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

Special thanks to Krista Robinson for contributing to this article. 

Best Practices: How to leverage your National Magazine Award


Did you win a National Magazine Award at this year’s gala? Were you a nominee? If so, we’ve created a guide just for you.

The NMAF is pleased to introduce the first volume of our Best Practices Guide. This guide is an extensive resource for how National Magazine Award winners and nominees can best leverage their recognition of magazine excellence.

The guide provides detailed promotional strategies, insightful personal testimony and plenty of other useful resources to help award winners and nominees best leverage and optimize their National Magazine Awards.

Click here to download the full PDF version.

Winners’ Circle Webinar

On November 25, 2015, the National Magazine Awards Foundation presented Winners’ Circle, an exclusive learning and networking event. More than 70 NMA winners and nominees gathered at The Spoke Club in Toronto’s King West district to meet, mingle, network and learn about how a National Magazine Award can be a boost to your career.

In addition to our Best Practices Guide, the NMAF has created this webinar to uncover other effective ways to leverage and optimize your National Magazine Award win. In a discussion led by D.B. Scott, three NMA winners–Penny Caldwell of Cottage Life, Matthew Blackett of Spacing and Katherine Laidlaw of The Walrus–share their best practices on how they leveraged their recognition of winning a National Magazine Award.

Please stay tuned for when we announce our next Winners’ Circle event.

Download this year’s National Magazine Awards Winners’ Seals here.

Watch other videos on our YouTube channel here.

Portrait Series: National Magazine Awards Storytellers

The National Magazine Awards Foundation is all about celebrating Canadian creators and storytellers. Our mission is to recognize excellence in magazine writing and art production.

At the NMAF we tip our hats to the storytellers who skilfully fill the pages of Canadian magazines. To highlight the hard work and meticulous crafting that goes into creating an NMA-winning piece we’ve produced a portrait series of this year’s winners and nominees, discussing what makes for great storytelling.


To learn more about the award winners and nominees from the 2016 awards program, please visit You can also follow this photo series on Instagram (nationalmagazineawards) or by following us on Twitter @MagAwards.

Credit: photos taken by Steve Goetz; interviews conducted by Melissa Myers.

Full Coverage of the 39th National Magazine Awards
Complete articles of all nominees and winners
Complete list [pdf] of all nominees and winners
Full text of Kim Pittaway’s speech
Smash Reel
Thank You to our Sponsors & Partners
The Judges
Award Seals

Kim Pittaway’s impassioned Outstanding Achievement Award acceptance speech

At Friday evening’s 39th annual National Magazine Awards gala [read complete recap], Kim Pittaway received the Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement, acknowledging her long and distinguished career as a writer, editor, teacher and mentor in Canadian magazine journalism. Read Kim’s complete NMA bio.

On stage at Friday’s gala, Kim inspired a standing ovation from the audience of over 400 guests in attendance, affirming not only the Foundation’s decision to present Kim with this award but also the inspiration that Kim has been to so many of us in Canadian magazines.

Below, with her permission, we present Kim’s acceptance speech from the 39th annual National Magazine Awards gala.

Kim Pittaway: Thank you Beth, Rona and my other colleagues who nominated me, the Board of the NMAF and the friends and colleagues who have congratulated me following the announcement of this honour. I feel obliged to note that Joyce Byrne, President of the Foundation, called me with the news on April 1—April Fool’s Day. I chose to ignore that.

This is indeed an honour, especially as I review the list of those who have preceded me to the podium for the Outstanding Achievement Award. I’d like to begin my remarks by quoting one of them.

“It’s simple: We need each other.”

That’s how the late Catherine Keachie, then-president of the Canadian Magazine Publishers Association, described what she called the magazine publishing ecosystem. It was the early 1990s, and I was a 20-something writer, hired to help write position papers on split-run publishing, GST on magazines, the environmental impact of magazine publishing and more. It was a crash course in how the industry worked and Catherine was my instructor. Our best lines were crafted in conversation as she held forth passionately on why magazines were central to our national culture.

Catherine knew that it was essential for the industry to work together. The major publishers needed the cultural legitimacy of the small and literary publishers. The smalls and literaries needed the financial and political heft of the bigs. Sales and circulation teams needed strong editorial content to sell. Editorial teams needed the business support of those sales and circ teams to find their audiences and get their stories into readers’ homes and hands.

