Announcing the 2019 CNFC/Humber Literary Review contest long list!

Humber Literary Review and the Creative Nonfiction Collective Society are pleased to announce the long list for our 2019 creative nonfiction contest:

“How to Become a Woman Carpenter,” by Marcia Braundy

“Foreign Object,” by Deborah Elderhorst

“All the Cake I Never Ate,” by Sierra Skye Gemma

“Metamorphosis of My Mother,” by Carole Harmon

“Algebra Lessons,” by sonja larsen

“High Tension Line,” by Lina Lau

“Leaving Saskatchewan,” by Melanie Mah

“Fools Rush In,” by Julie Paul

“Surfing, Not Drowning,” by Shannon Rayne

“The Burn Unit,” by Alyson Soko

Congratulations to everyone who made the long list and a big thank you to all who participated!

Thank you also to competition readers: Nancy O’Rourke, Eufemia Fantetti, Christopher Moore, and Kirsten Fogg.

Watch for the short list announcement in May.

The winner of the contest, as selected by this year’s judge, Helen Humphreys, will be announced at the 15th Annual CNFC Conference, held in Vancouver from June 14 to 16, 2019.


‘Give yourself the opportunity to find out how well you write’

Photo of Nancy O'Rourke

Nancy O’Rourke was the winner of the 2018 CNFC creative nonfiction prize and will be one of the readers selecting the 2019 shortlist.

Below she offers insight into the power of the CNF genre and words of encouragement for those hoping to submit this year.

“The story need not be life shattering, or a grand tale, but it does need to remind the reader of something understood at a gut level.”

CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR WINNING PIECE AND WHAT YOU THINK MADE IT STAND OUT?

My piece focused on an ordinary event – a visit to a museum in a foreign country – and drew attention, primarily, to a single object as a means to highlight an atrocity of considerable magnitude. The story, “Descent into Darkness,” involved a visit to the genocide memorial, located in Kigali, Rwanda, which I visited with a group of young Rwandans in 2010. What stood out for me, with respect to both the genocide and the memorial, was the use of the machete as an implement of slaughter: more than 800,000 people brutally massacred within 100 days. But even more so, and underlying the piece, was the horror re-experienced by those accompanying me, young people who had survived the genocide as children.

Betsy Warland, the judge for the 2018 competition, stated that what stood out for her about the story was that it carried her on a journey to someplace new and little known. She said that the story accomplished this by taking a microscopic view of something, the machete, to reveal the macro-level impact it had on society.

WHAT MAKES A CREATIVE NONFICTION PIECE STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD, AND WHAT WILL YOU BE LOOKING FOR WHEN YOU READ THIS YEAR’S SUBMISSIONS?

What moves me with respect to creative nonfiction is how a simple truth, sometimes an ordinary or amusing event, can be told in such a way as to evoke a deep inner knowing, a shuddering of insight into the human psyche. The story need not be life shattering, or a grand tale, but it does need to remind the reader of something understood at a gut level.

The reader does not need to have direct experience of the narrative but the way the story is told should allow the reader to relate in a fundamental way. What I will be looking for is a strong voice, a story that pulls me in, begs to be read. A tale that beckons an emotional response and is relatable. I also admire narratives that utilize simple imagery, sensory details and metaphor to show that which may not be commonly recognized but when illustrated as such is well understood.

ARE THERE DIFFERENT CONSIDERATIONS WHEN SUBMITTING TO A CNF CONTEST VERSUS THOSE CENTRED AROUND OTHER GENRES?

Not that I’m aware of. As a new writer, creative nonfiction is the only genre I’ve undertaken to date. I would imagine the only difference is the “nonfiction” aspect. Writers must stick to the facts, tell their truth, but then not unlike fiction and poetry, the creative aspect is what will make the piece remarkable. The only thing I would encourage contestants to consider is how their story will stand out. Many stories can be told about the same topic, the same truth, but how the story unfolds, the surprises it brings, the twists and turns is what will make it extraordinary. Don’t simply write about “what happened.” As with poetry and fiction, make use of creative techniques.

IN ADDITION TO THE CNFC WIN, YOUR STORY “ARRIVING IN TOMBE” WAS A FINALIST FOR THE WOW WOMEN IN WRITING CONTEST. HOW HAVE THESE EXPERIENCES CONTRIBUTED TO YOUR LITERARY CAREER?

The recognition has given me a measure of confidence. Writing is such an isolating experience. Like most writers, I am driven to write. The story pulls me along, it insists on being told. But for the most part, there is very little feedback or acknowledgement with respect to being on track, or of having something of interest to offer. I often feel like I write in a vacuum, secluding myself for hours and sometimes days on end. Receiving recognition is a reminder that the decision to write was not entirely foolhardy.

As for how this acknowledgement has contributed to my career, time will tell. For me, these are still early days. What it has given me is additional motivation to continue writing. There is no turning back now.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE ONLINE WRITING CRAFT WEBSITE/RESOURCE?

There are so many, but I will mention the two I refer to most often. Medium is a valuable online writing website, as it offers everything from good literature to constructive writing instruction. Additionally, Medium is a website that allows authors to publish their own work – both previously published and unpublished, allowing for a wider audience. After my winning story with CNFC was published in carte blanche, I had it published on the Medium website.

The other website I often visit is Narrative. I love Narrative because it has so much to offer, in terms of good literature: fiction, poetry, nonfiction by new and upcoming authors as well as those long established. Aside from current issues, their archives are impressive, as are author interviews and stories of the week. Without fail the work is outstanding and provides excellent reading for a writer keen to learn.

