NMA winners among finalists for BC Book Prizes

This week the West Coast Book Society announced the finalists for the annual BC Book Prizes, which celebrate achievement by British Columbia writers in 7 categories. Winners are announced on April 29.

3 of the 5 finalists in the Non-Fiction category are National Magazine Award winners, as well as one of the finalists in Poetry.

Mark Leiren-Young’s The Killer Whale Who Changed the World

Killer whales had always been seen as bloodthirsty sea monsters. That all changed when a young killer whale was captured off the west coast of North America and displayed to the public in 1964. Moby Doll—as the whale became known—was an instant celebrity, drawing twenty thousand visitors on the one and only day he was exhibited. He died within a few months, but his famous gentleness sparked a worldwide crusade that transformed how people understood and appreciated orcas. Because of Moby Doll, we stopped fearing “killers” and grew to love and respect “orcas.”

Mark Leiren-Young is a journalist, filmmaker, and author. The magazine article that grew into this book, “Moby Doll” (The Walrus), was a finalist for a National Magazine Award.


Deborah Campbell’s A Disappearance in Damascus

“Did I find her or did she find me?” writes Deborah Campbell in her new book, A Disappearance in Damascus (Knopf Canada), winner of the Writers’ Trust Award. Her is in reference to Ahlam, Campbell’s ‘fixer’— journalist jargon for a foreign correspondent’s interpreter or guide. An Iraqi mother and humanitarian, Ahlam is of invaluable assistance to Campbell throughout her Middle-East reportage, and when she gets taken by secret agents, the journalist, who has reported from countries including Egypt, Qatar and Russia among others, can’t help but take the blame for her disappearance. Campbell spends months in search of her friend in the perilous city.

Deborah Campbell is the winner of two National Magazine Gold Awards for her articles in The Walrus—The Most Hated Name in News” and “Iran’s Quiet Revolution”— published in 2009 and 2006 respectively. She has written for many publications, including Harper’s, The Guardian and Foreign Policy, and has spent over a decade reporting abroad.


The Marriott Cell, by Mohamed Fahmy, with Carol Shaben

Just over one year ago, Egyptian-born Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy was awaiting bail from behind bars of an Egyptian maximum security prison. He, along with two other Al-Jazeera journalists, were sentenced to 7-10 years, accused of reporting false news, after police raided their makeshift studio in the Marriott Hotel in Cairo. According to Human Rights Watch, the trial of Fahmy was a “miscarriage of justice based on zero evidence.” Despite this, the three spent over a year in prison before making bail following a presidential pardon.

Now, finally free and back in Canada, Fahmy is an adjunct professor at UBC, and he’s just published The Marriott Cell (Random House), a book on his harrowing experience in Egypt. The book is a collaboration of efforts by Fahmy and Carol Shaben, a former NMA winner.

Carol Shaben is the winner of two National Magazine Awards for her story, “Fly at Your Own Risk” (The Walrus), about the deficiencies of Canada’s smaller aviation aircrafts and companies. She has written one other book, Into the Abyss, and lives in Vancouver.


In the poetry category, the finalists include:

poemw, by Anne Fleming

In poemw, the third finger of the left hand hits ‘w’ instead of ‘s’ and makes up a new kind of poem, the sort-of poem, the approxi-lyric, the poem that doesn’t want to claim poemness. Poemw are about daily things—graffitti, hair, sea gulls, second-hand clothes—and rarer things—dead crows, baked mice, ski accidents, Judith Butler. They’re jokes-and-not-jokes, cheeky, goofy. Tender.

Anne Fleming has been nominated for 3 National Magazine Awards, winning the award for Fiction in 2002 for her work in The New Quarterly. She has an MFA from UBC and teaches at UBC Okanagan in Kelowna. Her first book, Pool-Hopping and Other Stories, was shortlisted for the Governor-General’s Award, the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, and the Danuta Gleed Award.


Check out all the finalists for this year’s BC Book Prizes. The winners are announced on April 29.

Holiday Books from the National Magazine Awards

Here at the National Magazine Awards Foundation, nothing brings us greater joy than diving into our next non-fiction read. Non-fiction gnaws at us because prose based on real people and real events tends to capture, move, and inspire us.

