An Adventurous Literary Travel Itinerary (Summer Magazine Reading Series, No. 7)

Your intrepid Mag Awards blogger just returned from canoeing a great long river in Maine, where at dawn the moose pose in water while eating their grassy breakfast, and at dusk either the rain or the mosquitoes force you into the tent where you’re glad to have packed a pile of magazines to read before the ache of a long day of j-strokes puts you to sleep.

Whether you’ve got your feet up at the cottage in a Muskoka chair by the dock, or you’re stormbound in a tent deep in moose-land, summer is even more adventurous with a great magazine travel story.

This year’s National Magazine Awards travel-writing finalists brought us to many exciting places: to India, where tea is born in the Himalaya foothills; to northern British Columbia, on a haunted glacier; to Jerusalem, for a Kafkaesque citrus heist; to Newfoundland, where a cottage by any other name smells as fishy; to Brazil, in angular shadows of modern architecture; to San Francisco, where technology guides the tour; to Nunavut and Chicago and the middle of Lake Superior, all in the service of a literary sense of place.

Our summer magazine reading series continues this week with travel stories nominated at the 2015 National Magazine Awards. Make this your literary travel itinerary before summer sadly ends.

Au paradis des thés

Category: Travel–Gold Medal winner
Author: Marie-Soleil Deshautels
Magazine: L’actualité

Plusieurs critères déterminent si un thé sera ou non un « grand cru », notamment l’uniformité, la brillance et la taille des feuilles. Les meilleurs thés ont une fragrance et un goût jugés fins ou complexes.

Synopsis: An intrepid journey to the heart of India’s tea-producing northeast: Darjeeling, in the Himalaya foothills south of Kangchenjunga, the world’s third-highest mountain. National Magazine Award-winning writer Marie-Soleil Deshautels explores the cycle of tea production from the seed to the cup to the exportation to Canada, examining the science that is helping tea producers meet new global demand, and the art of brewing the perfect cup. Read the story.

Another great read: The silver medal in Travel went to Eric Dupont for “Vivre à belo horizonte” (L’actualité), an architectural tour of the work of Oscar Niemeyer in Brazil.

Lemon from Sheikh Jarrah

Category: Travel–Honourable Mention
Author: Karen Connelly
Magazine: Geist

“Who took this button off your computer?” It fell off; it broke. “When?” Several years ago. It kept falling off. I just threw it away. “But not here, not while you were in Israel.” No. I was here for just over a week. “Are you sure?”

Synopsis: One of those rare dispatches from Israel/Palestine that doesn’t get tripped up over politics or bogged down by the pro-/anti- arguments, award-winning poet Karen Connelly’s elegantly simple story in the form of a letter to the lone Palestinian woman she met on an official tour of Jerusalem provides readers a fresh and authentic sense of place in an otherwise unfalteringly complex–and at times darkly comical–experience of visiting the region.

Another great read: Dan Robson of Sportsnet won Honourable Mention in Travel for “Home and Really Far Away,” which won the Gold Medal in Sports & Recreation and was profiled in the first edition of our Summer Magazine Reading Series.

Death on a Glacier

Category: Travel–Honourable Mention
Author: Jon Turk
Magazine: Explore

“The air became electric and the hair stood up on the backs of our necks,” Bill told me. “It was one of those moments that don’t dim with time. I can imagine every vivid detail to this day.” The three hunters had discovered the body of that ancient warrior, now known as Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchí — “Long Ago Person Found.”

Synopsis: Fifteen years ago, three hunters travelling around a glacier in the Tatshenshini-Alsek wilderness of northern British Columbia discovered the partial remains of a young native man who had apparently died while attempting to cross a high mountain pass more than three centuries earlier. Now, as scientific analysis has revealed much of the biography of the man posthumously named Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchí, writer Jon Turk joins the hunters as they return to the place of discovery to re-imagine his life and ponder the mysteries that remain. Read the story.

Another great read: Explore magazine also won Honourable Mention for “Across the Little North” by Conor Mihell, an account of a month-long canoe expedition through remote northwestern Ontario.

The Other Fifth Avenue

Category: Travel–Honourable Mention
Author: Lisa Moore
Magazine: Cottage Life

I stop to ask for directions from a man who’s chopping wood. When I say I’m looking for Jen Ford’s place, he pauses and looks deliberately at the horizon. “The Ford place,” he says. “Nope, never heard of it.” He gives the wood chunk sitting on the chopping block a hard smack with the axe. It splits with a loud, splintering thwack. Then he says, “Oh, wait a minute, you mean Phil’s place. A few cabins back. You just drove past it.”

Synopsis: Award-winning novellist and Newfoundland native Lisa Moore takes a rural road trip to the summer “cabins” (don’t call them cottages in Newfoundland) to discover the depth of the islanders’ appreciation for the traditional way of life, revolving around family stories, music, fishing, berry-based cuisine, “corn toss,” and never-ending home-improvement projects that bring entire communities together. Read the story.

Another great read: Cottage Life won a second Honourable Mention in Travel for “Dreamlandia” by NMA winner Charles Wilkins, set in Nirivia, a little-known trout-fishing paradise on an island in Lake Superior.

Bright Lights, Tech City

Category: Travel–Honourable Mention
Author: Andrew Braithwaite
Magazine: enRoute

“I’ve never been here before,” says Arieff. Good words to hear from a professed urban flaneur. Based on a 2009 project to map hidden spaces, SPUR launched the app in 2012. It leads curious explorers to unexpected downtown oases, like this rooftop deck off a poorly signed staircase in the corner of a retail mall.

Synopsis: Canadian ex-pat and NMA winner Andrew Braithwaite serves up five fresh views on his adopted city of San Francisco, visiting traditional tourist hotspots with technology of the sort made famous in Silicon Valley–hiking the Coastal Trail with the latest fitness-measuring gadgets; visiting the Exploratorium with a roboticist; trying out new apps to locate a POPOS (“privately owned public open space”). It’s the San Fran of the future, the city reaching the maturity of its latest techno-boom. Read the story.

Another great read: Andrew Braithwaite and enRoute magazine also received Honourable Mention for “South Side Story,” about the regeneration of Chicago’s post-industrial south side.


Subscribe to our blog to receive our Summer Magazine Reading Series in your inbox each week, and follow us on Twitter (@MagAwards) for updates and magazine news and promotions.

Did you know? You can download and read all of the National Magazine Awards finalists and winners for FREE in our online archive, at magazine-awards.com/archive.

Stay tuned for another Summer Magazine Reading Series edition next Thursday.

Moose photos by Richard A. Johnson.

Summer Magazine Reading Series, No. 6: Oh. Canada?

The sixth serving of our summer reading series has a palpable WTF flavour to it; three stories that have the power to shock you through the sheer unlikelihood of their situations, the terrible injustice inherent in their contexts, and the unusual and even frightening characters they bring to light.

An epidemic of sexual assault threatens the integrity of Canada’s armed forces. Creation “scientists” re-interpret the history of the world during the Alberta floods. A homegrown terrorist hitchhikes his way to his own death.

All three of these stories won Gold Medals at the 2015 National Magazine Awards.

 

Sex Crimes in the Military

Categories: Investigative Reporting, Politics & Public Interest (double gold winner)
Authors: Noémi Mercier and Alec Castonguay
Magazine: L’actualité (French; republished in English in Maclean’s)

Every day, five individuals in the Canadian military community become victims of sexual assault.

Synopsis: An original investigation by two reporters from the French-language current affairs magazine L’actualité and published under the headline “Crimes sexuels dans l’armée,” this incredible work of journalism pieces together the facts and stats, the court marshals and testimonies, the victims’ perspectives and the military context, and the efforts to cover up, to expose, and to resolve the shockingly common occurrences of sexual assault in Canada’s armed forces. This is Canadian magazine journalism at its finest.

National Magazine Award winners Noémi Mercier and Alec Castonguay spent months investigating and writing this story for L’actualité, and it was the only nominee to receive 2 gold medals at the 2015 National Magazine Awards. The story was translated and republished in Maclean’s. Read the original French; read the English translation.

It took a shy, but courageous, Aboriginal teenager to finally put a stop to Wilks’s behaviour. In December 2009, 17-year-old Robbie Williams walked out of Wilks’s examination room in tears and called the police. A long list of victims followed her example. “I knew something wasn’t right as soon as I walked in the room. You wanna meet the right procedures and everything, so I followed through with everything he got me to do. For a long time after that I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror. He made me feel worthless.”

Bonus reads: The silver medallist in Politics & Public Interest is Jake Macdonald’s “The Cost of Freedom” (Report on Business), which looks at the future of prairie agriculture following the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board.

The silver medallist in Investigative Reporting is Joe Castaldo’s riveting story for Canadian Business titled “The Entirely True Tale of the Man Who Had an Idea, Borrowed a Boat from Neil Young, Dumped Iron in the Ocean, Angered the Vatican, Ticked Off the United Nations, and Tore a Small Town Apart—Just to Make Some Salmon Happy.”

