Guide provides a list of contests via Canadian magazines (or magazine-related organizations) open to unpublished works of Fiction, Poetry, Creative non-fiction and Photography. And check out our Canadian Literary Magazine Guide for other ideas for where to submit your work.
Please note: This list is organized chronologically by deadline dates from June 22 to September 22. If you know of a contest we missed, please email us or grab us on Twitter @MagAwards and we’ll update our guide.
At the start of summer, fall, and early spring, the National Magazine Awards Foundation publishes a comprehensive list of magazine writing contests and prizes. These contests are great opportunities for emerging writers and poets to establish their presence in CanLit. Michael Prior is one such emerging writer, and in just a few years he’s compiled an impressive record of Canadian magazine publications and contest wins.
Doggedly submitting his work to numerous literary publications, between 2013 and 2015 Michael placed in over a dozen competitions and garnered scores of publications in literary journals and magazines across Canada.
His success as a poet has evolved from literary publications to small-press chapbooks–Swan Dive (Frog Hollow Press, 2014) included poetry first published in The Walrus, Lemon Hound and the Winnipeg Review—to a debut, book-length collection recently published by Véhicule Press: Model Disciple (Spring 2016).
Recently the NMAF caught up with Michael, currently pursuing an MFA at Cornell University, to chat about magazine contests and building a career as a writer.
NMAF: Your poetry career emerged quite recently and has been moving at breakneck-speed. How and when did you first set foot in the world of Canadian poetry, and why were you drawn to this world?
Michael Prior: I think, like a lot of other writers, I was nudged into this by a series of passionate teachers and professors. I had always liked poetry, but it wasn’t until later in my undergrad that I actually began to read poems deeply. And then, when I did, they became these fascinating and visceral experiences: Dickinson took off the top of my head. Lowell made me feel like my mind was in a vise. Bishop asked me to look more carefully until the act of looking became a way of thinking.
NMAF: “To Hunt” (2013) garnered you your first poetry contest win: 2nd place in Echolocation’s Chase Chapbook Competition. You were in Vancouver at the time; what drew you to submitting to the Toronto-based Echolocation? What did it mean to win, and what happened—personally and professionally—next?
Michael Prior: Well, I’m not sure anything happened immediately, but placing second certainly gave me a little more confidence. I hadn’t been making poems for long at that point, and I remember having received a few rejections around the same time, so it was a nice validation to think that someone liked something I had written.
NMAF: You’ve since won poetry contests in acclaimed Canadian magazines, such as Vallum, Grain, The Walrus, and Matrix Magazine. There are often financial incentives to entering magazine writing contests, but what are some of the not-so-obvious perks? (Winning the Matrix Lit POP Award, for instance, includes tickets to POP Montreal and offers poets the opportunity to present on stage.)
But in terms of less tangible perks, I would argue that the primary benefit of literary magazine contests is that most are run through a blind submission process; that is, the readers and judges aren’t permitted to see the authors’ names, and therefore have to judge the work on its own merits without the context of a writer’s corpus, their stature in a literary community—in theory, this should level the playing field a bit for less-established writers.
But of course, the factors involved in any contest’s outcome are undeniably complex. There are aspects of contest culture that might favour certain aesthetics, certain experiences, certain types of poems about certain things. Connected to this is the question of who’s actually entering literary magazine contests. Economic means can be an obstacle to submitting (contests usually cost around $30 to enter, which is a lot for someone struggling to make ends meet) and identity can also be a determining factor: writers of colour may be uneasy about sending their work to prizes if the judge is of European descent, while LGBTTQI writers may apprehensive about submitting to a contest judged by a cisgender, straight individual.
Regardless of whether one wins, or doesn’t, I think it’s important to remember that placing in a contest is only a small measure of success. What matters is that one keeps writing and reading and writing.
I do think, however, that contests present an important opportunity for writers, as long as one takes their inscription of hierarchies, their tendencies, with a grain of salt; the magazines that run contests should be thinking (if they aren’t already) about how to attract more diverse submissions from diverse writers. Mostly, I hope that judges and readers are doing their best to be respectful, empathetic, imaginative, and inclusive when considering contest submissions.
NMAF: Which Canadian literary magazines are on your reading list right now?