So to bid farewell to the year that was, we’ve rounded up some of our top non-fiction reads by National Magazine Award-winning authors — aka fool-proof gift ideas — that will undoubtedly please (and hopefully inspire) anyone you’re looking to spoil this holiday season.

Also, check out our top Fiction reads, too.

“Invisible North” by Alexandra Shimo

Alexandra Shimo’s new book, Invisible North, is a cry for help for our Indigenous peoples: their lives, their land and their dignity.

Shimo is not Indigenous. The lived experience and documentation of our Indigenous peoples, by Indigenous peoples, is of utmost importance to the amendment of Canada’s history and will play a crucial part in shaping our country’s future. Shimo is, however, an investigative reporter, who, while on assignment for CBC’s The Current, discovered the devastating reality of Canada’s Indigenous reserves. When Shimo travelled to the Kashechewan reserve in northern Ontario — known better to some as “ground zero” for the First Nation experience — she witnessed firsthand the deplorable living conditions, major lack of services and the relentless government inaction faced by the Cree living on that land. In Invisible North, she recounts her deep-seated guilt, struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and ultimate inability to cope with the living conditions on the reserve.

Shimo is a former editor of Maclean’s. She is the recipient of three honorable mentions at the National Magazine Awards, including for her Toronto Life piece, “Kandahar Diaries,” five stories from soldiers after their return from Afghanistan. This is her third book.

“A Disappearance in Damascus” by Deborah Campbell

“Did I find her or did she find me?” writes Deborah Campbell in her new book, A Disappearance in Damascus (Knopf Canada), winner of the Writers’ Trust Award. Her is in reference to Ahlam, Campbell’s ‘fixer’— journalist jargon for a foreign correspondent’s interpreter or guide. An Iraqi mother and humanitarian, Ahlam is of invaluable assistance to Campbell throughout her Middle-East reportage, and when she gets taken by secret agents, the journalist, who has reported from countries including Egypt, Qatar and Russia among others, can’t help but take the blame for her disappearance. Campbell spends months in search of her friend in the perilous city.

The story takes place almost a decade ago, rendering the title somewhat misleading. When Ahlam disappeared, Campbell was reporting on the Iraq War, at a time when Iraqis were fleeing to Syria for refuge. Despite this, Campbell’s account provides a contemporary piece of the puzzle that is the current state of war in Syria.

Campbell is the winner of two National Magazine Gold Awards for her articles in The Walrus—The Most Hated Name in News” and “Iran’s Quiet Revolution”— published in 2009 and 2006 respectively. She has written for many publications, including Harper’s, The Guardian and Foreign Policy, and has spent over a decade reporting abroad.

“The Marriott Cell” by Mohamed Fahmy (w/ Carol Shaben)

Just over one year ago, Egyptian-born Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy was awaiting bail from behind bars of an Egyptian maximum security prison. He, along with two other Al-Jazeera journalists, were sentenced to 7-10 years, accused of reporting false news, after police raided their makeshift studio in the Marriott Hotel in Cairo. According to Human Rights Watch, the trial of Fahmy was a “miscarriage of justice based on zero evidence.” Despite this, the three spent over a year in prison before making bail following a presidential pardon.

Now, finally free and back in Canada, Fahmy is an adjunct professor at UBC, and he’s just published The Marriott Cell (Random House), a book on his harrowing experience in Egypt. The book is a collaboration of efforts by Fahmy and Carol Shaben, a former NMA winner.

Shaben is the winner of two National Magazine Awards for her story, “Fly at Your Own Risk” (The Walrus), about the deficiencies of Canada’s smaller aviation aircrafts and companies. She has written one other book, Into the Abyss, and lives in Vancouver.

Read our interview with Carol Shaben.

“Sixty” by Ian Brown

The problem with turning 60? It’s so goddamn melodramatic, says Ian Brown, who wrote about the experience in a bygone Globe and Mail column.

A year later, he’s written a book on the subject of his life since, entitled, Sixty: The Beginning of the End, or the End of the Beginning? A Diary of My Sixty-First Year (Penguin Random House). The title itself sounds characteristically self-deprecating — perhaps not surprising for any seasoned journalist in 2016. Fearing he’s “misplaced” the last 20 years of his life, Brown begins writing a diary in an attempt to embrace the next 20. He isn’t necessarily unhappy with how his life has played out — he is a successful journalist by anyone’s standards — but he grapples with how inconspicuously the last six decades slipped by. Brown provides both an intimate and humorous look at the aging process, in hopes it really is just “the End of the Beginning.”