 

Water Upon the Earth

Category: Essays
Author: Andrea Bennett
Magazine: Maisonneuve

“I am going to put an end to all people,” God says, “for the Earth is filled with violence because of them.”

Synopsis: Nearly half of Canadians believe that humans and dinosaurs co-existed, and many of these believers subscribe to one or another version of Christian Biblical literalism which holds that geological, paleontological and anthropological time that science measures in millions or even billions of years in fact is measured in mere thousands since the time God created the Earth in six days.

National Magazine Award winner Andrea Bennett takes an inquisitive road trip to the Big Valley Creation Science Museum in central Alberta—harrowingly coincidental to the near-apocalyptic deluge which flooded much of that province in June of 2013—getting to know some of the adherents to and critics of the Young Earth Creationism movement, and reflecting on the parallel (and sometimes intersecting) historical gazes of science and faith. Read the story.

Henderson himself grew up in what he describes as a “rather strict” Presbyterian household—grace at every meal, church on Sunday, Bible reading in the afternoons at his grandmother’s. When he was fifteen, he began to see some contradictions between his faith and science. “Strangely,” he said, “my dad bought me this book called The Evidence for Evolution. When he gave it to me, he said, ‘Now I don’t want you to believe everything in this book.’”

Bonus read: The silver medallist in Essays is Jody Smiling’s “Through the Rockies” (Prism International), a pristinely articulated meditation on the family road trip.

 

My Hitchhiker, the Parliament Hill Gunman

Category: Best Short Feature
Author: Michael Friscolanti
Magazine: Maclean’s

“Where are you going?” Bekkering asked. “Calgary,” answered the man. “This is your lucky day.”

Synopsis: The terrifying assault on Parliament last October was like a nightmare come true for many Canadians: 21st-century Islamic terrorism hitting home. For one Calgary man, an agricultural consultant named Harry Bekkering, the frenzy of national anxiety and media coverage eventually illuminated a familiar face: the Ottawa gunman was a taciturn, purportedly devout man to whom he’d given a well-meaning lift across the Rocky Mountains just a month earlier. As the country came to grips with the tragedy and its context, Bekkering came to realize that his unlikely passenger was not a true believer but a tragic, alienated figure in need of help; help he never got.

National Magazine Award winner Michael Friscolanti profiles Mr. Bekkering, reconstructing the voyage from Chilliwack to Calgary and his subject’s evolving observations about Michael Zehaf Bibeau. Read the story.

A month after the shooting, Bekkering still struggles with feelings of guilt. Should he have spotted a warning sign? Was Michael already planning his attack when he climbed into the truck? Or did his inability to secure a passport, either Libyan or Canadian, push him over the edge?

Bonus read: The silver medallist in Best Short Feature, Elizabeth Renzetti’s “Ayahuasca (Mis)Adventures” (ELLE Canada) needs little further introduction beyond the mention that ayahuasca is a hallucinogenic herbal brew reported to have divinatory properties.

 


Subscribe to our blog to receive our Summer Magazine Reading Series in your inbox each week, and follow us on Twitter (@MagAwards) for updates and magazine news and promotions.

Did you know? You can download and read all of the National Magazine Awards finalists and winners for FREE in our online archive, at magazine-awards.com/archive.

Stay tuned for another Summer Magazine Reading Series edition next Thursday.

Lectures estivales de la Fondation: découvertes

Les magazines québécois se sont illustrés lors des derniers Prix du magazine canadien, en réalisant une impressionnante récolte de prix. Vous n’avez pas encore eu l’occasion de lire les textes primés? Qu’à cela ne tienne! Cette semaine, la Fondation vous propose de découvrir les textes primés dans les catégories Société et Santé et médecine. D’abord, un texte fascinant sur l’intersexualité signé par Mylène Tremblay pour le magazine Châtelaine, suivi d’un reportage de Marie-Pier Elie paru dans le magazine Québec Science, qui a aussi valu à la journaliste un Grand Prix du journalisme indépendant.

Pour la cinquième édition de nos lectures estivales nous présentons la meilleure écriture magazine du Québec de l’année passée.

Intersexualité. Rencontre du troisième sexe

Catégorie : Société
Auteure : Mylène Tremblay
Magazine : Châtelaine

En bref : Un bébé vient au monde. On déclare alors le sexe : c’est un garçon! C’est une fille! Mais la réalité n’est pas toujours aussi simple, comme le rapporte la journaliste Mylène Tremblay, qui s’est intéressée au phénomène méconnu de l’intersexualité. Chez certains individus, « le corps ne correspond ni à la définition type d’un homme ni à celle d’une femme ». On les qualifie alors d’intersexes.

Si l’on en entend peu parler, ce sujet est pourtant d’autant plus d’actualité qu’il y a aujourd’hui davantage d’intersexes.

« Le phénomène existe depuis la nuit des temps, mais s’est accentué au cours des 50 dernières années, constatent des spécialistes internationaux. La faute, notamment, aux facteurs environnementaux (…) ».

Bien que les opinions divergent dans la communauté médicale sur la démarche à privilégier, il y a consensus sur la complexité de ces cas. N’est plus systématique de procéder à une intervention chirurgicale visant à attribuer aux individus un sexe spécifique en bas âge.

« Des erreurs, il y en a eu et il y en a encore. Beaucoup. Dès la fin des années 1950, presque tous les bébés intersexes des pays occidentaux sont passés sous le bistouri ». Mylène Tremblay a rencontré des intersexes qui témoignent des répercussions que ces interventions ont eues sur leur développement.

Un reportage de Mylène Tremblay à lire sans faute!

Immunothérapie. Le nouvel espoir

Catégorie : Santé et médecine
Auteure : Marie-Pier Elie
Magazine : Québec Science

En bref : Dans ce reportage, la journaliste propose aux lecteurs une incursion dans l’univers de la recherche sur l’immunothérapie, une forme de traitement expérimental contre le cancer porteur d’espoir pour les patients qui ne répondent pas aux traitements conventionnels. À la différence des traitements répandus, comme la chimiothérapie, la radiothérapie ou la chirurgie, l’immunothérapie fait appel aux défenses naturelles du corps humain pour combattre les cellules cancéreuses.

La journaliste s’est rendue au National Cancer Institute du Maryland pour y rencontrer le Dr Steven Rosenberg, un chirurgien qui s’intéresse à l’immunothérapie depuis les années 60. Les traitements qui sont offerts aux malades sont adaptés aux individus et n’ont parfois jamais été tentés auparavant. Les patients s’offrent donc comme « cobayes ». Si les traitements fonctionnent dans certains cas, étant expérimentaux, ils ne produisent pas toujours les effets escomptés. Mais pour ces personnes qui n’ont plus rien à perdre, l’immunothérapie se présente comme l’ultime recours.

«La seule raison d’être de notre groupe de recherche est le développement de la médecine de demain, pas la pratique de la médecine d’aujourd’hui. Nous n’offrons donc aucun traitement de routine ». – Dr Steven Rosenberg

Si de nombreux traitements se sont soldés par un échec, des vies ont aussi été épargnées, alors qu’il n’y avait que peu, voire plus d’espoir. Comme celle d’Emily Whitehead, une petite fille atteinte d’une leucémie diagnostiquée incurable, que les traitements d’immunothérapie ont sauvée contre toute attente.

Découvrez ce reportage instructif et fascinant de Marie-Pier Elie.


Ces textes vous ont donné la piqûre de la lecture? Parcourez les archives de la Fondation pour lire tous les articles qui ont récolté les honneurs cette année. Voici quelques suggestions :

Médaille d’or :

Crimes sexuels dans l’armée
Noémi Mercier, Alec CastonguayL’actualité
Catégories : Politique et affaires publiques, Journalisme d’enquête

Au paradis des thés
Marie-Soleil DesautelsL’actualité
Catégorie : Voyages

La pointe des utopies
Rémy Bourdillon, Pierre-Yves Cezard – Nouveau Projet
Catégorie : Paroles et images

Médaille d’argent :

Régénérescences
Collectif – Nouveau Projet
Catégorie : Dossier thématique : imprimé

Place au cannabiz !
Marc-André Sabourin – L’actualité
Catégorie : Affaires

Le futur fait bonne impression 
Marine CorniouQuébec Science
Catégorie : Science, technologie et environnement

Halte au surdiagnostic !
Valérie BordeL’actualité
Catégorie : Santé et médecine

Vivre À Belo Horizonte  
Eric DupontL’actualité
Catégorie : Voyages

Un bateau pour l’enfer
Michel ArseneaultL’actualité
Catégorie : Article hors catégorie

Dette du Québec : rien ne justifie la panique, Santé : où trouver les milliards?, Du bon usage des compressions
Pierre FortinL’actualité
Catégorie : Chroniques

Summer Magazine Reading Series, No. 4: While You Were Sleeping

The fourth edition of our summer reading series borrows its title from a blockbuster 90s Sandra Bullock flick in which a woman falls in love with a man in a coma only to later fall for his non-comatose brother. Which has very little to do with this week’s feature stories, except that they all involve events that are happening in other places in our world, perhaps while we were sleeping.