Michael Prior: There are many great Canadian literary magazines, though due to budget constraints I have to rotate subscriptions. Right now, the stack of periodicals on my bedside table includes issues of Ricepaper, Poetry is Dead, The New Quarterly, Canadian Notes and Queries, The Walrus, Maisonneuve, and The Fiddlehead.
I do my best to keep up with Canada’s burgeoning online publications, and like many of the poet folk I know, I eagerly await each new issue of The Puritan and TheRusty Toque. Also online: the poet Robin Richardson recently founded the Minola Review in order to create a unique publishing space for women, femme-identifying, and non-binary writers; the influential website Lemon Hound, though no longer publishing, remains an important archive; and Plenitude Magazine continues to publish and promote the work of LGBTTQI writers in Canada.
Needless to say, I think it’s apparent that there’s a lot of exciting work happening among Canada’s many literary magazines, of which I’ve only mentioned a small number, and I’m very grateful for all the editors and staff who volunteer countless hours to sift through the submissions and support new work.
NMAF: While completing your Master’s at the University of Toronto, you were a Poetry Editor at Echolocation. You’re now an MFA candidate at Cornell, and an Assistant Editor at Cornell’s Epoch Magazine. How does a magazine editor at a small press literary journal go about attracting new writing talent and new readers? As an editor, what do you look for in poetry submissions?
Michael Prior: To answer the first part of your question, I think an engaged editor obviously needs to read widely: books, journals, websites, blogs, and all the other places poems might be proliferating. This is undoubtedly time consuming—we’re all busy, and resources tend to be scarce at small magazines—but I think this sort of effort is essential to fostering a magazine’s ethos, which emerges over time through both the work an editor solicits, and the work an editor accepts from the slush pile. This becomes an even harder thing to foster at a student-run journal, where the staff changes every year.
Editorial work, in my opinion, requires a simultaneously historical and forward-looking perspective (what has happened, what is happening, what will happen next / what might I like to see happening more in the future). Editors are unavoidably gate-keepers. There’s no way around it: a magazine cannot, nor should it try to be, everything at once (though its scope of interest need not be narrow)—what’s important is that the literary landscape is able to support a diverse range of publications, and by extension, a diverse range of editors.
And of course, I believe editors should always be questioning what they like and why. As Jim Johnstone once said to me, it’s much easier to quickly dismiss a piece of writing than it is to spend the time and learn how it’s asking to be read. Some writing opens up in unexpected ways with a little persistence.
As for what I personally look for in a submission, well, I’m interested in poems that are compelling experiences, surprising experiences, experiences that are emotionally complex and powerful—poems that have something at stake beyond language as a game of phonemic pick-up sticks. Memorability is often a good marker of this for me: if I am re-experiencing a poem at unexpected times (while riding the bus, or when walking a corgi) moments when the poem is not right in front of me, that’s usually a good sign.
I am also interested in a poem’s formal qualities, especially its engagement with what has preceded it—its conversation with other poems, traditions, and modes. In other words, how aware is the poem of the fact it wasn’t written in a vacuum? This isn’t to say I’m only interested in canonically inherited formal structures (though I am a sucker for a well-written sonnet): I’m as equally enraptured by Alexandra Oliver’s metrical brilliance as I am by Alice Fulton’s fractal poetics or Cathy Park Hong’s renovation of the ballad form through lipogrammatic constraints.
NMAF: As both a writer and editor, what advice do you have for those new poets who have yet to enter a magazine writing contest?
Michael Prior: While it’s nice to win, entering a contest can be a helpful creative impetus: use the contest as a deadline to generate new work; use the contest as a way to support an admired publication; use the contest to hopefully get one’s work before the eyes of a favourite writer.
And regardless of whether one wins, or doesn’t, I think it’s important to remember that placing in a contest is only a small measure of success. What matters is that one keeps writing and reading and writing.
Michael Prior’s Model Disciplewas released on March 29th, 2016. Véhicule Press has declared it “one of the most commanding poetic debuts in years” and the CBC included Model Disciple on their Spring 2016 Books Preview. Model Disciple is available in bookstores and for order now.