Ian Brown is a journalist and author of five books. Currently, he hosts Human Edge and The View from Here on TVOntario. He is also a feature writer for The Globe and Mail. Brown has collected many National Magazine Awards over the years, most recently a Gold for “Man Vs. Behemoth,” his short feature published in Explore Magazine.

“Bad Singer” by Tim Falconer

If you’re into books like Daniel Levitan’s This Is Your Brain on Music or David Byrne’s How Music Works, Tim Falconer’s Bad Singer (House of Anansi) should logically be next on your reading list. Sure, it’s another look at music through a scientific lens, however, the latter takes a more personal approach, as Falconer himself suffers from amusia — the technical term for tone deafness, encompassing both pitch processing and musical memory. Weaving through the science behind singing, the limitations of the body and the trait of human persistence, Falconer is able to prevail, capturing the interest of any reader, simply by exploring a topic dear to so many.

Falconer’s book is based on his 2012 Maisonneuve piece “Face the Music,” that won him a Silver at the National Magazine Awards.

Falconer is the author of five books. Currently, he is a professor at Ryerson’s School of Journalism in Toronto, a mentor in the Creative Non-Fiction program at the University of King’s College in Halifax and an editor at the Literary Journalism program at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.

“The Promise of Canada” by Charlotte Gray

Just in time for Canada’s 150th birthday, historian Charlotte Gray has released her new book, The Promise of Canada: 150 Years – People and Ideas That Have Shaped our Country (Simon & Schuster). Gray deconstructs nine influential Canadians and their respective roles since Confederation.

Gray includes the obvious, from George-Étienne Cartier to Tommy Douglas to Emily Carr, but strays (somewhat) with a chapter on Elijah Harper, former Indigenous NDP MLA, and noted critic of the Meech Lake Accord. If history textbooks of our past didn’t suffice in the area of Indigenous peoples pasts, perhaps Gray’s account will follow the lead of Harper’s, that is, to bring the stories of our Indigenous people into mainstream conversation.

Gray has received eight honourable mentions at the NMAs, including a Chatelaine profile of global activist Naomi Klein and a Walrus political piece on leader of the NDP, Thomas Mulcair.


Happy holiday reading from the National Magazine Awards.

And remember, submissions for this year’s 40th anniversary awards are being accepted until January 20. Enter at magazine-awards.com

National Magazine Award honourees headline fall book awards season

Here at the National Magazine Awards we’re humbled to see so many familiar names in line for some of Canada’s most notable literary awards.

Earlier this month, the Governor General’s Literary Awards shortlist was announced, with four former National Magazine Award winners and nominees in the running for one of the country’s most prestigious prizes. They join fellow Canadian authors and poets on the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Writers’ Trust Award shortlists — both of which also boast great work by recent NMA honourees.

Mona Awad has come a long way from her two-week stint on the then-famed Beverly Hills Diet in 1988, at age nine. Her raw depiction of the commonplace pursuit of slenderness, in 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl (Penguin Canada), was shortlisted for the Giller Prize last month. The compilation of short stories follows the tribulations of a young Mississauga girl, struggling with her appearance and self-worth, into womanhood. Back in 2005, Awad’s Maisonneuve piece, “The Shrinking Woman” — which shared a common theme with 13 Ways — was a finalist for a National Magazine Award. The essay ushered the reader through Awad’s journey of growing up with a mother who, despite loving and supportive, couldn’t shield her daughter from an addiction to dieting and weight loss.

“Later on I’m going to be really…beautiful. I’m going to grow into that nose and develop an eating disorder. I’ll be hungry and angry all my life but I’ll also have a hell of a time.”
Mona Awad, 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl

Awad has written for numerous publications including McSweeney’s, The Walrus, and Joyland, among others.

Gary Barwin is a Canadian poet, composer and professor at York University. In 2015, his poem Winter, published on Hazlitt was a finalist in the poetry category at this year’s NMAs. His most recent novel, Yiddish for Pirates (Random House Canada), has been shortlisted for both the Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award. From the point-of-view of a 500-year-old parrot, the story takes a humorous yet philosophical tone in telling the tale of Moishe, a young Jewish vagabond eager to escape to the sea. S. Bear Bergman, in the Globe and Mail’s Book Review, sang its praises, emphasizing Barwin’s unique and often hilarious use of language(s).