In this week’s edition have three award-winning stories curated under this basic theme: one about the two-decade struggle of a Canadian mining giant to extract billions in ore from the Andean highlands; a second about the efforts to design the world’s most perfect toilet to address the problem of sanitation in developing countries; and a third that, well, is actually about the world of dreams and a novel attempt to categorize them.

All three stories won Gold Medals at the 2015 National Magazine Awards.

 

High and Dry

Category: Business
Author: Stephanie Nolen
Magazine: Report on Business

You have to wonder—how could Barrick spend so much money here and still end up without a friend?

Synopsis: At 5200 metres above sea level, along Chile’s serrated, glacier-carved border with Argentina, sits Pascua-Lama, one of the world’s highest, most remote mining operations, controlled by the Canadian multinational Barrick Gold. 15 million ounces of gold await extraction, along with significant deposits of silver and copper. After nearly two decades of negotiations to resolve environmental, taxation, infrastructure and other concerns with the Chilean government, Barrick finally prepared to start mining, only to have a Chilean regulator halt operations over health and safety concerns of the 3000 Diaguita indigenous people who would comprise part of the labour force, and whose requests of the company include CSR investment in local education and agriculture, and respect for the integrity of the land.

National Magazine Award winner Stephanie Nolen brings us the complete story of the battle to re-start the mine, illuminating the social, legal and political landscape, alongside wonderful photographs by NMA winner Roger LeMoyne. In addition to winning the Gold award for Business, this story was also a National Magazine Awards finalist in the categories Investigative Reporting, Politics & Public Interest and Science, Technology & Environment. Read the story.

The drought has been bad everywhere, but it was critical for the farmers such as Maglene Campillay, who says she has seen her production drop by four-fifths. She and her neighbours came to believe the mine was destroying the glaciers, and with them, their livelihoods. “This time, in the middle of the drought, it seemed that the glaciers didn’t have [their] power any more,” she says. They released no water from their frozen hearts. “The rivers are like the veins in our body. If one dries out, other places dry out too.”

Bonus read: The silver medallist in Business is Marc-André Sabourin‘s “Place au Cannabiz!” (L’actualité), a story about Canadian entrepreneurs who are preparing for the (possible) future legalization of marijuana.

 

The Toilet Papers

Category: Science, Technology & Environment
Author: Jeremy Keehn
Magazine: The Walrus

“Toilet,” Cheng stressed, “was a misnomer at this stage. It doesn’t look like a toilet.”

Synopsis: The challenge is at once simple and dauntingly complex: invent an affordable, ecological, scalable toilet system that embodies sensitivity to the requirements of gender, social culture, environment and economy to resolve the problem of the 2.5 billion people who lack access to safe sanitation, including the 800,000 children under 5 who die each year of diarrheal diseases.

National Magazine Award winner Jeremy Keehn insightfully catalogs the efforts of Canadian engineers, academics, aid organizations, government agencies and others who are taking up the toilet challenge, while probing the concerns of the global poor and criticisms of international aid that combine to demonstrate that the solution to one of humanity’s greatest challenges can’t just be flushed out from a tank. Read the story.

I assumed that the moment of tension was precipitated by the mother confessing that the family had no household toilet. In fact, McHale corrected me, she was thanking the doctor for telling them about the pan, and the doctor was admonishing her for whispering. “Everybody must know about the SaTo,” she exclaimed. The spot aimed not just to sell the pan, in other words, but to de-stigmatize talk of the shit it would contain.

Bonus read: The silver medallist in Science, Technology & Environment is Marine Corniou’s “Le futur fait bonne impression” (Québec Science), which investigates the next technological revolution afforded by advances in 3D printing.

 

Reviews of My Dreams from Last Night

Category: Humour
Author: Richard Light
Magazine: The Feathertale Review

A well-executed flying dream is always a great way to start out the night, and this one did not disappoint.

Synopsis: Somnolent writer creates a taxonomy of seven types of dreams in the style of film reviews.

True story: At the 2015 National Magazine Awards gala, Feathertale Review editor Brett Popplewell came to the stage to collect this award on behalf of his absent humour writer, telling the audience that he’s never actually met or seen Richard Light, but he’s a fantastic writer who will be honoured to know he’s won this award. Here’s hoping the aptly named Richard Light has finally awoken from the darkness of dreamland to celebrate his success. Read the story.

If you’re not familiar with False Awakening, it’s where the dreamer “wakes up” and goes about his or her normal morning routine: getting dressed, preparing breakfast, and even taking a pee that feels so disturbingly lifelike it can actually wake the dreamer. Sure, I found it a bit boring and unremarkable — but my life is boring and unremarkable.

Bonus read: The silver medallist in Humour, Jon Paul Fiorentino’s “It Seems Like Sex is a Weird Thing That Used to Happen to Me Sometimes” (sub-Terrain), really needs no further introduction.

 

 


Subscribe to our blog to receive our Summer Magazine Reading Series in your inbox each week, and follow us on Twitter (@MagAwards) for updates and magazine news and promotions.

Did you know? You can download and read all of the National Magazine Awards finalists and winners for FREE in our online archive, at magazine-awards.com/archive.

Stay tuned for another Summer Magazine Reading Series edition next Thursday. Click here for previous summer reading editions.

Summer Magazine Reading Series, No. 3: Wrongfully Imprisoned

This week’s edition of our summer reading series brings you three incredible stories of men and women facing unexpected, shocking and painful adversity.

We’ve grouped these under a theme of “Wrongfully Imprisoned” because, well, two of the stories involve innocent Canadians finding themselves in a faraway jail cell (one, an artist, in Cairo; the other, a fisherman, in Spain), while the third is about a woman who found herself battling another sort of imprisonment–of painful immobility–when she shattered her leg during CrossFit.

All of these stories won Gold Medals at the 2015 National Magazine Awards.

 

The Trials of Philip Halliday

Category: One of a Kind
Author: Noah Richler
Magazine: The Walrus

“My friend, we’ve got real problems here,” yelled Fletcher at Berkey as the men on the boats started shooting.

Synopsis: On a choppy winter morning off the coast of Spain, a retired Canadian coast guard vessel, en route to its new private owner, is assaulted by gunfire from a pair of motorized inflatable boats. The word “pirates” is uttered, but as the assailants board the vessel it soon becomes clear that they are Spanish police, the vanguard of a multinational investigation into maritime drug smuggling. The ship’s first mate, a former scallop fisherman from Digby, N.S., named Philip Halliday, is unwittingly caught up in the affair, implicated in the smuggling of 1.5 tons of cocaine, and spends the next four years as an innocent man in a Spanish prison, desperately seeking justice.

National Magazine Award winner Noah Richler takes readers inside the incredible story of the man, the boat and the unfathomable international caper, with illustrations by up-and-coming Toronto artist Min Gyo Chung. Read the story.

A ­Spanish prisoner taught him how to write the tickets to acquire what he needed from the prison store. Another helped him make his first call home, and after that he made a point of keeping some paper in his pocket to jot down anything he might want to tell the family. “I have to try Not to cry around all these Men. Some o them have Ben here a long time,” he wrote in the first of scores of letters home.

Bonus read: The silver medallist in One of a Kind, Michel Arsenault’s story “Un bateau pour l’enfer” (L’actualité), which follows the dangerous maritime migration of African refugees from Libya to Italy and asks what role Canada should play.

 

Save Me From My Workout

Category: Personal Journalism
Author: Lauren McKeon
Magazine: Toronto Life

To an outsider, a CrossFit workout can look nuts. Participants heave 60-pound kettlebells high over their heads in repetitions of 50.

Synopsis: Looking to embrace a new fitness regime that was both trendy and extreme, the author and her partner took up CrossFit, a gym-based gauntlet of heaving, lifting, running, slamming, hoisting, launching, clean-and-jerking…, until one winter morning she landed from a routine box jump and heard and felt her leg shatter; “like the sound of gunfire.”

During her long recovery and rehab, National Magazine Award winner and THIS Magazine editor Lauren McKeon began to investigate more closely the far side of the CrossFit world, charting its origins, talking to its gurus and critics, examining what medical science has to say about such extreme exercise, putting the fitness fad under painful scrutiny while reflecting on her own regret, or lack thereof, at taking up CrossFit. Read the story.

The doctor told me I’d need three months of physical therapy just to relearn how to walk. Trying to digest this news on the way home from the hospital, I confessed out loud to Andrew for the first time: “You know, I knew something bad was going to happen.” And then in a whisper: “But I jumped anyway.”

Bonus read: The silver medallist in Personal Journalism is “Lost in the Barrens” (The Walrus) by the late, iconic Canadian writer Farley Mowat, who won his first National Magazine Award posthumously for a memoir of his travels in England in the 1960s.

 

The Captive

Category: Profiles
Author: Jason McBride
Magazine: Toronto Life

“The whole time I was thinking, ‘We’ll be out in 24 hours.’ Oh, were we ever wrong.”

