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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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Announcing the 2019 CNFC/Humber Literary Review Creative Nonfiction Contest

The Humber Literary Review and the Creative Nonfiction Collective Society (CNFC) have joined forces to bring you a Canada-wide creative nonfiction contest.

CONTEST CLOSES February 14, 2019 at MIDNIGHT EST.

Winners will be announced in June 2019 at the annual CNFC conference in Vancouver, BC. First prize includes payment of $750 and publication in The Humber Literary Review. 

WHAT: Original previously unpublished creative nonfiction – maximum word length 3,000 words (no minimum). Literary journalismmemoir, the personal or lyric essay—all are welcome.

WHO: The competition is open to Canadian citizens and permanent residents of Canada.

WHEN: The deadline is February 14, 2019 at midnight EST.

FEE: General public $20; CNFC members $15.

Members of the CNFC receive a discount on the entry fee. Find out how to join

HOW: Submissions accepted via our online submission form only. The contest will be judged blind so PLEASE don’t put your name or contact information on the actual submission. If you do not delete identifying information, your submission will be disqualified.

The judge will be Helen Humphreys, keynote speaker at the 2019 CNFC conference.

SUBMIT NOW

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The Humber Literary Review, a literary and arts magazine, publishes two print issues a year (fall/winter & spring/summer). Its pages feature personal essays, short fiction, poetry, artwork, and comics by emerging and established Canadian artists. The HLR is distributed by Magazines Canada and can be found in bookstores and on newsstands across the country. Work from the HLR has been featured in Best Canadian PoetryBest Canadian Essays, and has been nominated for a National Magazine Award. Find out more.

The Creative Nonfiction Collective Society (CNFC) promotes innovation and excellence in Canadian creative nonfiction writing. It  provides its close to 300 members from across Canada with opportunities to enrich professional skills, including support in adapting to new publishing contexts. The CNFC advocates for the genre’s prominence and inclusion in Canada’s educational institutions, cultural agencies, and literary organizations. The 2019 CNFC conference is scheduled for June 14 to 16 in Vancouver at UBC’s Point Grey Campus. Find out more.

 

Looking for some inspiration? Check out these excerpts from past contest winners.

AND THE 2018 CNFC/CARTE BLANCHE CONTEST WINNER IS…

“Descent into Darkness,” by Nancy O’Rourke.

Congratulations to Nancy and to both our runners-up, Emily Kellogg and Julie Paul. The winning piece is now published in the current edition of carte blanche .
Photo of Nancy O'RourkeExperienced sociologist Nancy O’Rourke’s creative nonfiction was recently recognized by Memoir Magazine. “Descent into Darkness” is adapted from a memoir-in-progress that examines processes of forgiveness, focusing on a group of children she befriended in Rwanda in 1992, lost during the genocide, and found 18 years later.

 

‘Creative nonfiction is about looking at reality from an original angle’

Joshua Levy was the winner of the 2017 CNFC/carte blanche creative nonfiction prize and will be one of the readers selecting the 2018 shortlist.

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

‘I find the translation of reality into prose to be deeply satisfying’

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

My piece is about sitting in a park and reflecting on whether to stay broken-up with my girlfriend. On its surface, it has no plot, virtually no dialogue, and no movement (95% of the story takes place with the protagonist sitting mute and motionless on a bench). And yet, the short piece is packed full of everything under the sun: riots, extinction, Nazis, family history, etc.

I think what made the piece stand out is that the story takes the conventional writing maxim of “show, don’t tell” to the extreme. The protagonist actually spends the entire story doing everything but directly reflecting on whether to stay broken up with the girlfriend.

While he seems to be purposely avoiding addressing the central issue of this story, his subconscious is in overdrive attempting to glean insights and draw parallels between his present, past, and desired future. Because the story plays with these relationships in time, the very short piece feels more epic in scope than its humble plot would suggest. This is why I named it “A chaotic jumble of infinite possibility.” Even mundane moments are packed with spectacular possibilities.

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?

Creative nonfiction is about looking at reality from an original angle. The topic is irrelevant; it’s how the story is told. I will be looking for stories that move me, plain and simple. I will also be looking for authors who fully understand what their story is ultimately about, and who make tough editorial choices to protect their truth from the distractions of superfluous facts.

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

I don’t think so. Compared to fiction, creative nonfiction has the pesky added responsibility of not misrepresenting what actually happened. However, CNF gives ample cover for creative solutions.

Many creative nonfiction pieces can also be submitted to the fiction genre. In this sense, it doubles the opportunities for writers to submit their work.

IN ADDITION TO THE CNFC WIN, YOU WERE LONG-LISTED FOR THE CBC NONFICTION PRIZE. HOW HAVE THESE EXPERIENCES CONTRIBUTED TO YOUR LITERARY CAREER?

Until a couple of years ago, I wrote exclusively fiction, and I still employ many of the literary techniques of fiction writing to my nonfiction. The positive reaction to my creative nonfiction has made me realize that there are endless true stories waiting to be told. I find the translation of reality into prose to be deeply satisfying. It has opened up many doors for my literary career.

For example, I have recently written commissioned CNF pieces for literary journals, been asked to tell CNF stories on CBC Radio shows, and been invited to tell CNF stories at live events, festivals, and even for a museum.

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

I love the Paris Review “Art of Nonfiction/Fiction/Poetry” series. They have been conducting extended interviews with the best writers in the world since 1953. It’s a treasure trove.

I also really enjoy the New Yorker’s fiction podcast. Each episode has a famous writer reading another famous writer’s short story and then analyzing what they think makes that piece work so well. I wish that the podcast included nonfiction writers, too, but the mechanics of great writing transcend genre.

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

You won’t win any competition that you don’t enter. So, enter! Also, don’t be discouraged if you don’t win. My winning entry was rejected by other competitions and magazines before it won a grand prize. The final ingredient to success is, unfortunately, luck.

The solution? Keep submitting! Each time you submit your story somewhere, you’re increasing your chances of getting lucky. Your talent should eventually get noticed — but only if you’re willing to play the numbers game and absorb a pile of rejections. Stay strong.

Joshua Levy is a storyteller. He and his wife split their time between Montreal, Toronto, and Lisbon, Portugal.

CNF tip of the week: lyric essay

Lyric Essay

A lyric essay uses the techniques of poetry, including compression, sound play, white space, formal innovation, non-linear narrative, and juxtaposition to explore an idea or an experience in the writer’s life. Lyric essays may be structured as collage or mosaic, as braided or woven narratives, as “flash” snapshots, or wedged within the carapace of other forms such as instruction manuals, rejection letters, lists, or maps, and they may also make use of images. They often rely on research in addition to personal experience. Typically, they make greater demands on the reader than other types of creative nonfiction, so for some, they are an acquired taste—but those who love them can’t get enough!

A few examples

Brenda Miller: “36 Holes.”

Nicole Breit: “Spectrum.” (CNFC award winner!)

Eula Biss: “The Pain Scale.”

Judith Kitchen: “On the Farm.”

To learn more

http://benmarcus.com/writing/on-the-lyric-essay/

https://www.hws.edu/senecareview/dagata_le.pdf

http://theessayreview.org/bodies-of-text-on-the-lyric-essay/

http://www.maryheathernoble.com/on-the-lyric-essay/

http://brevitymag.com/craft-essays/the-shared-space/

https://harpers.org/archive/2016/05/note-to-self/

http://www.portyonderpress.com/the-lyric-essay.html