A boychik with big ideas, his kop—his head—bigger than his body. He would travel beyond the scrawny map of himself, and beyond the shtetl. He’d travel the ocean.There were Jews—he’d heard stories—that were something. Not rag-and-bones shmatte-men like his father, Chaim, always following the dreck of their nag around the same small world. Doctors. Court astronomers. Spanish lords. Tax farmers. Learned men of the world. The mapmakers of Majorca. They were Jews.”
Gary Barwin, Yiddish for Pirates

Barwin has written over a dozen books, including writing for children and young adults as well as poetry compilations.

Kerry-Lee Powell got nods from the three big literary awards this year for her debut collection of short stories, Willem de Kooning’s Paintbrush (Harper Avenue/Harper Collins). The east coast poet was longlisted for the Giller Prize and shortlisted for both the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction and GG’s Fiction awards. Back in 2011, Powell was a finalist at the NMAs for two poems, “The Lifeboat” and “The Emperor.” The poems — scrawled down one night in a harrowing stupor — were in response to her father’s post-WWII PTSD and ultimate suicide, and her own struggles with mental illness.

“One of the after-effects of working in a busy bar is that you never really leave. It could be four o’clock on a Sunday morning. The pigeons are ruffling their oily feathers on the windowsill and the bedroom pales to a washed indigo as you launch into the slow drift towards oblivion. But it’s no use. The insides of your eyelids burn with visions of Saturday night. It’s a scene from the Inferno. Red shapes beckon and bang their glasses on the bar. They reel into shadows and surge forward again, a many-headed monster throwing punches in the air. The only thing is to wait for them to disappear. Except they never do.”
— Kerry Lee Powell, Willem de Kooning’s Paintbrush

In addition to her debut collection of shorts, Powell has also written two poetry collections, Inheritance and The Wreckage.

Michael Helm’s apocalyptic fourth book, After James (McClelland & Stewart), is on the shortlist for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Award. The collection of novellas, with three intertwining settings, characters and plots, has been called “genre-defying.” Perhaps a not so surprising feat for Helm, who has served as an editor and contributor for Brick, the beloved Toronto-based literary journal, for over a decade. In 2014, Helm earned a NMA honourable mention for his tribute to esteemed Montreal writer Mavis Gallant. Helm’s short feature — published in Brick (93) — was deeply thoughtful. The reader, regardless of affiliation with Gallant, soon becomes mourner, naturally reflecting on lost loves — literary or otherwise.

And then, a last idea, one she couldn’t suppress. It was that she was still inside the cave. She had fallen out of time, even as she descended through the woods as present in the world as she always had been. In thought, memory, body, she was nearly exactly herself. The feeling began to fade, to seem fanciful, at lower altitude, as her blood became better oxygenated, but she understood that it would never entirely leave her. It was somehow familiar, the idea that she was two places at once, or one place in two overlapping times. She must have read it in a junk novel, seen it in movies, things that everyone consumed without really remembering and that she found it harder and harder even to pretend to believe.
— Michael Helm, After James

Helm’s past bibliography includes: Cities of Refuge (2010), In the Place of Last Things (2004) and The Projectionist (1997).

Steven Heighton has been on our radar at the NMA’s since the late ‘80s when he was first nominated for his poem “Approaches to Lhasa” in The New Quarterly. Now a five-time NMA winner, Heighton holds four gold awards and one silver for both his poetry and fiction, published in the likes of Arc Poetry MagazineThe Fiddlehead, Prism International and The Walrus. His newest collection, The Waking Comes Late (House of Anansi Press), has been shortlisted for the GG Poetry Awards. This much anticipated collection, by critics and fans alike, touches on the themes of contemporary life and death, and what a seemingly troublesome future might hold for us all.

Steven Heighton has written numerous short stories, essays, poetry and novels over the course of his career. He has won or been nominated for over a dozen literary awards.