Magazines brands—on the page, online and in whatever other formats they may appear—are the products of many hands, an exciting mix of journalism, storytelling, sales, promotion, marketing and analysis, all geared to telling stories that will engage, delight and—at its best—challenge our audiences. And while all of us in this industry have a role in enabling that storytelling, at its centre are the creators: the writers, photographers and artists whose words and pictures speak to us, touch us, transform us, who tell our Canadian stories, celebrate our Canadian heroes and illuminate our Canadian perspectives—stories that are critical to our uniquely Canadian culture.

I can think of no other organization that I would rather be honoured by than the National Magazine Awards Foundation precisely because of the NMAF’s long focus on creators. The work I am proudest of hinges on creation: my own work as a writer, and my efforts to facilitate the creative work of others as an educator and editor.

After the announcement about this award was made, I joked with a colleague that the key to being nominated was to move away from Toronto—after a few years away, people forget what it was about you that irritated them. What I’m about to say may serve as a reminder.

Publishers and brands will inevitably tally up “their” wins tonight—a logical impulse, given that they provide the pages and the infrastructure to enable the sharing of those stories. But let’s be absolutely clear about why we are here tonight. We are here to celebrate the creators. We may call these the Mag Awards, but they are in fact the creators’ awards. Without the words, without the pictures, without the writers, photographers and illustrators, we’re not in the magazine business—we’re just peddling flyers. And we all know that as an industry where fees to writers, photographers and artists have not shifted appreciably in decades, a night that celebrates those creators, that thanks them for their efforts is, frankly, the least that we as an industry can do.

It’s simple, as Catherine told me. We need each other. And as we contemplate the way forward for our industry—and for this awards program—we would do well to remember that.

Thank you.

Kim Pittaway’s essay from the 39th NMA Gala Program

39th National Magazine Awards
Complete Gala Recap
Read Kim’s complete NMA bio
Press release: English | Français
Complete list [pdf] of all winners
Twitter highlights: @MagAwards | #NMA16
The Judges
Award Seals
La version française:

Photos by Steven Goetz.

Announcing the Winners of the 39th National Magazine Awards

It was a night to remember! The NMAF has announced the winners of the 39th annual National Magazine Awards, concluding an exciting evening celebrating Canadian creators at the Arcadian Court in Toronto–hosted by author Chris Turner–with more than 400 of Canada’s best writers, artists, editors, art directors, publishers and others in attendance. The NMAF presented Gold, Silver and Honourable Mention awards in 39 categories. More than $50,000 in cash prizes has been awarded to Canadian creators.

La version française:
Press release: English | Français
Complete list [pdf] of all winners
Twitter highlights: @MagAwards | #NMA16
The Judges
Award Seals
Read the complete articles of all nominees and winners


Magazine of the Year


Jennifer Varkonyi, Publisher
Haley Cullingham, Daniel Viola, Editors
Anna Minzhulina, Art Director
Published by Maisonneuve Magazine Association

Maisonneuve fulfills its bold mandate of “banishing boring,” clearly striving to engage, inform and inspire. From its refreshing and imaginative art direction to its passionate editorial voice, the magazine feels like its constantly evolving, yet at the same time seems to connect with a sense of familiarity with its readers.
National Magazine Awards jury

Best Magazine Brand

Best New Magazine Writer
Sponsored by Reader’s Digest Foundation
Desmond Cole
The Skin I’m In
Toronto Life

Best New Magazine Photographer
Marta Iwanek
The Maidan

Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement
Kim Pittaway

Renowned journalist, editor, teacher and mentor Kim Pittaway is the recipient of the 2016 Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement, recognizing career excellence and service to the Canadian magazine industry. For her enduring dedication to the Canadian magazine industry, for the principled leadership and mentorship that has impacted the careers of many, and for her unfailing support of magazine creators, the NMAF is proud to recognize Kim Pittaway with its highest individual honour.



Best Single Issue
Sponsored by Rolland Enterprises, Inc


John Intini, Editor
Brianne Collins, Art Director
What it’s like to be Connor McDavid right now

 Best Magazine Cover
Sponsored by Ontario Media Development Corporation
Stephen Gregory, Art Director
Mark Stevenson, Editor
Hurry Up and Die, Already

  Words & Pictures
Sponsored by CDS Global
Our Ever-Changing Moods
The Walrus
Jillian Tamaki
, Author & Illustrator
Jonathan Kay
, Editor
Brian Morgan
, Art Director

Single Service Article Package
VÉGÉ Inspiré
Brigitte Coutu, Editor
Caroline Blanchette, Art Director
Mélanie Roy, Émilie Folie-Boivin, Sarah Lalanne, Authors
David de Stefano, Photographer
Caroline Nault, Heidi Bronstein, Contributors

