Author Helen Knott raises $3000 writing prize for single parents

As a single parent, author Helen Knott struggled to make ends meet. Now that she's had work published, she's ready to pay it forward to others by giving away a grassroots writing prize.

After being given a laptop to write, author decided to pay it forward and received unexpected support

Helen Knott originally put her own $150 up for the prize. She didn't expect it to grow to more than $3000. (Submitted/Kourteny Newbery)

As a single parent, author Helen Knott struggled to make ends meet. Now that she's had work published, she's ready to pay it forward to others by giving away a grassroots writing prize.

"I've received a lot of support from people along my journey as a writer, so for me it's about making writing seem like a possibility for another single parent," said Knott.

Knott is Dane Zaa and Cree-Métis from Prophet River First Nation and is the author of bestselling book In My Own Moccassins: A Memoir of Resilience

Earlier this week, Knott decided that she wanted to give back to aspiring authors — specifically single parents — by putting a call out for writing submissions, complete with a $150 prize and a one-on-one writing consultation with the author as the prize.

Immediately after the call for submissions was posted, Knott started receiving donations from people on social media — people who read her book, but also authors like The Marrow Thieves' Cherie Dimaline.

The money for the writing contest grew from her contribution of $150, to $300, to $1,000 and now sits at two prizes worth $1,500 each.

"I didn't expect people to start sending in money," said Knott. "I thought it was small and it's grown way bigger than what I thought it was going to be."

Paying it forward

In 2014, a few people in her community chipped in to help buy Knott a laptop that she needed to get into a writing program at the Banff Centre. Knott said without that generosity, she would not be able to pursue writing as a career, especially as a single mother.

"I remember the struggle of trying to raise my son and write my book," said Knott. "It was really hard for me at that time." 

She said she comes from a proud people, and when she got the laptop, her dad cried.

Knott said that a lot of writing contests often have barriers like submission fees or very specific writing requirements. With her prize, she wants to make it accessible and barrier-free to encourage anyone who is a single parent to submit.

She chose to include the mentorship to help any emerging writers who are selected. After she won the now-discontinued RBC Taylor Prize Emerging Writers Mentorship Program, she was mentored by nehiyaw author Darrel McLeod, who has continued to work with her and give feedback and mentorship.

Darrel McLeod is the author of Mamaskatch. He said its important to create a community of support for emerging writers. (Ilja Herb, Douglas & McIntyre)

McLeod, who is from Lesser Slave Lake Alberta, is the author of Mamaskatch, which won the Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction in 2018.

"I wanted to offer that to somebody — to be able to read their work, and talk with them about where they can improve, what they're doing right and any other questions that they may have, so I'm excited for that to take place," Knott said.

McLeod has also stepped in as one of the contributors to the prize. He says that it is tough to get published and he has found what he calls an "Indigenous writing family."

"As a newer author, it was really hard to find support. There's people out there trying to make it. And my biggest support came from Eden Robinson," said McLeod.

McLeod encourages people to submit to Knott's writing contest.

The contest is open to single parents in Canada. Knott said that submissions could be any genre, including fantasy or poetry or whatever people feel like and the deadline is August 22nd at midnight. A winner will be announced in September.


  • An earlier version of this story stated that Knott had won the RBC Taylor Prize. In fact, she won the RBC Taylor Prize Emerging Writers Mentorship Program.
    Jul 25, 2020 2:09 PM ET


Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1