Rachel Rose was nominated for her first NMA in 2015 for “Three Poems,” published in Fiddlehead. Her fourth collection of poetry, Marry & Burn (Harbour), has been shortlisted for the GG Poetry Award. The poems, all revolving around themes of love and loss (of people and dogs), evoke a correspondingly sad and familiar fond feeling in the reader. In Rose’s newest collection, she explores similar themes with new subject matters, including the devastation of losing a beehive in our current climate, to Canadian racism and the mistreatment of our First Nations.

Rose has won awards for her poetry, fiction and nonfiction works. Her chapbook, Thirteen Ways of Looking at CanLit, was published last year by Toronto-based publisher BookThug.


The GG Literary Award presents $25,000 each to both an English and French finalist. Check the GG’s website on October 25 when the winner will be announced.

The Writers’ Trust Awards, comprised of different categories, with awards funded by various sponsors, will be announced at the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto on November 2.

The Scotiabank Giller Prize winner will be awarded $100,000, while finalists walk away with $10,000. You can watch the live stream of the event at CBC Books on November 7.

Read and download hundreds of great short fiction stories and poetry in the National Magazine Awards archive, at magazine-awards.com/archive.

Special thanks to Krista Robinson for contributing to this article. 

Off the Page, with Dan Rubinstein

DanRubinstein
Dan Rubinstein (photo by Lisa Gregoire)

This week on Off the Page, our interview series with National Magazine Award winners, we chat with author and NMA-winning journalist Dan Rubinstein, whose 2015 book Born to Walk emerged from a National Magazine Award-nominated story in The Walrus.

NMAF: Congratulations on the recent publication of your book Born to Walk: The Transformative Power of a Pedestrian Act (ECW Press). You’re a self-described obsessive walker, meditating on the many benefits walking offers. How did your obsession with walking begin?

Born to WalkDan Rubinstein: I’ve always been interested in walking, both for fun and as a way to get from A to B. I like how the act allows me to intimately explore places or routes we typically don’t experience on foot. You never know what you’ll see or who you’ll meet, and you gain a deeper sense of how you fit into the natural and human ecosystem in which you live.

But this interest became an obsession in 2012. My “dream job,” as a magazine editor, had become a nightmare, and the long lunch-hour runs I took to escape the stress led to a blown knee. So I started going for walks at lunch, which offered a similar physical and psychological release.

And when I was back at my desk, I kept stumbling over news stories and research studies online that spoke to the many curative properties of walking, from physical and mental health to social cohesion and economic sustainability. I was hooked!

NMAF: Your article “The Walking Cure” — published in The Walrus and winner of two National Magazine Honourable Mentions in 2013 in the categories Society and Health & Medicine — seems to be the starting seed for Born to Walk. Can you talk a bit about the expansion of the article and the development of the book?

Dan Rubinstein: One of the first conversations I had about the myriad benefits of walking was with Stanley Vollant, the medical doctor at the heart of the “The Walking Cure.” He’s an Innu from eastern Quebec — the province’s first aboriginal surgeon — and had started a multi-year walking project, a series of group treks between First Nations communities in which dozens of participants experience the power of this healthy activity and re-establish connections to the land and to one another.

Stanley’s walks are hundreds of kilometres long, often in the winter, and people realize that the only way to reach the end of such a daunting journey is to approach it one step at a time — and they realize if they can do this, they can attempt to overcome any challenges they face. Stanley had the vision that inspired him to begin this project while doing the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain.

He didn’t know why he had to start walking with aboriginal youth and elders in Canada, but as he told me when we first spoke, “When you begin a journey, you don’t know why. The trail will show you the way.”

Writing this article was a natural first step for me, and expanded into the opening chapter of my book, it establishes the main themes and sets the tone. It also introduces Stanley, a recurring voice of wisdom in the book.

Read "The Walking Cure" (The Walrus)
Read “The Walking Cure” (The Walrus)

NMAF: Walking clearly influences the content of your writing, but does it influence how you write? Does the physical endurance built by walking long distances transfer to the long-term focus and dedication one needs to complete a book? Moreover, has walking influenced the form or pace of your writing?

Dan Rubinstein: I find it easier to walk for hours and hours than to sit and write for hours and hours. Walking is invigorating and inspiring — writing, for me, is hard work. But I did keep reminding myself, while working on the book, to take a “one step at a time” approach.

And the book, like many great walks, is a meandering journey, with a lot of side trails, that ultimately leads to a satisfying conclusion. At least I hope it does for readers.