David Chau, Creator
Craig Battle, Editor

“The most important mission of the National Magazine Awards is to celebrate Canadian creators. And tonight we have reached a new milestone in recognizing and rewarding excellence to more than 300 nominees and 70 gold and silver winners at the 39th annual NMA gala. The National Magazine Awards are one of Canada’s most important cultural institutions, and even as we celebrate our 39th year we are looking forward to our 40th anniversary and beyond.”
Joyce Byrne, president of the NMAF


Arts & Entertainment
Drew Nelles
The Walrus

Best Short Feature
Hon Lu
Spirited Away
Toronto Life

Valérie Borde
Le virage vert de la Chine

Sponsored by Impresa Communications Ltd.
Anne Kingston
Thank you, Margaret Wente, for exposing rape culture

Editorial Package
Maclean’s Staff
The Space Issue

Lisa Gregoire
Breathing Holes
Eighteen Bridges

Presented by Ontario Arts Council
Russell Smith
CNQ: Canadian Notes & Queries

Health & Medicine
Alison Motluk
Worth the Risk

Jacob Pacey
Your Daily Life As A Failing Comedian
The Feathertale Review

Investigative Reporting
Virgil Grandfield
The Cage
Eighteen Bridges

One of a Kind
Richard Kelly Kemick
Playing God
The Walrus

Personal Journalism
Sasha Chapin
Dreams Are Boring

David McGimpsey
The High Road

Politics & Public Interest
Alec Castonguay
Les partis politiques vous espionnent

Marci McDonald
The Fixer
Toronto Life

Science, Technology & Environment
Philip Preville
It’s A Hard Knock Life
Cottage Life

Service: Family, Health & Personal Finance
Sarah Liss
The Shame Game

Service: Lifestyle
Andrew Braithwaite
Canada’s Best New Restaurants 2015
Air Canada enRoute

Carissa Halton
A Different Kind of Simakanis
Eighteen Bridges

Sports & Recreation
Jonathan Trudel
Laurent chez les grands

Isabelle Grégoire
Le vrai train du nord


Art Direction of an Entire Issue
Sponsored by TC Transcontinental Printing
Domenic Macri
Report on Business

Art Direction of a Single Article
Sponsored by The Office of Gilbert Li
Marcey Andrews
The Future of Everything
New Trail

For my 10th birthday…
ELLE Canada
Owen Bruce
, Photographer
Brittany Eccles
, Art Director
Juliana Schiavinatto
, Stylist
Contributors: Denis Desro, Liisa Winkler, Stella Winkler, Juliann H, Hannah D, Sam F, Judith Maria Bradley, Susana Hong, Simone Otis, Suzanne Campos

Homes & Gardens
Martin Tessler, Photographer
Paul Roelofs, Art Director
Nicole Sjöstedt, Stylist
The Comeback
Western Living

Sponsored by Very Good Studios
Adrian Forrow
My Prescribed Life
The Walrus

Photojournalism & Photo Essay
Sponsored by CNW Group
Marta Iwanek
The Maidan

Portrait Photography

Raina + Wilson
Future Perfect
Globe Style Advisor

Spot Illustration
Jay Dart
The Things He Carried
Globe Style Advisor

Still-Life Photography
Hudson Hayden
Butcher Crop
Globe Style Advisor

To view the complete list of Gold and Silver winners and Honourable Mentions, visit

More than 400 members of the Canadian magazine industry—publishers, editors, art directors, writers, photographers, illustrators, circulators and more—joined esteemed sponsors and other guests at the Arcadian Court for the 39th annual National Magazine Awards gala, presented by CDS Global.

Special guests were in abundance at the 39th annual National Magazine Awards. Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly delivered a tribute via video to the evening’s nominees and winners, acknowledging the important role of Canadian magazine creators in nurturing Canadian culture. Member of Parliament Adam Vaughan of Toronto attended and delivered a welcome message to the guests, celebrating the nominees in attendance. And Member of Parliament and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, radio host Gillian Deacon and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi each delivered messages via video congratulating the nominees and winners.

The NMAF was also honoured to welcome Carolyn Vesely of Ontario Arts Council, who presented the award for Fiction; Matt Hilliard-Forde of the Ontario Media Development Corporation, who presented the award for Magazine Covers; Natalie Turvey of the Canadian Journalism Foundation, who presented the award for Investigative Reporting; Karen Luttrell of the Professional Writers Association of Canada, who presented the award for Society; and Derek Finkle of the Canadian Writers Group, who presented the award for One of a Kind.