Synopsis: Two summers ago, Toronto artist, filmmaker and LGBTQ activist John Greyson travelled to Cairo to document the journey of a Palestinian-Canadian doctor, Tarek Loubani, who was headed for Gaza to deliver innovative technical supplies to a hospital. An unlucky combination of timing and Egyptian political unrest landed the two of them in prison, without charge, on suspicion of international terrorism. For 50 days, the two Canadians endured a harrowing ordeal that would have broken their spirits were it not for their steadfast belief in justice and the camaraderie of their fellow inmates, while back home their family and friends rallied international support for their release.

National Magazine Award winner Jason McBride draws an intimate, well-rounded literary portrait of the man and his mission, with photography by NMA winner Nigel Dickson. Read the story.

Greyson’s fellow inmates weren’t criminals, but construction workers, blacksmiths, professors and students, all rounded up at the protest and many in jail for the first time. Though some were grandfathers, he was the oldest person in the cell. They were, as Greyson recounts, unfailingly kind. Right after Greyson was beaten and couldn’t sit up, one man, whom he nicknamed Kettle after he somehow manufactured a crude teakettle out of a couple of nails and bottle caps and some wire, cradled Greyson’s head in his lap.

Bonus read: The Silver Medallist in Profiles is “The Long Journey of Nathan Phelps” (Marcello Di Cintio, Swerve), a portrait of the son of the controversial pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church who made a new life in Calgary.

 


Subscribe to our blog to receive our Summer Magazine Reading Series in your inbox each week, and follow us on Twitter (@MagAwards) for updates and magazine news and promotions.

Did you know? You can download and read all of the National Magazine Awards finalists and winners for FREE in our online archive, at magazine-awards.com/archive.

Stay tuned for another Summer Magazine Reading Series edition next Thursday. Click here for previous summer reading editions.

Summer Magazine Reading Series, No. 2: Alberta Bound, Alberta Bound

It’s good to be / Alberta Bound. Our summer reading series continues this week with a special focus on the Province of Alberta, land of “the strong and the free”; of turquoise mountain lakes, vast fertile prairies, and some of Canada’s finest magazines.

This past spring our friends at the Alberta Magazine Publishers Association (AMPA) presented the 2015 Alberta Magazine Awards, recognizing excellence in the content and design of publications based in the province. Among the winners were Alberta Views, Avenue, Glass Buffalo, New Trail, Swerve, Up! Magazine, and more.

You can read the complete articles of all finalists and winners on the AMPA site. A few suggestions:

Game Changer” by Arno Kopecky (Alberta Views)
Winner of the award for Best Alberta Story, this piece by former National Magazine Award finalist Arno Kopecky examines a legal action by the Beaver Lake Cree Nation against the Province of Alberta and the oil industry, exploring the potential of the lawsuit to challenge existing land-rights issues between First Nations and the energy industry.

Arno Kopecky is an environmental journalist and author based in Vancouver. His first book, The Devil’s Curve, a literary travelogue based on his year-long journey through Peru and Colombia, made Amazon’s top-100 list for 2012. His second book, The Oil Man And The Sea, chronicles Kopecky’s sailing expedition into British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest, a legendary wilderness with the knife of Big Oil at its throat.

Bonus read: The silver award in Best Alberta Story went to “The Future and the Hipster” (Swerve) by Jeremy Klaszus, former winner of the National Magazine Award for Best New Magazine Writer (2006).

Children of a Lesser Santa” by Omar Mouallem (Swerve)
Winner of the award for Best Essay, this piece by former NMA winner Omar Mouallem is a witty and endearing chronicle of the first Christmas “celebrated” by a Muslim-Canadian family in northern Alberta.

“While most Canadian children probably encounter Santa Claus within the first year of their lives— at a parade, in a mall or in their living room—I was four. My mom, perhaps noticing my sense of exclusion, or to better integrate into her adopted country, took me to the town library where families lined up to snap a photo of their children in the jolly man’s lap. What could go wrong?”

Bonus read: In the AMA Profiles category, the gold award went Marcello di Cintio for “The Long Journey of Nathan Phelps” (Swerve), which later won the silver National Magazine Award in the same category.

A Tale of Two Forms” by Peter Takach (Glass Buffalo)
Winner of the  award for Emerging Writer, this creative and poignant homage to the Dickensian epic reflects on the transitional and perhaps ephemeral nature of the novel in the digital age. The award jury noted: “As though trapped in a wacky pinball machine, A Tale of Two Forms kept punting and zapping me back and forth with its fresh ideas, literary references, form and imagery. Peter Takach’s work underlines how important it is to sometimes suspend reason and just let the words wash over you.”

Bonus read: In the AMA Poetry category, the silver award went to Erika Luckert for her work “Frog Lake” in Glass Buffalo, which was also nominated for a National Magazine Award.

To read these and all of the finalists and winners from the 2015 Alberta Magazine Awards, visit albertamagazines.com/awards and click on the section for “2015 Showcase Awards Finalists.”

Related posts:
Avenue Edmonton, Swerve, Omar Mouallem among big winners at Alberta Magazine Awards
Off the Page: An interview with Arno Kopecky
Off the Page: An interview with Jeremy Klaszus


Subscribe to our blog to receive our Summer Magazine Reading Series in your inbox each week, and follow us on Twitter (@MagAwards) for updates and magazine news and promotions.

Did you know? You can download and read all of the National Magazine Awards finalists and winners for FREE in our online archive, at magazine-awards.com/archive.

Stay tuned for another Summer Magazine Reading Series edition next Thursday.

Image via WikiCommons.

Summer Magazine Reading Series, No. 1: Teens, Tweens & Toddlers

This summer we’ve pledged to read every winning story from the 2015 National Magazine Awards. Every gold winner. Every silver winner. Because whether you’re a veteran journalist, an aspiring writer, an ardent magazine fan or a casual reader, these stories are important and inspiring.

So let’s take up the challenge together.

Welcome to the 2015 National Magazine Awards summer reading series. Each Thursday for the next two months we’ll post a thematically curated collection of award-winning stories, which were judged best of the best by the NMA jury.

This week’s edition: Teens, Tweens and Toddlers; three stories about the ever-changing world of kid culture and its challenges for parents. All three won Gold Medals at the 2015 National Magazine Awards.

For Kids, By Kids–But Not For Long

Category: Arts & Entertainment
Author: Nicholas Hune-Brown
Magazine: Hazlitt

In a poll conducted by Variety in August, the five most influential celebrities among Americans aged 13-18 were all YouTube stars.

Synopsis: There’s a vast, culturally significant and commercially powerful world out there that adults of the homo sapiens species barely know, probably can’t comprehend and aren’t encouraged to be a part of anyway. And by “out there” we mean the bandwidth-hogging tranche of cyberspace where teens and tweens create, populate and govern a thrilling and meaningful society of popular and celebrity culture in the authentic manner that has come to be a hallmark of the Millennial generation. While on the one hand another arena in a long tradition of safe, adult-free spaces where kids can be kids, the YouTube era has perhaps provided a revolutionary foundation for young people to connect with and celebrate their unique sense of self.

National Magazine Award winner Nicholas Hune-Brown reports from the Buffer Festival, where thousands of young fans and YouTube stars come together. Read the story.

“Celebrity is more like a faraway kind of thing and this is like, you’re in their bedrooms,” 17-year-old Allie Cox explained to me while we waited in line to meet three English YouTubers, including Will Darbyshire, a 21-year-old who just started his YouTube channel earlier this year. Cox considered for a moment. “I mean… that’s kind of freaky. But at the same time you feel like you know them.”

Bonus read: The silver medallist in Arts & Entertainment is Emily Landau‘s “The Wattpad Cult” (Toronto Life), the story of a tech start-up that is revolutionizing the relationship between self-publishers and readers.

Home and Really Far Away

Category: Sports & Recreation
Author: Dan Robson
Magazine: Sportsnet

He lasted just 10 minutes before tapping out, faking a leg injury. His feet were just too cold to play.

Synopsis: It’s a story that seems so quintessentially Canadian it could be a CBC morning-show spot or a Tim Horton’s commercial. But the story of how ten teenage Inuit boys from Whale Cove, Nunavut, became the Inuglak Whalers, dreaming big hockey dreams in a Hudson Bay hamlet, and then travelled more than 2400 kilometres to play their first away games, is far from saccharine. From their first encounter with trees (and tree-climbing) to the anxiety of a co-ed dance, and the coming-of-age realization that even when dreams come true, life unemotionally moves on from the moment, the boys of Whale Cove prove to be heroes not of myth but of modernity.

National Magazine Award winner Dan Robson charts a journey of hope, triumph and despair in this incredible story, with photographs by John Kealey. Read the story.

Tyson sat on the bench looking like he might cry. He’d scored a single goal—not enough to be a superstar. His favourite stick broke, and he was left using a spare. There was an undeniable anxiety that the Whalers just couldn’t match up with kids from northern Ontario. That for all the ceremony, the inevitable truth was that they were just too small and too unstructured to stand a chance.

Bonus read: The silver medallist in Sports & Recreation, Brett Popplewell’s “Long Way Back” (Sportsnet), profiles the career of Canadian jockey Ron Turcotte, winner of the Triple Crown astride Secretariat, the greatest racehorse in history.