NMAF: Do you have a familiar, favourite walk? Where is the strangest place walking has led you?

Dan Rubinstein: I don’t really have a specific favourite walk. I like walking from the place I am to the place I have to be. I like utilitarian transects that force me to go somewhere unexpected — say, an industrial park, or a subdivision that’s still under construction.

When I lived in Edmonton, I loved walking along the Athabasca River in Jasper National Park, or along the North Saskatchewan River in the city’s river valley. In Ottawa, where I now live, there are some beautiful trails along the Rideau River or in nearby Gatineau Park.

But really, I prefer the more unusual places where I’ve walked, such as the four-day hike I did from my parents’ house in Toronto to their cottage near Algonquin Provincial Park (which became an article for Cottage Life).

You don’t have to travel somewhere exotic to have a profound experience. You can literally walk out the front door and keep going.

NMAF: Since 2003, you’ve won a number of National Magazine Awards for work published in a variety of magazines (The Walrus, Canadian Geographic, Western Living, and Alberta Views). What is the role of magazine work — and magazine award nominations and wins — in the life of a freelancer?

Dan Rubinstein: Magazine assignments help freelancers explore ideas that they’re curious and passionate about. I’ve written about walking, for instance, in a dozen different publications.

This is the fun part of a freelancer’s life. Other gigs, like communications work, help beef up your income, but it’s the magazine assignments that provide the freedom that makes it all worthwhile. And if you write a story that wins an award, that makes it easier to pitch ideas to editors you haven’t worked with before.

Awards and nominations are a good calling card. They can help get you in the door. But at the end of the day, they’re not why most of us do this. It’s the stories that matter.


Dan Rubinstein is a National Magazine Award-winning journalist and author of Born to Walk: The Transformative Power of a Pedestrian Act (ECW Press). Read more about the project at borntowalk.org/about/. Follow Dan on Twitter @dan_rube

Very special thanks to Leah Edwards for researching and conducting this interview with Dan. 

The 2016 National Magazine Awards are now open for submissions until January 15. Awards will be presented in 39 categories at the 39th annual NMA gala on June 9. Digital publications and magazine content can also enter the Digital Publishing Awards (deadline Feb 16).

More “Off the Page” interviews with award-winning writers
Heather O’Neill, author of Lullabies for Little Criminals
Emily Urquhart
, author of Beyond the Pale
Arno Kopecky, author of The Oilman and the Sea
Joshua Knelman, author of Hot Art

Illustrator Jillian Tamaki to launch SuperMutant Magic Academy, new book based on webcomic

Four-time National Magazine Award-winning illustrator Jillian Tamaki’s latest book, SuperMutant Magic Academy, hits stores on April 28, and the celebrated artist will appear at the book’s official launch event in Toronto at The Central on Markham Street.

An ongoing webcomic since 2010, whimsical and poignant and delightfully honest, SuperMutant Magic Academy the book is a compendium of the webcomic updated with new material including a forty-page closing story, and is published by Drawn & Quarterly.

Science experiments go awry, bake sales are upstaged, and the new kid at school is a cat who will determine the course of human destiny. In one strip, lizard-headed Trixie frets about her nonexistent modeling career; in another, the immortal Everlasting Boy tries to escape this mortal coil to no avail. Throughout it all, closeted Marsha obsesses about her unrequited crush, the cat-eared Wendy. Whether the magic is mundane or miraculous, Tamaki’s jokes are precise and devastating.

 

Perhaps best known today for the Governor General’s award-winning book, This One Summer, Jillian’s work has appeared in The Walrus, The New Yorker, More and other magazines. She teaches at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

In our 2012 interview with Jillian, she talked about the process of building a portfolio as a magazine illustrator as part of a purposeful career path in illustration. “It’s incredibly advantageous to be able to do editorial work when you’re starting out, because it’s one facet of the industry that regularly takes chances on new talent.”

Check out Jillian’s new book and, if you’re in Toronto, join her at the launch of SuperMutant Magic Academy on April 28.

And check out Jillian’s award-winning magazine work at the National Magazine Awards archive.

Best Canadian Essays 2014 features NMA winners

BestCanadianEssays2015The 2014 edition of Best Canadian Essays has been released this month from Tightrope Books, edited by Christopher Doda and Natalie Zina Walschots.

