The Coin by Diana Catargiu
2020 CBC Nonfiction Prize longlist
Diana Catargiu has made the 2020 CBC Nonfiction Prize longlist for The Coin.
The shortlist will be announced on Sept. 24. The winner will be announced on Oct. 1.
Diana Catargiu was born and raised in Romania and moved to Canada in 2003. She lives in Mississauga, where she teaches English as a second language at Sheridan College. In addition to teaching, she has worked as a language interpreter and translator. She is currently enrolled in the creative writing certificate program at University of Toronto and is labouring — with love — over a short story collection. In 2019, Diana won the $1,000 Penguin Random House Student Award for Fiction, and the winning story was published in Three. She was shortlisted for the same award in 2017 and 2018.
Entry in five-ish words
"Where coins stick to walls."
The story's source of inspiration
"I spent a significant part of my 20s working with children from Romanian orphanages. This work helped me grow as a human and really changed the trajectory of my life. In spite of this, I never wrote about this experience before The Coin — most possibly because I felt it would be too personal, not just for me, but for the other people involved. However, the story of the little miracle the children and I witnessed that November afternoon in Iași stuck with me for years and nagged at me until I had no choice but to put it down on paper."
(Saturday, November 1, 1997)
The four children run up the steps to the Metropolitan Cathedral. I smile, familiar with this kind of awe and excitement, but never taking it for granted. It's their first time in the big city, and the church is our last stop before the one-hour train ride back to the village where the orphanage is. I'm still at the bottom of the wide, steep stairs, but the kids are already catching their breath at the top. I wave at them and point to the large vault that shelters the church entrance: cerulean blue mosaic tiles sprinkled with delicate gold leaf stars. With their faces gazing up in wonder, huddled under the vault in their matching puppytooth pea coats, the children look like miniature figurines suspended in a baby mobile.
I first visited the orphanage two years ago, on a torrid summer afternoon. Three hundred children sat on the curb in the large concrete yard, their heads wrapped in white cloth, rocking back and forth in perfect synchronicity and sucking their thumbs in an oblivious, trance-like state. "La da da dee da da da da / Be my lover wanna be my lover ...." blared through a large speaker propped in an open window. In an attempt to get rid of lice, the staff had washed all the children's hair with gasoline and wrapped their heads in pieces of cloth.
"Don't look so worried, this will also make their hair look nicer," one of the care-takers consoled me, and I could tell she really believed that.
The winner of the 2020 CBC Nonfiction Prize 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 the Arts and Creativity. Four finalists will each receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and have their work published on CBC Books.