WHAT PIECE OF ADVICE CAN YOU OFFER NEW AND EMERGING WRITERS WANTING TO ENTER THIS YEAR’S CONTEST?

Take the plunge. It is very good practice. I cannot tell you how many contests I’ve applied to, submitted my work. I think I made a friend of rejection, especially after I’d heard that Gertrude Stein submitted poems for 22 years before she ever had one accepted. That was an eye opener.

When I learned that my story had been long-listed (a first), I was pleasantly surprised and grateful. Finally, one of my stories had been recognized. When I was told the story had been short-listed, I was bewildered, over-the-moon happy and excited. At the CNFC conference, when it was announced I had won the contest, I was utterly shocked. The other two authors were more established than me and were already published. I was grateful simply to have my work considered among them. My advice is to give yourself
the opportunity to find out how well you write. Give yourself the chance to win.


A sociologist specializing in human rights, Nancy O’Rourke has extensive field experience, primarily in Africa. Now, as an emerging writer studying Creative Writing at the University of Toronto, she is writing a memoir that examines processes of forgiveness, focusing on a group of children she befriended in Rwanda in 1992, lost during the genocide, and found later in 2010.

Excerpts from past CNFC contest winners

2018 winner: “Descent into Darkness,” by Nancy O’Rourke

Machetes. The weapons of choice. Crude weapons, many of them with blades stained dark by the blood of victims. Machetes used viciously in the streets, in markets, schools, and churches. Machetes used to maim and slaughter men, women and children. Machetes used by farmers, shop owners, teachers, and priests. Machetes used to kill strangers, neighbours and sometimes family members.

*

I’d only been reunited with the children of Kimihurura for two weeks. Back in Rwanda on a United Nations contract, I was recognized one day by a man on the street. A man who remembered me from 18 years earlier as the white woman, the Muzungu, who played with children. Back then, I spent several months in the country visiting my then partner, who worked on a contract with the Rwanda Development Bank. With a love of children, but without any of my own, I was happy to join in with a group of neighbourhood kids, playing soccer in the afternoons, with a ball made up of wound-up plastic garbage bags. Those kids were something else. They strung up little lights around my heart.

Read more


2017 winner: “A Chaotic Jumble of Infinite Possibility,” by Joshua Levy

The bathroom was covered with graffiti.

For example:

The only things worth fighting for in this world are LOVE & FRIENDSHIP was written above the toilet. Immediately underneath: Wrong. You should never need to fight for love. And below, a third comment – this one in red: YOU are the fucking wrong one here, buddy. Love is a battlefield.

I washed my hands and checked my beard for signs of grey.

Outside, Toronto was only half awake. Fashionably dressed mannequins judged my plaid shirt and naturally faded blue jeans from behind glossy windows. In his car seat, a toddler pointed a gun at my head while we both patiently waited for the traffic lights to change colour.

Read more


2016 winner: “Spectrum,” by Nicole Breit

RED

The wild strawberry flush across my chest, her cheeks. An illicit kiss in her basement suite.
Five years in, we start counting: two eggs bled away casually every month.
Then, six months of flirting, negotiations. Two hopeful women. A captivated man.
Cosmopolitans. Our red leather couch under mistletoe and holly berries. Jazzberry cartoon hearts radiate around all of us.
“Please don’t break our hearts,” I say.
“I won’t.” His scarlet cape promise. The last time we see him.
A year and a half later the rouged Costco employee, white hair rolled into a hairnet, hands out samples. Lights up, says “Such a beautiful baby!” and asks again, “But really, who’s the real mother?”
My girlfriend — the birth mother — looks down at her kid-size cup of tickle-me-pink sauce and says flatly, “This tastes terrible.”

Read more


2015 winner: “Nana Technology,” by Kirsten Fogg

A faded picture of me and my little brother pops up whenever I turn on my phone. Here, encased magically in modern technology that my brother never knew, is the past that we were. It’s his third birthday, we’re sitting on top of the picnic table in striped bathing suits. I’m holding a patterned punching ball in my lap and his arms are reaching out, as if towards the future, but I know what he really wants is the chocolate cake mum’s carrying towards us.

Even today, I stare at the smart phone in my hand and marvel at its ability to link the past with the present, to take bits and pieces of me, my body and my voice, tear them apart, send them hurtling through the air and reconstruct them all on the other side of the world. In Skype milliseconds, I jump from Australia to Canada, from midnight to Manitoba morning, from today to yesterday, from my home office to Nana’s funeral. If only I could reconstruct my brother in the same way.

Read more


2014 winner: “On Good Days,” by B.A. Markus

On good days I’m Gertrude Stein

On bad days I’m Mordecai Richler.

On good days it is the same sun that shone on Gertrude Stein that shines on me. On good days I fling open my shutters and shout, “Quelle belle journée!” and with my basket on my arm I wander as Alice B. Toklas did, from shop to shop in a delightful quartier.

In my delightful quartier I buy 200 grams of goat cheese from les Îles de la Madeleine. Artisanal cheese made from raw milk. Milk from goats who eat the grass that grows on the slopes of those northeastern shores. Grass cured by the Atlantic’s salty breezes. Cheese that tastes of the sea. This is what goes into my basket. On good days I hesitate between not one, not two, but four crusty white baguettes, all baked locally and according to the highest culinary standards. Just like on la rive gauche. Le pain, le pain, surtout le pain.

Read more