Like previous years, the book of Best Canadian Essays 2014 features many National Magazine Award-winning writers from last year’s gala, as well as earlier years.

Sarah de Leeuw’s incredible story of abnormal childbirth, “Soft Shouldered,” featured in Prism International magazine, received an Honourable Mention in One of a Kind at last year’s gala.
Margo Pfeiff has won four NMA Honourable Mentions since 2001, and her essay “When the Vikings Were in Nunavut” was published in Up Here magazine, which won five Honourable Mentions at last year’s gala.

Dan Tysdal’s fiction piece, “Year Zero,” was published in the multiple NMA-winning magazine, Prairie Fire.

D.W. Wilson has received four awards within the fiction category, with three Honourable Mentions at the 2010 gala and a Silver Award for his piece The Elasticity of Bone in 2008.

Naomi K. Lewis’ essay, The Assault on Science, was published in NMA-winning magazine, Alberta Views. In 2011, she won an Honourable Mention in Health & Medicine for The Urge to Purge (Alberta Views).

Check out the complete list of essays by ordering the 2014 book from Tightrope Books.

Special thanks to Leah Jensen for compiling this post.

Off the Page, with Emily Urquhart

Off the Page is a regular interview series produced by the National Magazine Awards Foundation. In today’s conversation we chat with Emily Urquhart, folklorist, mother and winner at last year’s National Magazine Awards gala. Her incredible memoir on raising a daughter with albinism, “The Meaning of White,” published in The Walruswon Silver in the Personal Journalism category.

Two years after being published in The Walrus, her story is being revisited with her upcoming, debut book Beyond The Pale: Folklore, Family and the Mystery of our Hidden Genes (HarperCollins), which will be in bookstores on March 31.

NMAF: Your background in folklore brought an interesting perspective to understanding human differences in your story “The Meaning of White.” How would you describe the creative process of writing this piece, in which you combined your study of folklore, experience as a mother and passion as a writer into a single story?

Emily: I knew right away that I wanted to document the early stages of my daughter’s life as we went through the process of discovering that she has a rare genetic condition. She was three months old when she was diagnosed with albinism—which is a lack of pigment in the hair, skin and eyes, and causes low vision. I started taking notes shortly after she was born. Back then, it was a way to process and understand what was happening.

I recorded the details of events and encounters, as well as my feelings and observations, on lined recipe cards that I stashed in my purse and around my house. I had a newborn, so sometimes I could only manage a few words, or a list, but as I found more quiet moments, the words became sentences and eventually paragraphs.

At that time I was in the final stages of my PhD in folklore at Memorial University in St. John’s, NL. I’d been studying folk tales, legends, beliefs, rumours, ballads and tall tales — the stories people tell to explain and illustrate their world. I realized that human differences were at the heart of many of these genres. I looked specifically at albinism and discovered worldwide beliefs and stories about this condition. Some were beautiful and I wanted to relate these tales to my own. Some were terrible and I wanted to turn away. Ultimately, exploring both good and evil helped me to come to terms with my own feelings about disability and difference, and what it means to be a parent. I wanted to write about how I came to this conclusion, both through my research and the story of our life.

After a year passed I pitched the idea to John Macfarlane at The Walrus. We worked on the idea together through a series of emails. He accepted the story and gave me far more space than I’d originally asked for. I’ll never forget receiving that message. I was so excited I couldn’t tell my husband, Andrew. I just handed him my phone so he could read it himself.

"The Meaning of White" by Emily Urquhart (The Walrus, April 2013). Illustration by Byron Eggenscwhiler.
“The Meaning of White” by Emily Urquhart (The Walrus, April 2013). Illustration by Byron Eggenschwhiler.

NMAF: Due to be released at the end of March is your debut non-fiction book, Beyond The Pale: Folklore, Family and the Mystery of our Hidden Genes. Your name appears on countless lists for books to look forward to in 2015 (alongside your mother and celebrated novelist, Jane Urquhart). Did you always intend to write a book, or was this something that came after publishing your story in The Walrus? What was the process in turning a 5,600-word memoir into a full-length book?

Emily: By the time I turned in my first draft of “The Meaning of White” I’d cut it by one third and it was still over my allotted 5,000 words. That was in June 2012. The next month we travelled to St. Louis to attend a National Organization of Albinism and Hypopigmentation (NOAH) conference. I’d never seen another person with albinism besides my daughter. Suddenly I was surrounded by hundreds of white-haired people of all ages and everyone had a story to tell. I also learned a lot more about the discrimination and violence against people with albinism in East Africa, particularly Tanzania.

