CBC Literary Prizes

5 writers make the 2019 CBC Nonfiction Prize shortlist

Read their stories now. The winner will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and a two-week writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.
From left: Jenny Boychuk, Larry Gibbs, Kathleen May, Tracey McGillivray and Emily Stillwell. (Dean Kalyan, Anita Dizgun, Kai Rannik, Andrew Kriegler, Emily Stillwell)

Five writers have made the shortlist for the 2019 CBC Nonfiction Prize.

The finalists are:

You can read their stories by clicking the links above. 

The winner will be announced Sept. 25, 2019. They will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, have their work published on CBC Books and attend a two-week writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.

The four remaining finalists will each receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts.

This year's finalists were selected by a jury comprised of Harold R. Johnson, Elizabeth Renzetti and Mark Sakamoto. They will also select the winner.

The shortlist was selected from a longlist comprised of 31 writers from across Canada. The longlist was selected by a team of readers made up of writers and editors across Canada.

There were more than 2,200 English-language submissions.

Get to know the 2019 finalists below.

Slow Violence by Jenny Boychuk

Jenny Boychuk is the author of Slow Violence. (Dean Kalyan)

Boychuk is a poet and writer living in Victoria. Her poems and essays have appeared in venues across Canada and the United States, including Best New Poets, The Malahat Review, The New Quarterly, PRISM international, Room, The Fiddlehead, Grain and Copper Nickel. In 2018, she won the Copper Nickel Editors' Prize in poetry. She holds an MFA from the University of Michigan Helen Zell Writers' Program.

Why she wrote Slow Violence: "Nine months after my mother died of an overdose, I received a call from my aunt, who said that my grandfather was declining rapidly and likely wouldn't last the week. I was still deeply grieving the loss of my mother, who battled addiction and mental illness for well over a decade. The grief was complicated for everyone in my family, and we all had days, weeks or months where we felt we needed someone to blame. The last encounter I'd had with my grandfather triggered a lot of anger, and it felt easy to blame him for what happened to her.

That struggle of trying to forgive my grandfather as he was dying is what inspired the story.- Jenny Boychuck

"I didn't know if I wanted to see him before he passed, but I knew it was my only chance to stand up to him and tell him how I felt. Of course, that intention dissolved as soon as I saw him lying in the bed. I remembered all the ways he'd been kind and loving toward me. He had hurt my mother in unthinkable ways, who had then hurt her own family in unthinkable ways. But as I sat with him, I realized it wasn't fair to find compassion for my mother and not for him. I don't know many details about his upbringing, but I know it was brutal in its own way. That struggle of trying to forgive my grandfather as he was dying is what inspired the story."

The Boondock Harvest 1966 by Larry Gibbs

Larry Gibbs is the author of The Boondock Harvest 1966. (Anita Dizgun)

Gibbs is the first of four children in a military family. Before leaving home, he lived in 13 different houses in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Yukon and Germany. He made a career in design and build construction but has sang, danced and acted in over 50 shows in community musical theatre. He is currently living in Guelph, at his 47th address.

Why he wrote The Boondock Harvest 1966: "My sister Sandra knew that I have been writing memoir notes regularly for some years, trying to capture and maintain memories of our vast and varied family history. This is especially so since Dad, Mum and brother Brian have all died and I am the oldest.

I have been writing memoir notes regularly for some years, trying to capture and maintain memories of our vast and varied family history.- Larry Gibb

"A couple of years ago, we were casually discussing some of the stories, and Sandy claimed never to have heard about the 'Harvest' episode. She heard about the CBC Literary Prizes and asked me if I might be interested and sent me the link. I have been writing for most of my life, but have never been interested in publishing. Her question inspired me to prepare something for the contest which, while inspired by my desire to keep family history alive, has rekindled the writing in me."

The Long Driveway by Kathleen May

Kathleen May is the author of The Long Driveway. (Kai Rannik)

May is an author, crisis counsellor, speaker and activist. Her desire to shape and share language informs everything she does. May loves challenging herself with writing, participating in National Novel Writing Month since 2007 and the Muskoka Novel Marathon since 2015. She finds joy in backpacking solo, volunteering and writing. She weaves stories of complex female characters in worlds both familiar and foreign. She is currently working on her tiny house and envisions starting a women's land co-operative in Muskoka, where she can exist harmoniously in nature and write.

Memories exist as emotion-drenched vignettes, and I wrote this with the intention of re-experiencing them as the child I was.- Kathleen May

Why she wrote The Long Driveway"The Long Driveway is inspired by my experiences as a survivor of child sexual abuse. Memories exist as emotion-drenched vignettes and I wrote this with the intention of re-experiencing them as the child I was, rather than attempting to insert my more knowledgeable adult self into a child's narrative."

To the Uninitiated by Tracey McGillivray

Tracey McGillivray is the author of To the Uninitiated. (Andrew Kriegler)

McGillivray is a Toronto-based writer. She was raised on a farm near the shores of Lake Huron, which remains her happiest happy place. Her nonfiction has appeared in the Globe and Mail and Today's Parent and her short story Things Float Away was published in Little Bird Stories, Vol. 8.

To the Uninitiated came from a desperation: to answer the well-intentioned friend who asked if antidepressants help me 'not care any more.'​- Tracey McGillvray

Why she wrote To the Uninitiated: "I got lucky. With medication, I feel better than I have in 20 years. And yet, To the Uninitiated came from a desperation: to answer the well-intentioned friend who asked if antidepressants help me 'not care any more,' to counter the narrative that people who struggle with anxiety and depression are weak, to wrestle into submission the fear of judgment that keeps so many in the dark and away from help."

The Birthday Party by Emily Stillwell

Emily Stillwell is the author of The Birthday Party. (Submitted by Emily Stillwell)

Stillwell is a Toronto-based writer whose Maritime roots continue to draw her back to the water's edge. The professional librarian left Toronto for Bermuda in 2017 to follow her heart. It was there she warmed to writing professionally but soon discovered she's better suited to colder climes. Now back in Toronto, she is immersed in writing her first novel. Stillwell holds a master of information from the University of Toronto, an MA in publishing from Oxford Brookes University and a BA (honours) in English from McMaster University. Emily has been previously published in the McMaster Silhouette and Elephant Journal.

Why she wrote The Birthday Party: "This story is based on real events of my time spent in a small town. I have never forgotten arriving at the First Nations reserve to attend the birthday party and everything that led up to that moment. It was the first time, but sadly not the last, that I witnessed racist and exclusionary behaviour toward First Nations people. I've experienced similar situations in almost every place I've lived in Canada.

I have never forgotten arriving at the First Nations reserve to attend the birthday party and everything that led up to that moment.- Emily Stillwell

"One of the upsides of frequently relocating as a child was that I was often the outsider. Even having returned to Nova Scotia, the small town was new to me. Being the new person often gave me the opportunity to observe, and learn. At a young age, I discovered the beauty in diversity and how we are shaped by our communities. If you have only ever experienced one particular way of thinking, the collective thinking of 'what has always been' can become toxic ideology."

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

The winner of the 2018 CBC Nonfiction Prize was Sandra Murdock for Easy Family Dinners.

The CBC Literary Prizes have been recognizing Canadian writers for 40 years. Other past winners include Michael OndaatjeCarol ShieldsMichael Winter and Frances Itani.​

If you're interested in other writing competitions, check out the CBC Literary Prizes.

The CBC Short Story Prize is currently open and accepting submissions until Oct. 31, 2019.

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