CBC Literary Prizes

5 writers make the 2020 CBC Nonfiction Prize shortlist

Read the five works contending for $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and a writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. The winner will be announced on Oct. 1, 2020.
The winner of the 2020 CBC Nonfiction Prize will be announced on Oct. 1, 2020. (See individual author pages for credit)

Five writers have made the 2020 CBC Nonfiction Prize shortlist.

The finalists are:

Each of the finalists will receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and their work has been published on CBC Books. You can read their work by clicking the links above. 

The winner will be announced on Oct. 1, 2020.

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

This year's finalists were selected by a jury comprised of Yasuko Thanh, Bill Gaston and Robyn Doolittle. They will also select the winner.

The longlist was compiled by a team of writers and editors from across Canada. There were more than 1,700 English-language submissions.

The shortlist for the French-language competition has also been revealed. To read more, go to the Prix du récit Radio-Canada.

Last year's winner was Victoria writer Jenny Boychuck for her essay Slow Violence.

If you're interested in other CBC Literary Prizes, the CBC Short Story Prize is currently open and accepting submissions until Oct. 31, 2020.

The 2021 CBC Nonfiction Prize will open in January. The 2021 CBC Poetry Prize will open in April.

Get to know the 2020 CBC Nonfiction Prize English-language finalists below.

Ray Says by Joseph Kakwinokanasum

Joseph Kakwinokanasum is a writer based in White Rock, B.C. (Tracy Hetherington)

Joseph Kakwinokanasum is a Cree-Austrian writer. In 2014, he received a Canada Council for the Arts creation grant for Aboriginal peoples, writers and storytellers. He completed the Simon Fraser University Writer's Studio 2018 program and the graduate workshop in 2019. Joseph won an honourable mention in the 2020 Humber Literary Review fiction contest. He writes from home, where he resides with his partner and their two cats.

Ray Says was inspired by an experience that triggered anxiety for me; meeting family after a long and unhappy familial hiatus was difficult.- Joseph Kakwinokanasum

Why he wrote Ray Says"Ray Says was inspired by an experience that triggered anxiety for me; meeting family after a long and unhappy familial hiatus was difficult."

Take a Photo Before I Leave You by Amy MacRae

Amy MacRae was a writer from Vancouver. (Garreth MacRae)

Amy Marissa MacRae (nee Ho) was born in Calgary, lived for several years in Toronto (where she met her husband, Garreth) but spent most of her life in Vancouver. Amy was a passionate educator, teaching behavioural special needs kindergarten. Amy was also a tireless, and immensely proud mother, to her 5-year-old daughter, Evie. Amy recently found her voice as a writer and added prose to her repertoire of skills and passions. 

MacRae died on June 1, 2020. She was 35 years old.

"I feel so proud that Amy's piece was chosen as a finalist and that her words will be read by others after she opened up so bravely about how cancer affected her and her loved ones. While still grieving every day, my family was thrilled with the news as we know how Amy would have felt about it – stunned and elated," her husband, Garreth MacRae, told CBC Books via email.

Amy's short story was inspired by the reality that Amy's mortality was never far from mind — even while she made great efforts to live and enjoy each day to the fullest.- Garreth MacRae

Garreth MacRae on why Amy wrote Take a Photo Before I Leave You"Amy was diagnosed in 2017 with stage two low-grade serous ovarian cancer at 32 years old. This rare form of cancer is resistant to treatment and is particularly deadly for younger women. Knowing that she was very likely living on a shortened timeline, Amy made several changes in her life including a renewed focus on family, traveling and pursuing new passions, such as writing. 

"Amy's short story was inspired by the reality that Amy's mortality was never far from mind — even while she made great efforts to live and enjoy each day to the fullest. She observed well-meaning friends and family capturing her image in photos or videos more frequently and with more fervour than before and she always understood why."

Value Village by Jonathan Poh

Jonathan Poh is a writer, editor and communications specialist living in Burnaby, B.C. (Jillian Chong)

Jonathan Poh is a writer, editor and communications specialist living in Burnaby, B.C. He is a former editor of the men's fashion and streetwear publication Hypebeast, where he remains a contributor, and holds a BA in English from Simon Fraser University. His next writing project is an exploration of sneaker and streetwear culture, faith, identity and race, a journey that has taken him around the globe in search of belonging. Value Village is his first work of personal nonfiction.

Why he wrote Value Village"In my experience, the smell of a thrift store is universal; it's the same whether you're in Vancouver or Tokyo, at Value Village or in a high-end vintage boutique. For most of my life, I have had a very strange, very visceral reaction to this smell and to second-hand clothing, but I have also tried hard to ignore the painful reason behind it. 

The writing process led me back to some of the most impactful moments from my childhood, many of which involved racist bullying, and the role thrift stores played in my family's experience as immigrants from Singapore during the early 1990s.- Jonathan Poh

"With Value Village, I wanted to pull on that thread and explore how unprocessed trauma is stored in the body – in this case, through the sense of smell, which for me always triggers the most intense memories. The writing process led me back to some of the most impactful moments from my childhood, many of which involved racist bullying, and the role thrift stores played in my family's experience as immigrants from Singapore during the early 1990s."

The Story Teller by Rachael Preston

Rachael Preston is a writer based on Vancouver Island. (Ian Warren)

Rachael Preston is the author of three novels: Tent of BlueThe Wind Seller and The Fishers of Paradise. In 2016, The Fishers of Paradise was honoured with a Project Bookmark Canada plaque. Rachael taught creative writing for more than a decade at Sheridan and Mohawk Colleges in Ontario. She now lives on Vancouver Island where she works part-time at an independent bookstore, runs the occasional writing workshop and walks her dog, mostly in the forest.

I wrote this piece about my dad's leaving as a way of reclaiming the story as my own. ​​​​​- Rachael Preston

Why she wrote The Story Teller"I wrote this piece about my dad's leaving as a way of reclaiming the story as my own, taking it back from an uncle who had tossed it off so casually to me once when I visited him in England. 'Did I ever tell you about the time I picked your mother up from work?' Thinking about that car ride still makes me tear up. In this version of events, I will always be there to protect my mother and make her less vulnerable." 

Sturnella Neglecta (Overlooked Little Starling) by Leona Theis

Leona Theis is an award-winning writer from Saskatoon. (Shannon Brunner)

Leona Theis writes novels, stories and personal essays. Her essays have appeared in magazines in Canada and the United States. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and won the 2006 CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize. Her most recent short story appeared in American Short Fiction and her novel, If Sylvie Had Nine Lives, where the protagonist is granted nine separate lives, for better and worse, was published on Sept.1, 2020. She is also the author of a book of linked stories, Sightlines, and the novel The Art of Salvage.

I wanted to bring these two losses, both so significant to me, into the same space and see how each might shine light on the other, with the idea of bringing both into sharper focus.- Leona Theis

Why she wrote Sturnella Neglecta (Overlooked Little Starling): "Over the past half century, almost 3 billion birds have disappeared across the United States and Canada (a slide in the breeding population of 29 per cent). On a personal level, I'm experiencing accelerated hearing loss. I wanted to bring these two losses, both so significant to me, into the same space and see how each might shine light on the other, with the idea of bringing both into sharper focus."

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