This year, 184 Canadian magazines from coast to coast to coast—English and French, print and digital—entered the best of their editorial and design to the National Magazine Awards, submitting the work of more than 3000 writers, editors, photographers, illustrators, art directors and other creators. The NMAF’s 232 volunteer judges nominated a total of 309 submissions from 84 different Canadian magazines for awards in 39 written, visual, integrated and special categories. A record 12 magazines were nominated for the first time. More than $50,000 in cash prizes has been awarded to Canadian creators.

The NMAF gratefully acknowledges the support its sponsors, partners and suppliers.


The NMAF (and all guests of the National Magazine Awards) are grateful to Chris Turner for his wonderful performance tonight as host of the 39th National Magazine Awards!

Chris Turner is the author of five books and one of Canada’s leading writers and speakers on energy and sustainability. His bestsellers The Leap and The Geography of Hope were both National Business Book Award finalists. His most recent book is How to Breathe Underwater, an essay collection, which won the W.O. Mitchell City of Calgary Book Prize. His feature writing has won nine National Magazine Awards.

Check back next week for photos, videos and more from the 39th annual National Magazine Awards gala.

The National Magazine Awards Foundation is a bilingual, not-for-profit institution whose mission is to foster, recognize and promote editorial excellence in Canadian publications. The annual awards are presented in June and are followed by a year-long national publicity effort and professional development opportunities. Our mandate is to support Canadian creators. Since 1977, the NMAF has helped build and sustain the careers of thousands of creators—the writers, editors, creative directors and visual artists who contribute to the vast ecosystem of Canadian culture. On June 9, the NMAF presented the first annual Digital Publishing Awards recognizing excellence in Canadian digital publications. Discover more at

See you next year!

Off the Page, with Dan Rubinstein

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 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

Off the Page, with Genna Buck

Genna Buck (photo by Jessica Darmanin)

This week on Off the Page, our interview series with National Magazine Award winners, we chat with journalist Genna Buck, who won the 2015 NMA prize for Best New Magazine Writer, given annually to an emerging journalist whose early work in Canadian magazines shows the highest degree of craft and promise. 

NMAF: Congratulations on the award for Best New Magazine Writer. Your winning piece, “Finding a Place,” found a place in Maisonneuve. Can you talk a bit about how you discovered Savannah’s story, and why you decided to pursue it?

Genna Buck: I was a super green reporter on a summer contract at the Telegraph-Journal in Saint John, N.B., assigned to cover the provincial court. This was 2012. Savannah, a young woman with severe autism, was brought in for a hearing — I tell that story in the piece — and it was memorable because a representative from Social Development was supposed to be there and had failed to show. The normally very taciturn judge got a bit miffed about it, so I wrote it up for the paper.

Read Genna Buck's award-winning story in the Winter 2014 issue of Maisonneuve
Read Genna Buck’s award-winning story in the Winter 2014 issue of Maisonneuve

The next day I got this heartbreaking phone call from Joy Sullivan, Savannah’s foster mother of many years, who had no idea that her kid was in this situation. She’d been looking for answers but had gotten discouraged by that point.

I learned that this young person who was totally alone, who had no one to speak for her, who was a child of the system, actually had people. She had a family who loved her. And an institution that was supposed to be all about supporting families to stay together had dropped the ball in a really profound way. So the story had a narrative element — the arc of Savannah’s life — and a public-interest element.

I’d seen similar cases, sadly, many times in my short period covering the court, but I’d never found a way into the story until Joy reached out and let me into her life and opened up.

It was extremely brave and I will always be thankful to her for that.

NMAF: In your award-winning piece, readers are given a portrait of woman with autism who quotes Shrek, who crouches by a puddles and pretends to drown a doll, who is bounced from one “holding tank” to another. While you were writing the piece, what were the challenges you faced in trying to accurately represent Savannah’s story to your readers?

Genna Buck: There are a lot of things I would do differently if I could do this story over. I made the choice to share most of Savannah’s life story through Joy’s voice, which wasn’t ideal. I felt very uneasy about questioning Savannah because I didn’t know her well, and I wasn’t totally sure that I would be able to adequately inform her about what I was doing so that she could give her true consent.

I wanted to follow legal and ethical rules to the letter, because when I was doing the initial reporting, it was for my Master’s project, and I didn’t know if it would ever be published.