Where Do We Put All the Babies?

Category: Service: Family, Health & Personal Finance
Author: Danielle Groen
Magazine: The Grid

Then the hour turns and the frenzy begins: a tornado of refreshed browsers, redialled numbers, and profanity.

Synopsis: Daycare, drop-in programs, preschools, summer camp: Toronto parents are desperate to find the best, most convenient, most affordable placements for their children, and every year it seems the lines are longer and the options are fewer. As more young working families and immigrants are drawn to an already crowded city that can’t seem to keep up with the demand for toddler care, parents and kids alike are growing restless.

National Magazine Award winner Danielle Groen talks with parents, investigates service providers and studies the trends in modern urban childrearing, providing hope and help to young parents as they navigate a complex environment. Read the story.

There has even been a run on that historic saviour of date nights: the teenage babysitter. Sara Ferguson, who lives at Danforth and Greenwood, called seven teens trying to find a Thursday sitter for her two children, to no avail. “It’s a good racket to be in right now,” she says, joking—at least, mostly joking—that she’s considered taking it up herself.

Bonus read: The silver medallist in this category, Dan Bortolotti’s “Train Your Investing Brain” (MoneySense), examines the cognitive biases that inhibit our ability to make sound financial decisions, and how we can overcome them.


Subscribe to our blog to receive our Summer Magazine Reading Series in your inbox each week, and follow us on Twitter (@MagAwards) for updates and magazine news and promotions.

Did you know? You can download and read all of the National Magazine Awards finalists and winners for FREE in our online archive, at magazine-awards.com/archive.

Stay tuned for another Summer Magazine Reading Series edition next Thursday.

The 36th National Magazine Awards Gold Book

Make your summer reading the National Magazine Awards digital Gold Book. More than forty magazine stories and visual spreads representing the Gold winners from the 36th annual National Magazine Awards, available FREE for your computer or mobile device.

Including National Magazine Award-winning work by these Canadian literary and visual artists:

Caroline Adderson, Dave Cameron, Karen Connelly, Craig Davidson, Sierra Skye Gemma, Jessica Johnson, Tom Jokinen, Peter Ash Lee, Angus Rowe MacPherson, Greg McArthur, Leah McLaren, Conor Mihell, Jonathan Montpetit, Alison Motluk, Mark Peckmezian, Graeme Smith, Emma Teitel, Chris Turner, Jeff Warren, Sam Weber and more!

With stories from Canada’s best magazines, including Adbusters, Avenue, Azure, Canada’s History, Canadian Notes & Queries, Eighteen Bridges, Explore, Geist, Maclean’s, Maisonneuve, Reader’s Digest, Report on Business, Sportsnet, The Feathertale Review, The Grid, The New Quarterly, The Walrus, Toronto Life and more!

Congratulations to all of this year’s National Magazine Award winners, and happy summer reading to all!

Summer Reading Series X: One-of-a-Kind Stories

Sometime on Saturday the Earth’s equatorial plane will appear to tilt away from the sun and welcome its rays more southward, signaling the autumnal equinox for those of us in the northern hemisphere.

Which means the summer of our Reading Series is about to end. We close with a National Magazine Award category known as One-of-a-Kind, stories particularly unique within the magazine craft.

And, if you have read all thirty award-winning stories we anthologized in our online reading series this season, congratulations! You’ve clearly had a fulfilling summer and you’re ready for the leaves to change!

1.Adrift on the Nileby Paul Wilson in The Walrus (Gold, One-of-a-Kind, 2011)
A year and a half later, what began in Tahrir Square in Cairo (after it began in Tunisia) seems not yet to have run its full course. Paul Wilson was there when the new liberation movement erupted in Egypt in 2011, and while demonstrations across the Arab world are once again dominating headlines, this National Magazine Award-winning story is worth revisiting, especially given the author’s keens senses of place, scale and history.

“And so began a hair-raising dash through the traffic swirling around Tahrir Square, Phillip always a few paces ahead of me. It was Friday, and another large demonstration had taken place that afternoon; now it was evening, the crowd had thinned, and the atmosphere was more relaxed. A line of skinny kids who looked about twelve years old filed by to the rhythmic beating of an oil drum. Their faces were painted red, white, and black—the colours of the Egyptian flag. ‘Welcome!’ ” [Read more]

2.The Lizard, the Catacombs & the Clockby Sean Michaels in Brick (Gold, One-of-a-Kind, 2010)
The intoxicating story of the underground labyrinths of Paris and the cataphiles who spelunk within them, Sean Michaels explores 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. [Read more]

3.Driving Mary Seigelby Chris Koentges in Swerve (Silver, One-of-a-Kind, 2008)
Chris Koentges is a three-time winner in this category and any of his pieces is worth a good long look, but this story in particular is topical since it recounts the author’s trip across the United States of America in the summer and fall of 2008, trying to figure out what made its ordinary citizens so hopeful about a presidential candidate named Barack Obama.

“From an SUV, someone yelled ‘Obama guy.’ I pretended to ignore it, waiting for the lights to change. ‘Hey, Obama guy!’ There was this goading Phillip Seymour Hoffman inflection, and this similar kind of concentration in his face. He had flown in from L.A. because Southern Florida—the battleground—was what he wanted to remember 50 years from now. He spoke about watching the 2000 election on TV, about the fact that he and I simply being here was enough to break the karmic loop.” [Read more]

Keep reading! The National Magazine Awards digital archive is open all year long: magazine-awards.com/archive. Or get it in eBook form for your iPad.

Previous editions of our Summer Reading Series: Travel | Essays | Sports & Rec | Fiction | Personal Journalism | Poetry | Best Short Feature | Arts & Entertainment | Profiles

Photograph of Tahrir Square courtesy Roger LeMoyne

Summer Reading Series 9: Popular Profiles

What makes a person tick? We sometimes ask a question like that anticipating an equally laconic answer. Ah, but the magazine is among many things a forum for nuance and context. The best personal portraits are those that explore the underlying connections between a character’s traits and his or her environment, both past and present, and therein construct a deeper connection between the character and the reader.

The penultimate installment of our 2012 Summer Reading Series exposes the art of the profile, with three Canadians–a politician, an athlete and a scientist–whose lives jump off the page.

As you probably know by now, these stories and those of all finalists and winners from the past few years can be found in the National Magazine Awards archive (magazine-awards.com/archive).

1.Madam Premierby Lisa Gregoire in The Walrus (2011 Gold winner in Profiles)
One quickly derives from her matter-of-fact depiction of Nunavut premier Eva Aariak that 6-time NMA nominee Lisa Gregoire is describing someone composed of the arctic itself: vast, powerful, and capable of great transformation. The challenges facing the present and future of Canada’s youngest political territory may be greater than one woman can bear, but as Ms. Gregoire patiently investigates, Madam Premier is a person of uncommon determination and clarity.

“Eva Aariak is a patient January Capricorn, born when people in my world were building rockets and people in her world were navigating frozen moonscapes with homemade qamutiik (sleds), when people from both our worlds were founding Frobisher Bay, now Iqaluit, so my people could encourage her people to stop wandering and start praying. Nunavut has been imagined, designed, negotiated, legislated, and commemorated, all within her lifetime.” [Read more]

2.The Unstoppable Lena Rowatby Geoff Powter in Explore (2009 Gold winner in Profiles)
The title sums up this piece superbly. Lena Rowat was determined to ski from Vancouver to the Yukon’s formidable Mount Logan and then beyond to Alaska, the very idea of which is so bizarre and so compelling to most of us couch-based mortals as to beg the inquiry: Surely, someone or something would stop her; otherwise, there would have to be some degree of insanity involved, or else some untold truth of human motivation that demands a complete explanation.

“These are the days of a typical Lena Rowat ski traverse: Up with the dawn, breakfast is whatever liquid you’ve kept in the water bottle in your sleeping bag through the night. You break through the brain fog of the morning and find your pace, often on your own, in silence, up and down and across kilometre after kilometre of white ridges and glacial rolls. You stop and dig a pit for lunch, the big meal of the day, a carefully planned allotment of mega calories, with gobs of olive oil in every dish to get you through the long afternoon. You ski until your legs or the terrain tell you to stop.” [Read more]

3. “The Trials of Saint Suzuki” by Ken MacQueen in Maclean’s (2007 Gold winner in Profiles)
The gradual transformation of activist David Suzuki from drum-beating environmental voice in the wilderness to political and corporate  environmental consultant has not gone unnoticed by those who have long held his tireless work as gospel. And yet there is no paradox in the character of one of Canada’s most famous citizens; rather, an evolution that is very much of the environmental movement itself.

“Climate change, doing what it does, has indeed changed the climate of debate. New tactics are called for from environmentalists, too, and that includes a corporate rapprochement, of a sort. Suzuki—whose organization, in the past, has taken pride in its lack of corporate donors—admits he’ll need an attitude adjustment.” [Read more]

Read these stories and more at the National Magazine Awards archive: magazine-awards.com/archive.

