‘More than anything I want to be immersed in story’

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Nicole Breit, winner of the 2016 CNFC/carte blanche contest, offers tips and words of encouragement for this year’s contestants

Can you tell us about your winning piece and why you think it was selected?

When I submitted “Spectrum” I very much took the carte blanche tagline— “there’s more than one way to tell a story” — to heart.

I wrote the piece in a course about a unique hybrid form called the lyric essay. I was intrigued by the versatility and possibility of the form — the place where poetry meets the personal essay. It allowed me to explore the anxieties, joys, challenges, and small victories that go along with being a rainbow family in a way that wasn’t strictly chronological. Instead the story is told through a series of memories and images organized by colour.

As for why it was selected, when Deni Béchard presented me with the award, he talked about how “Spectrum” addressed an important contemporary issue, the emotional sensitivity in the work, and its stylistic innovation.

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?

There are so many possibilities, no one formula for what makes a stand-out piece of writing. But if I had to try to distill it, I think exceptional writing comes down to the writer’s control over the piece. The work delivers maximum impact with every craft choice, from the choice of form, to command of language, and an unwavering attention to what the reader needs, every step of the way.

In terms of contest submissions, I’d love to read experimental pieces — work that stretches and pulls and challenges the genre in some way. I’m very open in terms of subject or style. Send in your humour and travel writing, your literary journalism, your flash nonfiction. More than anything I want to be immersed in story, to lose myself in the world of the writer.

Are there different considerations when submitting to a CNF contest versus those centred around other genres? 

I think the relative newness of the genre is a great advantage for contestants. If you take a risk, try something new, you have a good chance of capturing a judge’s attention.

I imagine there is also less competition with CNF contests than poetry contests. Poetry contests often accept multiple poems per entry. With CNF your chances of being shortlisted or winning are much higher than if you submit to a poetry contest based on entry volume alone.

I’ve also heard from literary magazine editors that they receive fewer entries to contests than regular submissions to their publications, further increasing your odds for getting noticed when submitting to a CNF contest.

In addition to the CNFC win, you were also awarded the 2016 Room Magazine award for creative nonfiction. How have these experiences contributed to your literary career?

When I started submitting to contests, my ultimate goal was the cover letter I’d one day write, when I was ready to approach an editor about publishing a collection of my work. The CNFC/carte blanche and Room awards are accomplishments I’m very proud to include on my CV, and I hope will bring me closer to my bigger goal.

This year my world has opened up thanks to these contests. I’ve received invitations to read, which have allowed me to connect with other writers and readers in a very immediate way. Reading to an audience has permitted me to see in someone’s face how a line hits them. People sometimes approach me to tell me a bit about their own lives, and why something I’ve written has moved them. This wonderful intersection of heart and imagination has deepened my love for writing and why I think it’s so important.

What piece of advice can you offer new and emerging writers wanting to enter this year’s contest?

I wholeheartedly encourage new and emerging writers to please share their work. Your stories matter. More than one wise soul has said that without stories, we have no identity, no historical record — we don’t exist.

Moreover, the practice of submitting to contests/publications is an important part of the writing life, and essential for the work ahead. I also believe there is immense room for a multitude of diverse, as of yet, unheard voices. Enter. Don’t be shy!

Nicole Breit is a poet, essayist and all around word nerd based in Vancouver. Check out her website.

Submit to the CNFC/carte blanche contest by November 30 at midnight EST.

Announcing the 4th annual CNFC / carte blanche creative nonfiction contest


UPDATE: The deadline has been extended to Wednesday, December 7 at midnight EST. Submit today!contestbanner

Yes, it’s true! We’re doing it again! carte blanche and the Creative Nonfiction Collective Society (CNFC) have teamed up to bring you a Canada-wide creative nonfiction contest sponsored by the University of King’s College.

The winner will receive $750 and her/his text will be published in carte blanche. The winner will be announced in May 2017 at the 13th annual CNFC conference in Vancouver, BC.

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CNFC/carte blanche 2016 contest shortlist

The CNFC and carte blanche are pleased to announce its 2015–2016 creative nonfiction contest shortlist.

The winner will be announced on April 23 in Banff, Alberta at the 12th annual CNFC conference.

The shortlist was selected by contest judge, Deni Béchard.

“Spectrum,” by Nicole Breit

nicole-breit-photoNicole Breit is a poet and essayist who lives and writes in the suburbs of Vancouver. She was nominated for the Malahat Review 2016 Open Season awards, the 2015 Room poetry prize and the 2015 PRISM International CNF contest. Her debut poetry chapbook, I Can Make Life, was a finalist for the 2012 Mary Ballard poetry competition. Her work has been published in carte blanche, Exhale and other print and online publications.

“Through the Damascus Gate,” by Jane Finlay-Young

jane-finlay-young-photoJane Finlay-­Young was born in England’s Lake District, and has spent most of her life in Canada. She is a published author of both fiction and non­fiction. She has just completed a memoir, Certain, about her foray into Orthodox Judaism, and is also writing the screenplay for her first novel, From Bruised Fell (Penguin, 2000). She lives in Halifax.


“Cannot predict now,” by Lezlie Lowe

Leslie LoweLezlie Lowe is a freelance print and broadcast journalist and journalism educator based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She recently completed the manuscript for her first book, No Place To Go: Answering the Call of Nature in the Urban Jungle. It’s about public bathroom access. Yes. Really.


Congratulations to our three finalists and thank you to everyone who participated!

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Announcing the long list for carte blanche/CNFC contest

carte blanche and the Creative Nonfiction Collective Society are pleased to announce the long list for our 2015-16 creative nonfiction competition:

“My Father, the Bird” by Kate Braid
“Spectrum” by Nicole Breit
“The Birth of Lizard Boy” by William J Crow
“Answer: Mostly Ds – A Cautionary Quiz” by Phil M Dwyer
“Through the Damascus Gate” by Jane Finlay-Young
“Members Only” by Janet L Fretter
“Kimchi” by Megan A Kaczor
“Cannot predict now” by Lezlie M Lowe
“Hedy and Flo” by Cindy I Matthews
“Little Love Punches” by Gina Roitman
“The Happiest Place on Earth” by Grace E Thompson

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

Thank you also to competition readers: Laurence Miall, Susan Olding, and David Swick.

The winner of the competition will be announced at the 12th Annual CNFC Conference, which will be held in Banff from April 21 – 24, 2016.

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Announcing the judge for the 2016 carte blanche/CNFC contest

carte blanche and the Creative Nonfiction Collective Society are pleased to announce the judge for our third annual creative nonfiction contest:

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Deni Ellis Béchard is a journalist, novelist, memoirist, photographer, and activist. He has published three books, the first of which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and was translated into French, Arabic, and Russian. Deni will also be delivering the keynote at this year’s CNFC conference in Banff, where he’ll address the importance of the narrative arts in a time of social and environmental upheaval, and discuss how writing can be activism while maintaining artistic and journalistic integrity.

Deni’s articles and photos—often about human rights, women’s rights, and conservation—have appeared in dozens of newspapers and magazines, including the LA Times, Salon, The Guardian, La Repubblica, Vanity Fair Italia, The Solutions Journal, The Harvard Review, The Herald Scotland, and Foreign Policy Magazine. One of his photos of Afghan women cyclists has been exhibited in the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. He has also published a book of journalism about conservation in the Democratic Republic of Congo and a memoir about his father who robbed banks. He has two books forthcoming in 2016: Into the Sun, a novel about the Civilian Surge in Afghanistan, and Kuei, je te salue, a book about racism against First Nations people in Canada.

The contest long list will be announced later this week.

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