We arrived home and I sat down with my husband and told him two things: I’m going to Tanzania, and I’m going to write a book. Either statement didn’t surprise him. He said, “OK, I’m coming with you.”

The book follows the first three years of my daughter’s life, so the narrative expands on the article published in The Walrus and also picks up where it left off.

NMAF: Your memoir certainly received international attention. It was featured in Reader’s DigestLongform, Byliner and The Dish, and was even translated for an Italian magazine. How has recognition, such as your award from the NMAF, helped to propel your writing career and bring this story to a larger audience?

Emily: The National Magazine Award was a huge thrill. I’d finished writing the book based on the magazine memoir by the time I attended the award ceremony. Getting that kind of recognition at that point in the creative process was extremely validating. Winning a National Magazine award is up there with defending my PhD as one of my major career highlights, and I can only see it helping my career going forward.

When “The Meaning of White” went online I started receiving several emails a day. Some of the messages came from people with albinism, but a lot were from parents who related to the story and shared stories of their own with me. I’ve heard from people across North America, as well as Europe, Africa and Asia. Messages continue to trickle in now, almost two years after the memoir first appeared in The Walrus. My community expanded after publishing this story. I’ve met a lot of great people and received a lot of support. It’s been amazing. I see all of this as having a positive impact on my daughter’s future.

NMAF: You’ve written for many other award-winning Canadian magazines, such as Azure, Flare and The New Quarterly. Did you always have aspirations of being a magazine writer, perhaps during your days as an undergraduate student at the Ryerson School of Journalism? Or was this a career path that came as a result of your passion for writing? 

Emily: Magazines are definitely my first love. When I was a teenager I read an article in Sassy magazine where the journalist wrote about touring with a heavy metal band. I wasn’t into heavy metal, but the writer crafted such an engaging tale that it didn’t matter. The story was fascinating, but so was the journalist’s career choice. She was paid to go on tour with these guys and write about her experience. I wrote a story about this experience in 2009 for The New Quarterly.

My mom is a writer so I understood that you could be a novelist, but I hadn’t seen non-fiction as a career choice until reading that piece.

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing and it was during my two years in the graduate program at the Ryerson School of Journalism that I saw a professional outlet for this passion. I also loved—still love—the act of reporting. It gives me a rush to approach a stranger and then ask them to tell me their story. I’m still nervous before every interview and I still feel a sense of elation afterwards.

NMAF: Undoubtedly, 2015 will be a milestone in your career with the release of your debut book. As a Canadian writer, what else is on your list of things you hope to accomplish? What might readers expect to see from you in the future? Do you want to write more novels, continue with magazine writing or pursue any other creative endeavours?

Emily: I wrote a memoir ten years ago, but shelved it because the material was too difficult for me to revisit at that time. It concerns a period in my mid-twenties following the death of my oldest brother. I went to great lengths to escape my life—a reporting internship amidst the chaos of post 9/11 New York City, a soggy winter in Vancouver, and nine months at an English language newspaper in Kyiv, Ukraine during the lead-up to the Orange Revolution. Some of the material is dark, but revisiting it from a safe distance I can see that there’s also a lot of potential for humour. Transforming the original memoir into a more cohesive narrative is my next project. At the same time I hope to keep writing for magazines. There are a few ideas that have been waiting in the wings while I finished my book and it’s time to set those stories free.

Emily Urquhart is a National Magazine Award-winning writer and author of the forthcoming non-fiction book Beyond the Pale: Folklore, Family and the Mystery of our Hidden Genes. Find out more at emilyurquhart.ca and on Twitter @emilyjurquhart.

This interview was produced by Leah Jensen for the National Magazine Awards Foundation.

To read the full text of “The Meaning of White” and hundreds of other National Magazine Award-winning stories, visit our online archive at magazine-awards.com/archive.

To read other Off the Page interviews–with writers including Sierra Skye Gemma, Heather O’Neill, Arno Kopecky and Byron Eggenscwhiler, who illustrated Emily’s Walrus story–visit blog.magazine-awards.com/off-the-page.