by Rosalind Maki and Deborah de Bakker
We are very excited to announce that on Tuesday, September 5th, NOWW will celebrate its 20th anniversary with the launch of Twenty Years on Snowshoes: Winning Stories from Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop.
NOWW has come a long way and achieved a great deal since its first official publication—a one-page flyer “Announcing an exciting new organization for writers” that was mailed out in August 1997 to as many writers as we (Charles Wilkins, Jim Foulds and ourselves) could find addresses for. In the ensuing twenty years, NOWW has offered its members, and the community at large, writing classes and workshops, readings by national and regional writers, public recognition in the form of the Elizabeth Kouhi and the Margaret Phillips Awards, an annual writing contest—in other words, opportunities to learn, participate, honour and share.
Twenty Years on Snowshoes, with the stories—both fictional and personal—that live between its covers, is a testament to the success of NOWW. As the book’s editors, we are proud to have played a part in its creation.
After working on a manuscript for several months, editors eventually succumb to a form of blindness, seeing only what they expect to see on the page, so we are most grateful to Marion Agnew and Graham Strong for their hawk-eyed proofreading of the galleys.
The launch of Twenty Years on Snowshoes will be held in the first-floor Dawson Room in the Prince Arthur Hotel and Suites, following the AGM which starts at 6:30. Do come for the AGM; however, if you can only make the launch, arrive around 7:15.
We encourage you to attend and join the celebration. Twenty Years on Snowshoes, which has a cover price of $20, will be available on September 5th only for a special launch price of $15. So start making your Christmas list. And do bring your friends.
But, first, we invite you to read the Introduction to Twenty Years on Snowshoes, which appears below.
The twenty stories in Twenty Years on Snowshoes have been selected from among all the winners in the fiction and memoir categories in the annual writing contest held by Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop. In some small way this anthology is a fulfilment of one of NOWW’s original aims in 1997: to establish a modest publishing program. Thus, it seems an appropriate way to celebrate NOWW’s twentieth year. Kudos to NOWW’s current president, Jane Crossman, for pitching the idea, and to the executive for supporting it.
NOWW’s intent in running an annual writing contest is to stimulate writing in Northwestern Ontario and to recognize exemplary writing in the region. The NOWW Writing Contest, in its first incarnation in 1999, challenged Northwestern Ontario writers to write a story in 1000 words or less (not counting the title), using the phrase “The Good News Café.” And our very first Literary Awards Party, where the winners are announced, was held at that fine establishment.
From these humble beginnings the contest has grown in popularity. Most years entries exceed a hundred, reaching a noteworthy 229 in 2009. And the contest consistently attracts entries, not only from the region, but also from across Canada and, in some years, the USA.
The contest has also grown in breadth, to include as many as five categories, including the mainstays of poetry, short fiction and memoir, and a variety of others, such as children’s story, flash fiction, novel excerpts, humour, romance and scriptwriting. Since 2016 the contest has included a category—generously sponsored in memory of Bill MacDonald—for fiction or non-fiction in which a Northwestern Ontario setting figures prominently.
In 2006, in an effort to eliminate any appearance of bias in the judging—and to kick it up a notch —we decided to choose judges from beyond our own writing community. So, for the past eleven years, the final judges have included many of the bright lights of the Canadian literary scene, including Antanas Sileika, Lynn Coady, Kim Moritsugu, Jane Urquhart, Fred Stenson, Veronica Ross, Ann-Marie MacDonald and Louise Penny. And their praise for the stories and memoirs they chose as winners was unequivocal: “Heart-breaking toughness.” “A wonderfully evocative meditation on family, memory and the pain and promise of forgetting.” “Narrative sophistication.” “A wonderful read.” “This story is well built, spare and cleanly written.” “A raw and powerful story.”
It is these winning stories, and more, that have been selected for this anthology.
Twenty authors. Twenty stories, both fiction and memoir—“the twin of fiction” as Michael Ondaatje calls it, for what is memoir if not a telling of one’s own story, using the same tools as the fiction writer: scene, character, dialogue, tension?
What do we look for when we begin a story? Well, we want tension—a reason to keep going. We want characters who engage us, details that are vivid, fresh, surprising, a story of human experience. We want to be transported. In this collection, a young woman heads out alone into the blistering cold of a January night, a cop looks for meaning in the wake of his son’s death, a widow and widower discover love and joy and beauty amid the paraphernalia of life, a boy watches helplessly as his family disintegrates, a river rises, a wolf tracks, a man dies, a man is saved. Secrets are revealed and secrets kept. Here find parents and children, husbands and wives, music and laughter and tenderness, snow and ice and brutal nature. Here find stories of longing and of loss, and of love in all its infinite permutations.
Mavis Gallant says in her essay “What is Style”: The only question worth asking about a story—or a poem, or a piece of sculpture, or a new concert hall—is, ‛is it dead or alive?’ These stories are alive. Read them. Be transported.
Rosalind Maki and Deborah de Bakker