Previous editions of our Summer Reading Series: Travel | Essays | Sports & Rec | Fiction | Personal Journalism | Poetry | Best Short Feature | Arts & Entertainment

Summer Reading Series 8: Award-Winning Arts & Entertainment

Two days hence and the stars and starlets of Hollywood will park their jets in Hogtown for the Toronto International Film Festival, and you’ll pardon this blogger if he’s camped at the corner of Bellair and Cumberland streets ready to ambush Shia LaBeouf or Gwyneth Paltrow and get them to plug the new National Magazine Awards eBook (free download on iTunes) to their Twitter followers.

Apropos of which, this week’s installment of our Summer Reading Series is cinematically themed: 3 award-winning stories from the category Arts & Entertainment with a nod to the film industry descending on our fair city.

These stories and so many more can be found in the National Magazine Awards archive (magazine-awards.com/archive).

1.Man Standingby Timothy Taylor, Canadian Art (2011 Silver winner in Arts & Entertainment)
Canadian Inuit filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk is no stranger to TIFF; his masterpiece Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner won the honour of Best Canadian Feature Film back in 2001. Timothy Taylor travels (with NMA-winning photographer Donald Weber) to the Arctic hamlet of Igoolik to interview Kunuk about his latest film, Qapirangajuq: Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change. It’s a rare opportunity to acquaint oneself with the ecology of this transcendent artist, who by rights and geography is more than a bit removed the rest of the country yet has helped his audiences (and his neighbours) redefine their notions of history.

“Walking around Igloolik, meanwhile, I sense the reach that Kunuk’s work has had in the community. He downplays it, saying, ‘My hunting buddies are still my hunting buddies.’ But if you’ve watched his films closely, you recognize a surprising number of faces in town. Even people I don’t recognize turn out to have had off-camera roles, like the woman I speak with at the high school who is proud that she learned to sew traditional caribou-skin parkas while working in the wardrobe department for Atanarjuat.” [Read more]

2.My Dad, the Movie and Meby Noah Richler, The Walrus (2010 Gold winner in Arts & Entertainment)
The son of the late Canadian literary icon Mordechai Richler is more than just behind the scenes on the Montreal sets of Barney’s Version, the Richard Lewis adaptation (starring Paul Giamatti, Minnie Driver and Dustin Hoffman) of Richler’s famous novel. Noah Richler employs his unique position intersecting the writer and the film to reflect on his father’s notions of family, marriage and sense of belonging; the re-animation of his father’s personality through the title character is both stimulating and calming.

“Barney’s Version, like his earlier novels St. Urbain’s Horseman and Joshua Then and Now, draws on my parents’ exemplary love and what, even to his death, struck my father as the wild unlikelihood of having been able to love and raise a family with this striking woman. From Jake Hersh’s beloved wife in St. Urbain’s Horseman (‘Nancy. Nancy, my darling’) to the third Mrs. Panofsky of Barney’s Version (‘Miriam, Miriam, my heart’s desire’), there exists in his work a portrait of the shiksa wife as love object that his author hero is stunned to have acquired but also believes, in some buried and persecuted Jewish part of himself, he is besmirching.” [Read more]

3. L’étoffe des héros(“Heros’ Fabric”) by Mélanie Saint-Hilaire, L’actualité (2010 Silver winner in Arts & Entertainment)
Nine-time NMA finalist Mélanie Saint-Hilaire was the runner up to Noah Richler in 2010 for her scintillating portrait of Quebec costume designer Mario Davignon, one of Hollywood’s most celebrated couturiers whose atelier is stuffed with period-piece designs that have draped such luminaries as Leonardo DiCaprio (in Romeo + Juliet), Sophia Loren (Between Strangers) and the legendary Ava Gardner (City on Fire).

“Sa passion, c’est le vêtement d’époque. Ce maniaque du démodé pille les antiquaires partout où il va. Il en rapporte des artefacts bizarres, telle cette unique botte rouge qui aurait jadis galbé le mollet d’une tragédienne russe — « pour le modèle », se justifie-t-il. Sa bibliothèque ploie sous les livres de référence, les vieux catalogues et La mode illustrée, encyclopédie française du 19e siècle.” [Lire la suite]

Read these stories and more at the National Magazine Awards archive: magazine-awards.com/archive.

Previous editions of our Summer Reading Series: Travel | Essays | Sports & Rec | Fiction | Personal Journalism | Poetry | Best Short Feature

Summer Reading Series 7: Best Magazine Short Features

The Short Feature is the catchy folk song of the magazine world–three chords, succinct enlightenment, and a tune you’re glad to have stuck in your head.

Sure, a lot of what makes magazines great is the freedom they give writers to compose elaborate, multi-faceted rock operas of meaningful prose. (To wit: David Remnick’s twelve-million-word profile of Bruce Springsteen in a recent New Yorker.)

But the short feature starts and finishes the story without leaving you feeling like you just stayed up all night listening to Darkness on the Edge of Town.

This year we had a tie for the Gold in BSF–a dead-even top score after six independent judges evaluated the submissions–so we’re glad to feature them both in our Summer Reading Series, along with the first-ever winner in this category.

As always, these complete articles and those of all finalists and winners from recent years can be found in the National Magazine Awards archive (magazine-awards.com/archive).

1.JJ Lee on the first time he told a girl she was beautiful,” ELLE Canada (2011 Gold winner, tie, in Best Short Feature)
It’s an episode we can all relate to: first love. For memoirist JJ Lee–writing in ELLE‘s popular “First” series–it was the very moment that the comic-book femininity he’d come to know in early adolescence faded into the blinding eclipse of a real-life muse. And in that universally awkward moment of expression, he felt himself becoming an artist.

“The words had struck her. She would never look at herself in a mirror the same way again. They had struck me too. And I felt doomed because I knew we had our whole future to separate us from the simple closeness of the moment. That was the day I began a lifelong career as a maudlin nostalgic.” [Read more]

2.When Your Mother is a Strangerby Heather O’Neill, Chatelaine (2011 Gold winner, tie, in Best Short Feature)
In this vivid reconstruction of a singularly tender moment–meeting her mother after an absence of ten years–two-time National Magazine Award winner Heather O’Neill (she also won Gold in this same category in 2010) rewinds her childhood to each of the most potent memories that can help her re-imagine this stranger as her mother, a person of ancient familiarity in a suddenly foreign context.

“I went to the address she gave me. She was living in a building known as the Crazy People Building. It has the cheapest rent in the neighbourhood and is filled with people who can never quite pull it together. Bare-chested men hang out of the windows in the summer. A man who lives there carries around a white kitten that wears a tie and is introduced as Mr. Timothy. There is an old man who dances on his toes as he walks, blowing kisses at anyone he makes eye contact with.” [Read more]

3.The Alchemy of Pork Fatby Gerald Hannon, Toronto Life (2007 Gold winner in Best Short Feature)
When the NMAF launched the Best Short Feature category in 2007, Toronto Life‘s foodie memoirs turned out to be an ideal fit (the judges that year awarded four of the ten finalists’ spots to these tasty TL shorts, each consisting of a personal essay and a recipe), and none better than the Gold-winning piece by 13-time National Magazine Award winner Gerald Hannon.

Hannon–warts and all–reminisces on the great motherly myths of food, especially those involving lard, and wonders how he could have evolved such a passion for gastronomy without them.

“Food, perhaps because it was scarce and unvarying, always seemed to tremble with the potential for good or ill. Even in her old age, [my mother] could not add cucumber to a salad without first neutralizing its ‘poison’ in a way she had learned from her mother: you cut about an inch off the end, rubbed that piece vigorously against the other cut edge until a milky liquid—the poison—appeared, then you threw out the small, now noxious piece to render the rest of the cucumber safe to eat.” [Read more]

Read these stories and more at the National Magazine Awards archive: magazine-awards.com/archive.

Previous editions of our Summer Reading Series: Travel | Essays | Sports & Rec | Fiction | Personal Journalism | Poetry

Springsteen photo credit: Dave Cooper / Toronto Star

Summer Reading Series 6: Profound Poetry

Hannah Arendt

“Poetry, whose material is language, is perhaps the most human and least worldly of the arts, the one in which the end product remains closest to the thought that inspired it.”
– Hannah Arendt

As our Summer Reading Series continues with a selection of poetry, we prefer not to linger too long by way of introduction.  As A. E. Housman wrote, “Even when poetry has a meaning, as it usually has, it may be inadvisable to draw it out… Perfect understanding will sometimes almost extinguish pleasure.”  We tend to agree.  Better to let the poets speak for poetry and let the poems speak for themselves.

The following winners in the category of Poetry, and many others, can be found in the National Magazine Awards archive (magazine-awards.com/archive)

1. “Pa” and “Bq” by Matthew Holmes, Arc (2011 Gold winner in Poetry)
Though we do not always need perfect understanding before (or even after) the reading of a poem, an author’s insight into the creative process is often as delightful as the poem itself.  Holmes offers a welcome hint or two in a thought-provoking introduction, followed by the award-winning pair of poems from his project, “The failing of purity”:

how water bends before letting your finger in, how
rain is coming (the flower says), how
rain is coming, how
luck falls, like salt thrown by a god, it falls not. [Read more]

2. “St. Anthony’s Fire” and “The Perfect Fatherhood” by Shane Neilson, The Fiddlehead, (2011 Silver winner in Poetry)
In these fluid configurations, Neilson muses about two profoundly manifest contemplations of the heart: the ironies inherent in god, and the mysteries of parenthood in its wondrous responsibility for another life.

