New memoir writing award created to honour past CBC Nonfiction Prize finalist Amy MacRae

The International Amy MacRae Memorial Award is for an original, unpublished personal essay. The winner will receive $1,000 US and a $1,000 US discount to a writing retreat in France.

The $1,000 US International Amy MacRae Memorial Award is for an original, unpublished personal essay

Amy MacRae, pictured with her daughter Evie in 2017, was a finalist in the 2020 CBC Nonfiction Prize. She died on June 1, 2020 from ovarian cancer. (Bright Photography)

There's a new literary award created in honour of past CBC Nonfiction Prize finalist Amy MacRae.

The International Amy MacRae Memorial Award is for an original, unpublished personal essay. The winner will receive $1,000 US and a $1,000 US discount to a writing retreat in France. Writers from around the world are eligible to enter.

MacRae was a writer and educator from Vancouver. She died from ovarian cancer at 35 years of age on June 1, 2020.

After her cancer diagnosis, she began to explore her voice as a writer. Her essay, Take a Photo Before I Leave You, was shortlisted for the 2020 CBC Nonfiction Prize.

Take a Photo Before I Leave You dealt with her experience as a young mother facing a terminal cancer diagnosis.

MacRae died before her family learned of her work being recognized by the CBC Literary Prizes.

"My family and I will always cherish the good fortune that Amy's piece Take a Photo Before I Leave You was chosen as a finalist for the CBC Nonfiction Prize," MacRae's husband, Garreth MacRae, said to CBC Books via email.

The award is being organized by Alison Wearing, with support from MacRae's family. The entries will be judged by journalist and writer Anne Bokma.

Wearing is a playwright, performer and author. Her books include Honeymoon in Purdah: An Iranian Journey and Confessions of a Fairy's Daughter. Confessions of a Fairy's Daughter was shortlisted for the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction and longlisted for the RBC Taylor Prize. 

Wearing met MacRae on a writing retreat in France, and first discovered MacRae's work when the retreat participants read their essays aloud.

"I've rarely heard someone whose work was so present and fully formed, it felt as though it had dropped from the sky. It was so strong, so powerful and so sculpted already," Wearing told CBC Books.

From there, Wearing mentored and encouraged MacRae to continue pursuing writing, ultimately leading to MacRae entering the 2020 CBC Nonfiction Prize.

"I think about her a lot. I was snowshoeing this winter and it was one of those ideas that twirled down from the sky," Wearing said. "I either had an idea, or Amy passed me an idea, or she pressed this idea into the shape of the snowflake, blew it off a tall branch and had it twirl down and land on my nose, so that when I looked up, I thought I had an idea. Whatever your preferred version of inspiration, that's what happened."

Garreth MacRae is grateful his wife's memory and legacy will continue with the International Amy MacRae Memorial Award.

"I felt absolutely thrilled to learn that Alison Wearing would be honouring Amy's memory and her writing," he said. "This represents another amazing chapter in Amy's legacy that we can share with my daughter as she grows older and wants to know more about the unique and talented person her mother was."

Garreth MacRae discusses his late wife Amy and her story, Take a Photo Before I Leave You, which was shortlisted for the CBC Nonfiction Prize, with Sherly McKay on NXNW.

The 2021 edition of the prize is accepting submissions until June 1, 2021. You can find out more at Wearing's website.

Proceeds from the award will go to Amy's Living Legacy, a fund set up in MacRae's honour to help women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

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

The 2021 CBC Poetry Prize is open for submissions until May 31, 2021.

The 2022 CBC Short Story Prize will open in September and the 2022 CBC Nonfiction Prize will open in January.

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