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Creative Nonfiction Prize

The Shortlist: Q&A with Hilary Dean

There are five names on the shortlist for this year’s CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize. But before we announce the winner, we want to let you know a little about the writers whose personal stories rose to the top. 

Hilary Dean is a Toronto-based writer and documentary filmmaker. Her story, “Holy Bald-Headed”, is shortlisted for the 2011-2012 CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize. 

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1. Tell us about yourself
I work in tech support in Toronto. I love books and movies and spending time with my family. I’m obsessed with Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey. 

2. What do you usually write?
Nonfiction, with some lies to make myself seem like less of an a**hole. 

3. Have you submitted to the competition before?  
No.

4. What is your story about?
My story is about this sexual assault that happened to me in a car that had a meaningful history.

5. What compelled you to tell this story?
I was in screenwriting class at film school, and my friend Yaz had written a scene where a woman is forced at gunpoint to perform oral sex. Some people were saying that this would never happen in real life, because she would just bite it off, and a man would never let himself be so vulnerable. I didn’t have the guts to say, Actually that happened to me, because I didn’t want to be known as that girl who was victimized because she didn't bite or bust out the kung-fu like in a movie script. Because, honestly, when it happened my mind just blanked out and it didn’t occur to me to fight back because I didn’t have any thoughts at all.

A few years later, I took Lynda Barry’s amazing workshop “Writing the Unthinkable” and one of the assignments was “cars in your life”. That’s when I wrote it down. I showed it to Yaz last winter and said, “This happened to me, and I’m sorry I didn’t stick up for you that day in class!” and he told me I should submit it. 

6. How long did you work on the story? How many drafts did you write?
Because I like to repress and avoid sad feelings, I hid this story away like it was AJ Langer in The People Under the Stairs. Probably eight drafts spaced out randomly over two years while I worked on other things. Then I razored it down to come in under the word count. 

7. Did you tell the people implicated in your story that you were writing/had written it? If so, how did they react?
No. My family knows a cleaner, one-sentence version of what happened. I know that reading the story will make them sad if they choose to read it. I’ll give them a disclaimer, “This is a very sad story, watch out! I’m fine now! Don’t worry!” 

8. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?  
When I was 7 and loved Roald Dahl. 

9. What other nonfiction writers inspire you?
Lynda Barry, Ariel Schrag, Joe Matt, Julia Sweeney, Lisa Carver, Sheila Heti, Nabokov, Lesley Arfin, Carol Tyler, David Sedaris, Veronica Liu.

10. How does it feel to be shortlisted for this prize? 
Shocking and amazing.


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Hilary Dean has been published in This Magazine and shortlisted once for The Journey Prize. She has an MFA in Documentary Media from Ryerson University and is the director of the film So You’re Going Crazy... She lives in Toronto with her husband, musician Dave Schoonderbeek, and their Jedi Knight son. This story is an excerpt from her current work in progress, a memoir of mental illness and recovery. 

Photo credit: Serena McCarroll



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