Robbed of touch with peripheral neuropathies and the visible sores, the manna from heaven contaminated with Claviceps purpurea, whole civilizations monster-movied, disease being the measure of purity in a lost, misbegotten heaven… [Read more]

3.Paradise, Later Yearsby Marion Quednau, Malahat Review (2009 Gold winner in Poetry)
In this playful and insightful work, Quednau composes a rhythmic meditation on the nature of our relationship with nature and, ultimately, with ourselves:

I’ve taught them everything I know: that greed is largely forgivable grandstanding, and making a small ruckus is good, might still change the world, and thirst when it hits you, despite an abundance of water and wine for some, and nothing dripping down the spout for all the rest, is merely stoppered-up desire, and what makes humans so different from that lobster not going at all gently is that we can have what we want – scary thought. [Read more]

Read these stories and more at the National Magazine Awards archive: magazine-awards.com/archive.

Previous editions of our Summer Reading Series: Travel | Essays | Sports & Rec | Fiction | Personal Journalism

Summer Reading Series 5: Award-Winning Personal Journalism

The fifth installment of the National Magazine Awards’ summer reading series turns your attention to Personal Journalism. For anyone unfamiliar with this type of magazine writing, let’s borrow a line from the Creative Nonfiction Mandate of The Malahat Review–the literary journal of the University of Victoria and a winner of 26 National Magazine Awards for fiction, poetry and personal journalism. What we find in this genre of writing are stories:

“… strongly based in reality that enlighten or educate the reader via fresh insights, powerful use of language, and compelling storytelling. It is not always enough that the stories have a personal basis–they must move the reader into an apprehension of wider human situations or issues.”

Well put. These NMA-winning personal essays certainly fit that bill. As always, these and other award-winning magazine articles may be mined at the National Magazine Awards archive: magazine-awards.com/archive.

1. Parti sans bruit(“He Left Quietly”) by Anne Marie Lecomte, Châtelaine (2011 Gold winner in Personal Journalism)
A woman desperately in mourning retraces the path of her motherhood after the shocking suicide of her son, probing for a psychology that will repair the catastrophic disorder of grief. Ms. Lecomte’s soulful firsthand account of enduring and transmuting the ultimate family crisis, converting it into wisdom and stark advice for all parents, won a Quebec Magazine Award as well as a National Magazine Award this past spring.

“Ce n’est que maintenant que je vois la cruelle parenté des structures que j’avais tenté d’ériger autour de lui. L’OPP pour lui faire aimer l’école, le PPO pour le mettre à l’abri des pires dérives. Mais, qu’importe nos efforts inouïs, nos enfants ne sont jamais à l’abri. J’invente maintenant un acronyme: POP, pour parents orphelins perpétuellement.” [Lire la suite]

2.Tourists of Consciousnessby Jeff Warren, Maisonneuve (2010 Gold winner in Personal Journalism)
A superdrug for the overworked psyche may have been found in the form of an elixir distilled from a tropical plant long known locally for its psychedelic properties, and the curious Jeff Warren heads down to investigate in this article that just about puts the mercy in immersive journalism.

Of course, he’s not the first outsider to try this super secret sacrament (he can’t even tell us in which Latin American country he imbibed this magical ayahuasca), and not the first Canadian magazine writer to experiment on himself for the benefit of us readers (read Michael Posner’s 2006 Walrus piece “Plants with Soul” for a nice complement to the story of the drug).

But Warren meditates on how the drug can answer the call of the spiritually needy who may still endure blueness despite a century of psycho-analytic attention from Western science.

“I was even more skeptical about the metaphysical assertions. We don’t believe dreams are “real”—why should an ayahuasca vision be any different? Nevertheless, the rich history of ayahuasca usage has undeniable authority; in the end, the only way to really answer these questions was to launch into the psychedelic troposphere and find out for myself.” [Read more]

3. Cause and Effectby Lynn Cunningham, The Walrus (2009 Gold winner in Personal Journalism)
A stirring, eighteen-year portrait of a woman’s unexpected encounter with fetal alcohol syndrome–which affects her step-grandson–and the battles she fought in both his life and her own, this memoir by former NMAF Outstanding Achievement Award winner Lynn Cunningham is the essence of the genre: splendid research and fact-finding couched in dramatic, introspective and exquisitely written personal experience.

“[S]obriety finally made it to the top of the list, along with completing the last two courses of my Ph.D. I figured quitting drinking would at least free up some dough to pay down my debt and help with the many hundreds of dollars’ worth of required reading. Besides, Andrew was already smoking dope; booze—about as healthy as heroin for FAS kids—would doubtless follow, but it’s hard to lecture about why drinking is dangerous with a third glass of wine in your hand.” [Read more]

Read these stories and more at the National Magazine Awards archive: magazine-awards.com/archive.

Previous editions of our Summer Reading Series: Travel | Essays | Sports & Rec | Fiction

Summer Reading Series 4: Fantastic Fiction

“Fiction has been maligned for centuries as being ‘false,’ ‘untrue,’ yet good fiction provides more truth about the world, about life, and even about the reader, than can be found in non-fiction.”
— Clark Zlotchew

We read essays to learn, to taste slices of history, to keep up on current events.  Not so with fiction.  We begin reading every story without any idea of what awaits us.  Reading fiction is an act of discovery, a small journey that is never the same twice, and all that we can hope to discover along the way is something of ourselves.

Our Summer Reading Series continues this week with a selection of award-winning fiction, all (and more) available at the National Magazine Awards archive (magazine-awards.com/archive).

1.Four Cornersby Bill Gaston, Event (2011 Gold winner in Fiction)
“I want, I don’t want.
How can one live with such a heart?”
— Margaret Atwood

The intricacies of a relationship and the confusions of love will never cease to be fodder for the writer of fiction. In this poignant tale of a breakup gone askew, Bill Gaston probes the mysteries of discovering ourselves in others and why we often only want what we can’t have.

“He should have asked her more questions about herself, not let her get away with being so private. And he should have told her more about himself. And about Shannon, about how another new layer of skin grows to protect from each mean flick of the tongue. About how never really listening to Cheryl is part of that thickened skin of his. He really needs most of all to tell her that his ears, and his heart, are full of skin.” [Read more]

2.Shared Room on Unionby Steven Heighton, The Fiddlehead (2009 Gold winner in Fiction)
“No one remains quite what he was when he recognizes himself.”
— Thomas Mann

A young couple. A carjacker who doesn’t drive. A broke, and broken, passer-by. What happens when a chance encounter forces us to confront the things we want above all else to hide about ourselves? Or wish above all else to keep hidden in others? Does the propensity of the human heart toward self-delusion outweigh the achingly desperate need for some semblance of intimacy? Exhausting every nuance of what it means to know, Steven Heighton writes with subtle prose and an exquisite sense of irony in this critically acclaimed short story.

“Though their bodies were jammed together at many points, in this extremity he was fully alone. She must feel the same. He guessed she must feel the same… Surely, whatever happened, they would live differently now.” [Read more]

3.Dead Man’s Weddingby Andrew Tibbetts, The Malahat Review (2008 Gold winner in Fiction)
In this unique and touching coming-of-age story, Andrew Tibbetts chronicles the interactions of two families, one Canadian and one American, celebrating Mother’s Day at their neighbouring cottages. With sharp humour and a keen sense of the profundity of the mundane, Tibbetts explores the clash of cultures, a mother’s desperate love, and the heartbreakingly earnest desire of a young boy to find his place in the world.

“We play nonchalantly. We look casual. Content. Only Sassafras is close enough to see that our calm is pretend, to see how bored we are with Crazy Eights and Old Maid and Go Fish. Only Sassafras sees how full we are of longing for something mysterious and wild, something that has nothing to do with us, but could swerve into our world to make all the known things new and dangerous. Shine your beam of light, Sassafras, to draw them here; come, tacky Yankees, come to spoil the peace and quiet.” [Read more]

Read these articles and more at the National Magazine Awards archive: magazine-awards.com/archive

Previous editions of our Summer Reading Series: Travel | Essays | Sports & Recreation

Image of Clark Zlotchew courtesy www.clarkzlotchew.com

Summer Reading Series 3: (Olympic) Sports & Recreation

Like hundreds of millions around the world, we watched the opening ceremonies of the London Olympic Games not only to see what Danny Boyle could do with $43-million and a top-hatted Kenneth Branagh, but also because the grand procession of athletes is the final hurdle in our quadrennial wait between each staging of the greatest spectacle of sport on Earth. Now, at last, the games can begin again.

