Literary Prizes

5 writers make the 2023 CBC Nonfiction Prize shortlist

Read the five works contending for $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and a writing residency at Artscape Gibraltar Point. The winner will be announced on Sept. 21, 2023.

The winner will receive $6,000, attend a writing residency. Read the five stories now!

A photo montage of the five shortlisted finalists whose individual photos are individually described below
Top row: Finnian Burnett and Barbara Joan Scott. Bottom row: Louie Leyson, Christine Lowther and Kelly S. Thompson. (See individual photos below for credit)

Five writers from across Canada have made the 2023 CBC Nonfiction Prize shortlist. 

The finalists are:

The winner will be announced on Sept. 21. They will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and attend a two-week writing residency at Artscape Gibraltar Point.

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

All five finalists had their work published on CBC Books. You can read their stories by clicking on the links above.

This year's finalists were selected by a jury comprised of Eternity Martis, David A. Robertson and Merilyn Simonds. They will also select the winner.

The longlist was compiled by a team of 12 writers from across Canada from more than 2,000 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 B.C. writer Susan Cormier for her essay Advice to a New Beekeeper

If you're interested in other writing competitions, check out the CBC Literary Prizes. The 2024 CBC Short Story Prize is currently accepting submissions. The 2024 CBC Nonfiction Prize will open in January and the 2024 CBC Poetry Prize will open in April. 

Get to know the 2023 CBC Nonfiction Prize English-language finalists below.

That Poor Girl by Finnian Burnett

A person with short blonde hair and dark rimmed glasses. They are wearing a shirt with pineapples on it and smiling at the camera
Finnian Burnett is a writer living in Princeton, B.C. (Submitted by Finnian Burnett)

Finnian Burnett holds a doctoral degree in English pedagogy and teaches English online for a U.S. college. Their writing explores intersections of identity — fatness, mental health, disability, queer joy. Burnett's work has appeared in Blank Spaces Magazine, Ekphrastic Review and Pulp Literature. Their second novella-in-flash, The Price of Cookies, is forthcoming. They're currently working on an epistolary novel about a trans man trying to reconcile a complex relationship with his dead mother. Burnett lives in British Columbia where they spend their time watching Star Trek, doting on their cat and applying for university jobs in Canada.

Why they wrote That Poor Girl: "The intense and complex feelings my sisters and I carry around our father, especially after his death. We've talked about him, sometimes haltingly. The conversations are hard because we all experienced him differently, some from a place of abuse.

"This story was difficult to write. Even the thought of sharing it made me sick with anxiety. If I was going to share it, I wanted it to be somewhere special. I've long upheld the CBC Literary Prizes as a benchmark of great writing, but haven't often felt I had something powerful enough to send in. This one felt different."

Glossary for an Aswang by Louie Leyson

A person with short hair dyed blonde, glasses and multiple piercings. They are pouting and have raised eyebrows
Louie Leyson is a writer and poet from British Columbia. (Submitted by Louie Leyson)

Louie Leyson is a University of British Columbia graduate and writer who lives on the unceded ancestral territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. Their work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and National Magazine Awards. You can find their works in Catapult, The Malahat Review, Palette Poetry, The Rupture, Nat. Brut and Plenitude. 

Why they wrote Glossary for an Aswang: "I was inspired by research I conducted around Filipino overseas workers. Not enough people in Canada acknowledge the visible labour of Filipino migrant workers around them."

Environmental Services by Christine Lowther

A woman in front of a wooden bookshelf next to a lamp. She has long curly grey hair and freckles on her face.
Christine Lowther is a writer from British Columbia. (Warren Rudd)

Christine Lowther resides in ƛaʔuukwiiʔatḥ (Tla-o-qui-aht) territory on the west coast. She is the editor of Worth More Standing: Poets and Activists Pay Homage to Trees and its youth companion volume. She is also the author of four poetry collections. In 2014, she was presented with the inaugural Rainy Coast Award for Significant Accomplishment. Lowther's memoir Born Out of This was shortlisted for the 2015 Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize. In 2016, Christine won first place in the creative non-fiction category of the Federation of British Columbia Writers Literary Writes contest. She served as Tofino's Poet Laureate during the pandemic.