For practical reasons, I wasn’t able to visit Savannah in hospital. And I really, really did not want to make her think that I had the power to change her situation.

But if I were to do this again, I would spend extensive time with her and get everything from her perspective. It’s important that marginalized people are given a chance to express agency and speak on their own behalf. And that element was lacking in my piece.

There were also just the regular struggles to piece together things that had happened ten or twenty years before — names, places, dates, government agencies, all that.

“[Genna Buck] exhibits patience and grit in this magnificent profile. ‘Finding a Place’ has everything a good magazine piece needs: a gripping story, strong research and poignant writing that is balanced and sensitive.”
National Magazine Awards jury

NMAF: Your piece ends on an ambiguous note — with Savannah still in a psychiatric hospital. What was the impact (if any) of bringing Savannah’s story to the public’s attention? More generally, what do you hope to accomplish with your investigative reporting?

Genna Buck: Well, someone offered to mail a copy of the magazine to the relevant government minister in New Brunswick, so I know that the story got at least a few people fired up over the serious lack of housing and support for people with high needs in that province and across the country.

But to my knowledge — as of a couple of months ago — Savannah’s still in hospital to this day. She’s not sick. And she’s isolated from her family and friends and people who love her. So not a whole lot has changed.

Most of the momentum around this issue in New Brunswick seems to be about making what are essentially institutional environments, hospitals and group homes, nicer and bigger and better-equipped. There’s a real belief, and a stated goal, of supporting people to have a meaningful life in the community. But making that happen for someone like Savannah requires a huge investment of money and expertise.

What do I want to achieve? Well I don’t necessarily want to change the world, that’s not my role and it’s not in my power. My goal is always to get readers to imagine themselves in another person’s situation, to see their lives in a new and complex and visceral way.

Once you help cultivate genuine, sincere empathy, change flows from that. At least you hope so.

Genna Buck accepts the award for Best New Magazine Writer at the 2015 National Magazine Awards gala.
Genna Buck accepts the award for Best New Magazine Writer at the 2015 National Magazine Awards gala.


NMAF: Professionally and personally, what the impact of winning a National Magazine Award? How do you see your career as a magazine writer continuing to develop?

Genna Buck: Professionally, it has opened so many doors. I think it has put me on the path to being able to support myself as a freelancer, if that’s something I eventually choose to pursue (I might, one day; it’s TBD).

It has also opened editors’ ears and made them more willing to take a chance on a pitch from me that is a bit out-there or weird. I have a forthcoming piece in Flare about thrift shopping, and I’m working on a long form project that incorporates elements of Canadian history, women’s history and the story of how my own great-great-grandmother came to Canada.

Personally, it’s a big motivator. I think everyone in this business has moments where they’re just like, “WHAT WAS I THINKING? I CAN’T DO THIS. THIS WAS A BAD IDEA!” And I’m able to tell myself, “You can do this. Look, you have done it!”

I’m an editor full-time now, and I’m currently working as part of a team to make another MJ grad’s thesis into an investigative series. So what goes around comes around!

National Magazine Award winners Genna Buck and Richard Greene at Winners' Circle, a special networking event for NMA nominees and winners, on Nov 25
National Magazine Award winners Genna Buck and Richard Greene at Winners’ Circle, a special networking event for NMA nominees and winners, on Nov 25

NMAF: What advice would you give to emerging magazine writers?

Genna Buck: I know this is lame, but seriously, be manic about organization. Keep all your notes in one place. Scan and upload your documents. Label all your audio and store it in one place. Don’t shove a bunch of super important loose pieces of paper into a bunch of different folders and binders and notebooks and what-have-you. I learned that the hard way. Evernote is your friend!

Genna Buck is a National Magazine Award-winning journalist, the recipient of 2015 NMA award for Best New Magazine Writer, and a section editor for Views at Metro News Canada. She earned her Masters of Journalism at Carlton University, in 2013. Her work has appeared in Maclean’s Magazine, The Globe and Mail, Maisonneuve Magazine, and other publications. Genna’s Twitter handle is @genna_buck.

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

The 2016 National Magazine Award for Best New Magazine Writer is open to any emerging Canadian journalist or creative non-fiction writer whose first feature-length magazine story (1000+ words) was published in a Canadian magazine (including university/college magazines) during 2015. Submissions must be accompanied by a letter of reference from a teacher, mentor, editor or colleague. The submission fee is $25. Three finalists will be named and the winner receives a cash prize of $500. The deadline for entries is January 15, 2016. Enter at

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