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.
2017 winner: “A Chaotic Jumble of Infinite Possibility,” by Joshua Levy
The bathroom was covered with graffiti.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 Poetry, Best 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.
Ever given a rhino an enema? Master storyteller Dr. Jerry Haigh has, and he’s
lived to tell the tale to audiences across the world. Why do some stories grip
us, while others don’t? In this master class with storyteller Danica Lorer, you’ll
learn how to bring out the magic of your stories during presentations. You’ll
come away understanding how to manage timing and themes and why you
need to pay attention to the ages and literacy level of your audiences. Whether giving school presentations or launching a book, storytelling is an art that will help every writer to communicate with greater depth and effectiveness.
Dr. Jerry Haigh has authored four nonfiction books and told stories to
audiences of all ages on five continents. His experience comes from 50 years
as a wildlife veterinarian in Africa, Europe, Asia and throughout North America.
Danica Lorer is a professional storyteller, poet, freelance writer, workshop
facilitator, face and body painter, and she is the host of TV Saskatoon’s literary arts program Lit Happens.
Whether you are a journalist, podcaster, creative writer, or blogger, great
interviews make great stories. So how do you get the interview? And once
you’ve got it, how do you get the most from it? In this master class Denise
Ryan will show you how to establish intimacy, overcome hostility or
intimidating subjects, work in traumatic and ethically challenging situations,
get past scripted answers, build an arsenal of techniques, and craft story-
based lines of inquiry. The class will also engage in some dynamic question
and answer sessions.
Denise Ryan is a journalist and creative nonfiction author whose work has
received many distinctions, including awards from Amnesty International, the
CBC literary prizes and the Webster and Sovereign Awards. Known for her
sensitive, in-depth interviews, narrative long-form features and love of
storytelling, she brings a wealth of experience and technique developed
through two decades of reporting, feature writing and teaching.
Are you passionate about science and the environment? Do you want to
include these issues in your writing but are not sure how to do that? In this
master class, Alanna Mitchell, journalist, playwright, and author of Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis, will teach you how to take a complex scientific issue and turn it into compelling and accessible writing.
Alanna Mitchell’s Sea Sick is an international best seller and won the U. S.
Grantham Prize for excellence in environmental journalism. Alanna has
written for the The New York Times, National Geographic, CBC Radio’s Quirks & Quarks and The Guardian. She has performed her one-woman
play based on her book around the world. As she says, “This book has
changed the way I see our planet.”
Do you want to add humour to your prose but are afraid to try? Writing with humour is not something we’re born with, but with the right techniques and a basic understanding of joke structure and the literary elements that create literary humour, anyone can find the places for humour. In this master class, you’ll learn how to infuse your writing with a sharpness, a lightness, and an energy that can be transformative.
Author and poet Dina Del Bucchia, co-hosts the witty podcast Can’t Lit about
Canadian literature and culture, and has organized and performed in comedy
and variety shows in Vancouver. She teaches Introduction to Comedic Forms
at the University of British Columbia.
PROFESSIONAL WRITING CONSULTATIONS
Looking for a professional evaluation of your writing? This is your chance! Send us your nonfiction writing (maximum 3000 words), and we will pair you with an experienced editor/writing teacher, who will read your pages in advance and give you 15 minutes of feedback on your writing at our conference. The cost is $50. Send us your work to email@example.com by May 7 (new deadline). For more info and to register, click here.
Join Darrel McLeod, Cree from Territory Eight in Alberta and a former chief land claims negotiator for the federal government, as he tells the stories behind his recent Governor-General award-winning memoir, Mamaskatch.
Writing to Heal and Recover
Kara Stanley, author of Fallen: A Trauma, A Marriage and the Transformative Power of Music, and her musician husband Simon Paradis present a joint reading/musical performance, followed with discussion as they explore the connection between trauma, the power of writing and its ability to heal.
In My Head and Onto the Page: Writing About and Through Mental Illness
Join Judy Rebick, one of Canada’s best-known women’s rights advocates and author of Heroes in My Head, and Alicia Elliott, Tuscarora writer, recipient of the RBC Taylor Emerging Writer Prize for 2018, and author of A Mind Spread Out on the Ground, as they share their personal accounts of writing about mental illness.
Writing Our Journey of Reconciliation
Monique Gray Smith, of Cree, Lakota and Scottish ancestry, and author of Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation, reveals how education, awareness and understanding can lead to repairing and healing the fractured relationships caused by our past history. As one young person she interviewed said, “awareness creates healing.”
Writing Intimate Crime and Violence
Renee Saklikar, author of children of air india, un/authorized exhibits and interjections, and Carys Cragg, author of Dead Reckoning, How I Came to Meet the Man Who Murdered My Father, reveal what influenced their decisions to write about the violence and crime that directly impacted them and their families and the long-term effects they have had.
No Words: The Rebellious Act of Writing the Stories Not Told
Lesley Buxton, author of One Strong Girl and winner of the 2018 Pottersfield Prize for Creative Nonfiction, explores how in memoir there are two protagonists — the past and the present selves — and how we can use the distance between them to reveal and write our most challenging stories.
Welcome to all members, new and returning. Come meet other conference registrants and listen to readings by student creative nonfiction writers.
Join celebrated writers Elizabeth Hay, author of All Things Consoled, and David Chariandy, author of I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You, A Letter to my Daughter, as they come together and talk candidly about the issues they confronted when writing intimately about family.
PERFORMANCE: Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis
Presented in partnership with the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts
Sea Sick is Alanna Mitchell’s critically-acclaimed and Dora-nominated theatre production about the state of the global ocean and the world. Come and experience this powerful story in which Mitchell uses science and her own delicate wit to tell us about her journey to the bottom of the ocean, the demons she discovered there, and her hope for the future. The performance will be followed by a talk-back session with Mitchell.
“So, I’m a science journalist and one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done was research a book on how we’re altering the chemistry of the global ocean. Sounds a bit dull, right? But it was a tale of grand adventure and marvellous discovery with a good dollop of humour, peopled with some of the most fascinating scientists in the world.” – Alanna Mitchell
For those registered for the conference, your ticket to the play is included. Members of the public wishing to purchase a ticket may do so for $36 ($20 with student ID) from the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts.
The Shoe Project is a writing and performance workshop where immigrant women tell the stories of their arrival in Canada – through a pair of shoes. They are coached by veteran Canadian writers and theatre professionals. Shoes accompany us on all our journeys. They say who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. Writing their shoe memoirs gives members a voice and helps them be heard in the Canadian mainstream.
Now in its sixth year, The Shoe Project was created by novelist Katherine Govier and incubated at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto.
“I have never imagined I could be standing in front of an audience sharing a personal story in English. The Shoe Project has been the most empowering experience in my life.” – Natalia, participant from Uruguay
Plus: Banquet, literary cabaret, announcement of the 2019 CNFC/Humber Literary Review writing contest, wrap-up party, and the CNFC annual general meeting.