Fitting with the theme of day, for the third installment of our Summer Reading Series we present winners from the category Sports & Recreation, which are available at the National Magazine Awards archive (magazine-awards.com/archive).

1. “The Team that Disappearedby Brett Popplewell, Sportsnet (2011 Gold winner in Sports & Recreation)
In this terrific investigative article that solidified the long-form chops of the new Sportsnet magazine, Brett Popplewell tells the true story of the greatest tragedy in the history of the sport of hockey–the crash of flight RA-42434 in northern Russia, which wiped out nearly the entire squad of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, one of the country’s premier professional clubs.

The pain of the loved ones left to grieve–including the family of the team’s Canadian coach–as well as the terror of the survivors, the chaos of the scene, the circus of the investigation, and the confusion of the one man who decided not to board the flight that day–all are recounted honestly in Popplewell’s masterful reconstruction of an event that affected countless lives all over the world.

“While the bells rang out above the dead, the phones began to ring. It was morning in North America. Late afternoon in Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, Germany, Latvia, Ukraine, Belarus and the Czech Republic, as news of the crash reached the families and friends of the men being pulled from the wreckage.” [Read more]

2. “Cycle of Lifeby Rich Poplak, explore (2009 Gold Winner in Sports & Recreation)
An ode to a father’s enduring inspiration, Rich Poplak tells the story of how his dad’s passion for the pedal became his own, and how the pain of pushing his body to new frontiers of athleticism ultimately became instructive of the bonds between father and son.

“I once believed that the time I spent in the saddle amounted to nothing more than wasted hours acquiescing to a foolish obsession. This I no longer believe. As I matured as a rider—as piss and vinegar dried up, giving way to the canny wisdom of a veteran—I came to understand cycling as a means of managing will. The paradox of endurance sport is that it becomes about everything besides the body.” [Read more]

3. “High Standardsby Alex Hutchison, Canadian Running (2008 Silver Winner in Sports & Recreation)
Four years ago, just before the start of the Beijing Olympic Games, 7-time NMA nominee Alex Hutchison set out to investigate why the Canadian Olympic Committee had imposed extraordinarily tough qualification standards for the marathon–alone among all athletic events–that resulted in fewer Canadian runners winning the right to compete for their country.

As the Olympics come around again this piece is especially worth revisiting, not in the least because this year, again, no Canadian women qualified for the London Games’ marathon (3 men qualified, marking the first time Canada has had Olympic marathon competitors since 2000; the men’s marathon is August 12).

“Setting appropriate Olympic standards demands that we think carefully about the role of amateur sport in society. Do we want role models, or just medals? Ultimately, it’s a clash between two visions of what the Olympics represent.” [Read more]

Read these articles and more at the National Magazine Awards archive: magazine-awards.com/archive

Previous editions of our Summer Reading Series: Travel | Essays

Kenneth Branagh photo credit: Phil Noble/Reuters; courtesy The Guardian.

Summer Reading Series 2: Great Essays from the NMA Archives

“What do I know?” asked Lewis Lapham.

“The question distinguishes the essay from the less adventurous forms of expository prose—the dissertation, the polemic, the article, the campaign speech, the tract, the op-ed, the arrest warrant, the hotel bill. Writers… begin the first paragraph knowing how, when, where, and why they intend to claim the privilege of the last word. Not so the essayist, even if what he or she is writing purports to be a history or a field report. Like Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, the essayist lights out for the territories, never sure of the next sentence until the words show up on the page.”*

Our summer reading series continues this week with a selection of award-winning essays, all (and more) available at the National Magazine Awards archive (magazine-awards.com/archive).

1.The Ultraviolet Catastropheby Alice Major, The New Quarterly (2011 Gold winner in Essays)
Are the limits of our world finite, or can there be something beyond its edges? Is death a tragedy, or is it merely catastrophic, like the draining of waves of light into a black hole. Alice Major explores what the science of quantum physics can teach her about catharsis following the death of her father, in this essay that preceded her recent book, Intersecting Sets: A Poet Looks at Science (University of Alberta Press).

“How can a body be capable of so little and yet a mind be capable of so much? Humans are fascinated by such extremes. This is the material for our stories, the stuff of our legends. We don’t really find the ordinary terribly exciting. We seem to find that such singularities illuminate the human condition.” [Read more]

2.A 10 Percent Worldby J.B. MacKinnon, The Walrus (2010 Gold winner in Essays)
“I speculated in passing that, when seen through the lens of deep time, ours is a 10 Percent World–a blue-green globe that reflects just one-tenth the natural variety and abundance it once did.”

11-time National Magazine Award winner J.B. MacKinnon attempts to untangle prevailing notions of normality in humankind’s understanding of its own impact on the Earth. We tend to err not in our assumption that, previous to the age in which we live, the natural world was comparatively more vibrant and less degraded (though that is not uncommonly a disputed premise); rather, it is the scope of our vision of the past that is limited, perhaps so severely that it begs a completely new set of eyes. 

“The purpose of all of this,” writes MacKinnon, “… is not to demand some romantic return to a pre-human Eden, but rather to expand our options. Our sense of what is possible sets limits on our dreams.” [Read more]

3.The Big Decisionby Chris Turner, AlbertaViews (2008 Gold winner in Essays)
One of Canada’s foremost science journalists, Chris Turner lays bare the case for nuclear power in Alberta–yes, home of the oilsands–severing myth from fact while ruminating on both. Perhaps at its heart, it’s an argument for a badly needed argument, yet without vacillation:

“The most egregious myth, however–the one that could damn Alberta to a nuclear future as the 21st-century economy races greenly past–is the one that says it’s our only choice. Allow me to be exceedingly blunt: that’s just bullshit.” [Read more]

Read these essays and more at the National Magazine Awards archive: magazine-awards.com/archive

Previous editions of our Summer Reading Series: Travel

* From Lewis Lapham, “Figures of Speech” (Harper’s, November 2010, p.7)
Huckleberry Finn illustration from the wonderful 1885 edition of the novel, published by Charles L. Webster & Co, whose illustrations were commissioned of New York artist Edward W. Kemple. 

Summer Travel Reading, from the NMA Archives

A friend dropped us a note recently from his travels in Austria: “I never imagined this place would be so stimulating: the mountains, the gardens, the café life; even the stodgy old Habsburg homes have some life to them.”

It’s summer, deep summer, which means most of us are either travelling or dreaming of travelling. We of the latter shade perhaps are undertaking dozens of vicarious journeys on Facebook and Pinterest. And whether we’re actually on the road or just imaginarily so, we like our travel reading: none better than the collection of award-winning travel stories at the NMA Awards Archive.

A few suggestions for your summer pleasures and days:

The Big Blueby Charles Wilkins, explore (2011 Gold winner in Travel)
Sixteen brave souls, one uniquely engineered rowboat, 5000 kilometres of open ocean. The author–the unsinkable Charles Wilkins, admittedly not the youngest or fittest of oarsmen–spent 18 months training for this record-breaking attempt to cross the Atlantic from Morocco to Barbados without the aid of sail or motor. This blogger felt almost guilty reading of this adventure from the comfort of a Toronto patio, as Wilkins dispatched:

“I was cold, I was exhausted, I was starved… What’s more, I had been beaten up–slapped around by waves that sometime before midnight had started coming hard out of the east onto our port flank… At one point, when for the briefest of moments my focus had lapsed (my brain having detoured into fantasies of my former life as a human being), an uncooperative wave had snatched my oar, driving the handle into my chest, pinning me with savage efficiency against the bulkhead that defined the prow end of the rowing trench.” [Read more]

Walking the Wayby Timothy Taylor, The Walrus (2009 Gold winner in Travel)
A fixture of bucket lists for centuries, Spain’s Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage trail seems, by the grace of those who walk it, an uneven plane of surrealism, uniting disparate senses of faith and devotion on a single, very literal path. And few writers put pen to trail as evocatively as Timothy Taylor:

“Nobody talks about religion, faith, metaphysics… Nobody says, because not long ago at a party I got into a drunken argument about philosophical materialism–the belief that the only thing that exists is physical matter–and found myself yelling at a woman, ‘Then why are we here? Why are you here?’ Nobody would admit to that. To losing it. To getting belligerent over the possibility of transcendence. Nobody would admit that, because it would indicate that you somehow needed to walk 800 kilometres across Spain.” [Read more]

St. Petersburg the Greatby Noah Richler, enRoute (2008 Gold winner in Travel)
A mindful travelogue in the modern mold–a studious writer eager to discover what lies beneath; a photographer (Robert Lemermeyer) with a keen sense of place–it satisfies both the memories of those who’ve already been there and the desires of we who long to go. Not just restaurants–ingredients. Not just vodka–conversation. (Not just English–bilingual; it’s enRoute after all.) Richler keeps the reader at his elbow:

“In St. Petersburg, the noteworthy is either tawdry or a few steps underground or magnificent and palatial beyond imagining. It is as if Peter’s lofty dream and the lowly serfdom that made it possible persist in the soul of the city because neither ever existed without the other.” [Read more]

Read these travel stories and more at the National Magazine Awards archive: magazine-awards.com/archive