Michael holds an MA in English with a Creative Thesis from the University of Toronto, where he was the poetry editor of Echolocation. He’s now a poetry candidate at Cornell University, and an assistant poetry editor at Epoch Magazine. Though living in America, he’s still actively publishing in Canadian magazines, with work recently appearing in recent issues of The Puritan and Canadian Notes and Queries. He also has poems forthcoming in Ricepaperand The Fiddlehead. Discover more at MichaelPrior.ca and on Twitter @MichaelPrior06.
Special thanks to Leah Edwards for researching and conducting this interview on behalf of the NMAF.
The nominees for the 39th annual National Magazine Awards will be announced on Monday,. May 2, 2016. Follow us right here on this blog or on Twitter (@MagAwards) to find out who will be the finalists this year.
Winter. A shivery season not only conducive to externalizing our inner narratives in poetry and prose, but also which leaves us, as we curl under heirloom quilts with cups of tea, prone to daydreaming. Michael Pollan, in A Place of My Own–a bestseller in which the author writes the biography of his own writing cabin in the woods–used the daydream as metaphor for the writer’s first draft. “A fair amount of what [writers] call work,” wrote Pollan, “consists of little more than daydreaming edited.” He went on:
Isn’t it in our daydreams that we acquire some sense of what we are about? Where we try on futures and practice our voices before committing ourselves to words or deeds? Daydreaming is where we go to cultivate the self, or more likely selves, out of the view and earshot of other people. Without daydreams, the self is apt to shrink down to the size and shape of the estimation of others.
Like Thoreau, Shaw, Woolf and her Room of One’s Own, and countless others, Pollan understood that daydreaming depended “on a certain degree of solitude,” and resolved to build a cabin to allow his daydreaming to flourish. “What is a book but a daydream at second hand?”
Wherever you find yourself writing this winter and spring, these Canadian magazine contests may be just what you’re daydreaming for.
All contests and awards listed below accept previously unpublished works of Canadian poetry, short fiction and creative non-fiction; listed in chronological order by deadline date. (If you know one that we missed, please let us know.)
Narrative Magazine Winter 2016 Story Contest Genres: Non-fiction; Fiction; Graphic Narratives; Photo Essays Deadline: March 31, 2016 Prize: $2,500 (1st); $1000 (2nd); $500 (3rd); $100 (finalists) Entry Fee: $24 Details: http://www.narrativemagazine.com/winter-2016-story-contest Notes: Entries can be short stories, essays, memoirs, photo essays, graphic stories, all forms of literary nonfiction, and excerpts from longer works of both fiction and nonfiction. Entries must be previously unpublished, no longer than 15,000 words, and must not have been previously chosen as a winner, finalist, or honorable mention in another contest.
Alice Munro Festival Short Story Contest Genre: Short Fiction (max 2500 words; separate categories for adults and youths) Deadline: April 1, 2016 Prizes: $1,500 (adults prize); $500 (youth prize); $500 (Arts & Letters Club Special Prize) Entry Fee: $25 (adults); $10 (youth) Details: http://alicemunrofestival.ca/?page_id=1317 Note: New this year, there is a special category for an emerging GTA author between the ages of 20 – 30. Sponsored by the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto. Must be living in the GTA or have grown up in that area.
The New Quarterly Peter Hinchcliffe Fiction Award Genre: Fiction Deadline: May 28, 2016 Prize: $1000 + publication Entry Fee: $40; includes subscription Details: http://www.tnq.ca/contests Note: All submissions will be considered for paid publication ($250) in the magazine.
One of the perks of being a published creator of magazine content is the right to receive benefits—including royalties on shared and republished content—pertaining to the copyright of your creative work. The most effective and comprehensive way to gain access to these benefits is to affiliate with Access Copyright Canada.
Access Copyright is a national non-profit organization that represents over 11,000 Canadian writers, visual artists and publishers. Their mandate is to facilitate the sharing of published content, via licensing agreements with professional and education services, and ensure appropriate rewards for creators and publishers.
To affiliate with Access Copyright, you need only own the copyright to at least one work that is published in print (magazine, newspaper, book, journal). There is no fee to affiliate; Access Copyright keeps a small percentage of royalties to cover its administrative costs. All other proceeds are passed directly to the creator in the form of an annual Payback.