Why she wrote Environmental Services: "In my mid-40s I took a job in a small hospital's housekeeping department, otherwise known as Environmental Services. I also took some training in inventory and supplies. My new position brought many new experiences, surprises, wonders, shocks, hilarities and sorrows. Ten years later, I am often struck by amazement during shifts. As a writer my natural desire is to share, honour and memorialize people and events. In this piece I wanted to describe some of the moments I've lived or witnessed with friends or strangers who were dealing with accidents, illness or death. So many personalities, and yes, characters — there had to be ways to express my awe without breaking confidentiality, so I made sure to change names and circumstances enough to respect privacy. I also wanted people to know how hard we work, how much we have to do every day and how welcome are the friendly and/or dramatic interruptions from patients and other staff. I was additionally motivated to mourn the unnecessary loss of trees for our helipad expansion. Housekeeping/ ES sounds low-brow, as if we clean toilets all day, a misconception. So many things surprise me in those hallways and rooms and on those grounds, things that might never have crossed my mind if I'd stayed in retail. The work is routine yet diverse, emotionally challenging, sometimes gross and frequently mind-blowing. I couldn't keep it to myself."

Black Diamond by Barbara Joan Scott

An older woman with short grey hair wearing blue rimmed glasses and blue earrings. She is wearing a black top with a blue scarf around her neck
Barbara Joan Scott is a writer from Calgary. (Jazhart Studios)

Barbara Joan Scott's first book, The Quick, won the City of Calgary W. O. Mitchell Book Prize and the WGA Howard O'Hagan Award for Best Collection of Short Fiction. For many years she taught and edited creative writing and in 2015 received the Lois Hole Award for Editorial Excellence. Her first novel, The Taste of Hunger, published in 2022, won a bronze medal for Western Canada from the Independent Book Publishers Awards and has been shortlisted for Trade Book of the Year by the Alberta Book Publishers Association. It was a Quill & Quire book of the year for 2022.

Why she wrote Black Diamond: "Initially the inspiration was how hard both my mother and sister-in-law, especially the latter, fought for their lives against cruel diseases. I wanted to honour their spirit, but also the spirit of the couple who offered me so much more than food, a sustenance that loosened the grip death had on my heart. It took two decades to acquire the necessary artistic distance to do these people justice, at least to the best of my abilities.

"In an age of so much suspicion and polarization, I wanted to honour people like the couple at the grocery store, who were casually kind and generous to someone they would never see again; and who could never have known how much those small kindnesses meant to someone so emptied out. The grocery store is gone now, so there is no way to thank them in person. But I will never forget them. What a gift if their behaviour were the norm."

The Edge of Change by Kelly S. Thompson

A photo of the author who is a woman with short red hair. She is wearing a mustard yellow shirt with a blue cardigan that has tropical leaves on it. She is leaning against a brick wall and smiling at the camera.
Kelly S. Thompson is a Canadian writer currently based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Krystyna Marie Photography)

Kelly S. Thompson has an MFA and PhD in creative writing and is a mentor at the University of King's College MFA Nonfiction program. Her writing has won awards, including being longlisted for the 2021 CBC Nonfiction Prize for her story Dear CAF. Her essays, fiction and poetry have appeared in Chatelaine, the Toronto Star and Macleans. Her memoir, Girls Need Not Apply, was named a top 100 Book of 2019 by the Globe and Mail. Her second memoir, Still, I Cannot Save You, was released in spring 2023. 

Why she wrote The Edge of Change: "My sister had a series of abusive partners in her life, starting when she was a teenager. This essay is about when I went to visit her for the first time, a teenager myself but on the cusp of adulthood, and realizing her quest for love would lead my big sister to dark places. I wanted to protect her, but despaired knowing I couldn't.

"My sister died in 2018 after a short cancer battle and she always wanted me to write about our relationship. When I wrote my memoir about her, Still, I Cannot Save You, this essay, which I'd written long before the manuscript, was originally an early chapter in the book, but I ended up cutting it.

"I share it now because intimate partner violence and abuse is such an important issue, a topic close to my heart. I hope those who see themselves in this story know they are strong, loved and brave, and those who love someone in this situation seek expert help to guide them in this rocky terrain."