Thunder Bay

Northwestern Ontario authors recognized as emerging writers through RBC award

Two writers in northwestern Ontario are getting recognized for their work after being named among the three finalists for this year's RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers.

Ellie Sawatzky and John Elizabeth Stintzi are being recognised for their poetry

Ellie Sawatzky (left) and John Elizabeth Stintzi (right) both grew up in northwestern Ontario and have been listed as two of the finalists for this year's RBC Bronwen Wallace Award For Emerging Writers. (Submitted)

Two writers in northwestern Ontario are getting recognized for their work after being named among the three finalists for this year's RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers.

John Elizabeth Stintzi, who identifies as non-binary and uses they and them pronouns, said poetry helped them express "questions of masculinity" while growing up on a family farm on the south-east side of Lake of the Woods.

"It's pretty much a validation of the work that I've been doing ... and it's shocking that it's being recognized, so it means a lot, honestly," Stintzi said, adding that this is the second or third time applying for the award.

While currently living in New Jersey and working in New York, Stintzi said "the poems that were short-listed are a lot about gender," and the questions of gender identity as they didn't get to meet a "queer person until moving to Winnipeg."

Titled Junebat, Stintzi said the word was purely made up to talk about "queerness without using the general terms that exist."

"I think I became so creative, especially writing-wise, existing in a place like [northwestern Ontario], and the experience of working on a farm and realizing that I wasn't really cut out for that work," Stintzi said.

"Life there pretty much forced me to even just become aware of all of this other stuff going on; I didn't understand what queer-gender meant until maybe like six years ago."

Always feeling like they didn't quite fit in, Stintzi said Junebat shows that "you don't have to be one thing."

"There's all these terms and they are really useful for some people and for some people I think it really makes it feel like you're putting yourself into weird boxes that maybe don't quite fit," Stintzi added. "So I was just trying to give comfort to people who just don't really quite know what's going on and then feel like they can't necessarily identify because they can't really make a word for it."

"The biggest award' for emerging writers

Ellie Sawatzky, who grew up in Kenora, Ont., said she applied for the RBC award several times before being named as one of the finalists.

"I think it's the biggest award that you can win as an emerging writer in Canada," she said. "It's very prestigious and everybody in the Canadian literature community hears about, so it's a way of getting your name out there and being recognized."

A total of nine poems were submitted, she said, and a lot of them were on the theme of "the internet and the experience of the way social media and Google shape everyone's lives."

Titled Kenora Organized, Sawatzky said the last poem that was submitted for the award was written at home when she returned for a visit in January and spent "more time than [she's] ever spent in Kenora since [she] was a child."

"I wrote this poem about that experience of what it's like to be an adult in your childhood home, with your parents, and the ways that your parents make space for you and the ways that relationship has changed over the years and how it affects you as an adult," she added.

Growing up as a Mennonite, Sawatzky said she initially came back home to her parents' house to do some research about her family's history, but realized "poetry has it's own ideas about what it wants to be."

"Stuff that I ended up writing wasn't really about what I was trying to write about, so I found that the poems I was writing ... they just came to me ... and these poems came out that was largely about the internet," she explained.

Sawatzky and Stintzi said they will find out who the recipient of this year's award will be on May 28, but they're both proud and happy to be recognized as finalists.