A Toronto writer and filmmaker has won the 2012 CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize for a tale infused with melancholy memories and a shocking assault that jurors dubbed "equal parts tender and brutal."

CBC's Canada Writes, together with the Canada Council for the Arts, enRoute magazine and The Banff Centre announced on Monday that Hilary Dean had won the grand prize for her story Holy Bald-Headed. 

"Holy Bald-Headed breaks your heart," the jury, comprising acclaimed writers Charles Foran, Charlotte Gill and Marina Nemat, said in a statement.

"It tells of a grandfather, a car, and a terrible thing that happens to a teenage girl. Written with great economy and direct, unsparing prose, the story is in equal parts tender and brutal, an inspired portrait of the sadness and outrage of life."

Dean's tale drew from an assault that she experienced as a teen. The story is an excerpt from her forthcoming memoir: a work in progress about mental illness and recovery.

She wrote the story in a workshop "called 'Writing the unthinkable' and [it was] all about learning how to let your subconscious just take over," Dean told CBC News on Monday.

"I never expected anyone to see it," she added. "[Now], I've been hearing from a lot of people that it's an all-too-common experience...It's something that people don't talk about, but it is very common."

An emerging writer and director of the documentary film So You're Going Crazy, Dean will receive $6,000 and her story Holy Bald-Headed will be published in the August edition of enRoute. She will also receive a two-week writing residency at The Banff Centre and be interviewed on CBC Radio by Shelagh Rogers this fall.

Holy Bald-Headed and the stories of three runners-up for the prize (who each receive $1,000) will be available on the Canada Writes site.

The runners-up are:

  • Cornelia Hoogland of Hornby Island, B.C. for Sea Level.
  • Judy McFarlane of Vancouver for After, and Before.
  • Brendan McLeod of Vancouver for Psychosomatic.

The Banff Centre will host a gala for Dean on Thursday.