Literary Prizes

5 writers make the 2018 CBC Nonfiction Prize shortlist

Five writers are contending for $6,000 from Canada Council for the Arts, a 10-day writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity and publication on CBC Books.
From left: Lily Chang, Kat Main, Anastasia McEwen, Sandra Murdock and Lee Thomas. (SuAnne Yang/James McAvoy/Aileen Smith/Arleigh Hood/Shilo McCavou)

Five writers from across Canada have made the shortlist for the 2018 CBC Nonfiction Prize.

The finalists are:

The winner will be announced on Sept. 18, 2018. They will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, a 10-day writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity and have their story published on CBC Books. Four finalists will each receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and will have their story published on CBC Books

This year's finalists were selected by the jury, comprised of Scaachi Koul, Graeme Wood and Kyo Maclear. They will also select the winner.

The longlist was selected by a team of readers made up of writers and editors across Canada. There were more than 2,000 English-language submissions and more than 4,000 submissions in English and French.

Here are the 2018 finalists.

If I wax poetic the pain feels worthwhile by Lily Chang

Lily Chang is a writer and editor based in Montreal. (SuAnne Yang)

About Lily: Lily Chang is a writer and editor based in Montreal, on the traditional and unceded territory of the Kanien'kehá:ka people. She is a graduate of Concordia University's MA program in creative writing. Her work has appeared in Headlight Anthology, Word and Colour, Voices Visible and Frog Hollow Press's The City Series.

Why she wrote If I wax poetic the pain feels worthwhile: "Reading Anne Enright; sitting alone in a sterile hotel room, having relocated to a strange, new country; trying not to itch my tattoo that had swelled up because of a weird sun allergy; thinking about the homes/selves I've left behind and conversations about (a)sexuality. Disgust, discomfort, shame. All this led to the story."

How to Catch a Nightcrawler by Kat Main

Kat Main has been a psychology teacher, writer and researcher. (Aileen Smith)

About Kat: Kat Main has been a psychology teacher, writer and researcher. She has swam in the Aegean Sea, jumped out of an airplane at 13,500 feet and told fortunes on the streets of Vancouver, B.C. She now lives and works in Calgary, Alta., blending her time between writing and working in the non-profit sector. Main's writing was longlisted for the CBC Nonfiction Prize in 2015 and shortlisted for the Alberta Magazine Showcase Award in fiction. In 2013, she won the Brenda Strathern Writing prize. 

Why she wrote How to Catch a Nightcrawler: "I'm currently working on a manuscript of creative nonfiction stories about growing up in a family with poverty, magic, fortune telling, ghosts, addiction and a real-life murder mystery. They say truth is stranger than fiction and in the case of my childhood, it's more than true. When other kids were going home to piano lessons, I was being given lessons in clairvoyance and astral travel. I think belief in magic and occultism allowed my family to escape from some of the harsher realities of life such as poverty when I was growing up."

Acceleration by Anastasia McEwen

Anastasia McEwen is a short story writer, poet and high school teacher. (James McAvoy)

About Anastasia: Anastasia McEwen lives in Fergus, Ont., with her husband, four children and four pets. For the last 18 years she has taught art, English and creative writing at Our Lady of Lourdes High School in Guelph, Ont. Her poetry and short stories have been published in Canada and the United States, and her artwork can be found in the permanent collections of the Robert McLaughlin Gallery, the Art Gallery of London and the University of Toronto.

Why she wrote Acceleration "The story centres around my brother Andrew's death which occurred over 30 years ago. Originally, I focused a lot more on Clarke, (a friend who was with me when Andrew died, and who suffered a horrific death three years later) but the piece was becoming too cluttered and Clarke's story wasn't getting the attention it deserved. So I narrowed the focus, then, for some reason, felt the need to disguise the experience as a short story. It was easier to look at it from the outside, but the sincerity in the writing was lacking. When I finally claimed the story as my own, I was able to close my eyes and dig deep into that sad, quiet place and that's when the story came together."

Easy Family Dinners by Sandra Murdock

Sandra Murdock is a writer based in Dartmouth, N.S. (Arleigh Hood)

About Sandra: Born to a military family, Sandra Murdock grew up across Canada and in Germany. After graduate studies in Belfast, Northern Ireland and St. John's, N.L., Murdock left academia to work with newcomers to Canada. She currently teaches English at an immigrant settlement agency. She's published poetry in Echolocation and The Antigonish Review, and is currently working on a creative nonfiction collection about her experiences with an alcoholic loved one. She lives with her son in Dartmouth, N.S., on the unceded traditional territory of the Mi'kmaw people.

Why she wrote Easy Family Dinners: "I've been trying to write about what it was like losing a loved one to addiction. I want to explore and understand the grief and confusion I felt witnessing someone I loved change under the influence of this disease that thrives on silence and manipulation. This story gave me a kind of snapshot of everything that seemed to be falling apart around me while I was trying so hard to keep it together, act normal and, of course, fix it. I was always trying to figure out what to say whilst frantically trying to understand what was happening. Every mundane moment was charged with hope and despair."

True Trans by Lee Thomas

Lee Thomas is an international speaker, writer and advocate. They are based in Calgary, Alta. (Shilo McCavour)

About Lee: Lee Thomas is an international speaker, writer and advocate currently based in Calgary, Alta. They speak to groups of all ages and sizes about mental health and LGBTQ+ issues, with a particular focus on stigma reduction and youth mental health. Thomas is a Mental Health First Aid instructor, ASIST trainer, two-time TEDx speaker and founder of the #MyDefinition poster campaign. When they are not doing mental health or LGBTQ+ stuff, you can usually find them updating their dog's Instagram account (yes, really).

Why they wrote True Trans: "Ever since I was young, I've used writing as a coping mechanism, a way to understand experiences that I can't make sense of otherwise. This was a particularly difficult moment for me, so I did what I always do — I wrote about it. A lot of trans ​people experience mistreatment by medical professionals, and my story is certainly just one small example of that. It really hurts to work so hard on validating yourself, only to have someone you trust stomp all over it — especially when that person is in a position to decide whether or not you get the help you need."

To see the finalists for the French competition, go to Prix du récit Radio-Canada.

The 2017 CBC Nonfiction Prize winner was Becky Blake for her story Trust Exercise.

The CBC Literary Prizes have been recognizing Canadian writers since 1979. Past winners include Michael Ondaatje, Carol Shields, Michael Winter and Frances Itani.

If you're a writer, you can join our Canada Writes Facebook group, a place where Canadian writers can connect and support each other.