Creative Non-Fiction Contest 2021: The Winners!

The results are finally here! Here are the winning entries to our Creative Non-Fiction Contest as selected by our esteemed judge, Dr. Njoki Wane. A major congrats to these three writers! Here are what our judge has to say about the winning submissions:

First Place: Light and Shadow: One Painting, Two Lives, by Emily McKibbon

Emily McKibbon is writer and curator based in Tkaronto/Toronto. Her writing has been published in PRISM international, Room Magazine, The New Quarterly, Canadian Art, C Magazine, and others. She is currently working on a project examining childlessness in art and in the lives of artists.

The goals are clearly articulated: every setting is vividly described; and the themes clearly stated: determination, never lose hope and be focused. The main message is: do not give up your dreams.

The story centers on a painting that took years to paint. The narrator captures the imagination of the reader by her vivid description of the painting and the painter: “There is something sensual about how the artist’s brush has pushed the dark pigment across the flat surface of the piece, the pooled paint she left behind an indexical trace of her hand at work.”

The narrator’s voice of determination to tell the story that a woman too can be a successful painter is unquestionable.  The painting is able to convey the message intended: One of the guiding principles of abstraction is that the finished work stands as a record of a meeting between the artist and canvas, each mark on its surface a trace of a gesture. The goal of this writing is clearly articulated: “…all that seems like error is not error; and it all has to be done. …That which seems like a false step is the next step.” Dr. Njoki Wane


Second Place: Searching for Leoni, by Jillian Sunderland

Jillian Xenia Sunderland is a writer, photographer, and researcher whose home is in the prairies but now lives and works in Tkaronto/Toronto, ON (Treaty 9 Territory). While completing her Ph.D. at the University of Toronto, she is attempting to find and develop her voice in several artistic mediums.

The piece meets all my criteria: goals, targeted audience and the message. What caught my imagination was the description of cheap plastic shoes in the hot sun “… the weather was hot and humid, and my sandals clung to my skin the way cheap plastic melts on your body…” As one reads the story, one almost experiences the humidity and the heat; then the contrast of the manicured lawn of the plantation house; the masking of the history of slavery, conquest, colonization and its brutality; the fragmentation of people; their histories, their identities. All this found in this piece of writing. Although the narrator does not describe the dissonance one experiences as one searches for something one does not want to search for, the message is clear: do not procrastinate; act before it is too late. Dr. Njoki Wane


Honourable Mention: I Can Feel Him Breathing, by Tara McGuire

Tara McGuire is graduate of The Writers Studio at Simon Fraser University and holds an MFA from the UBC School of Creative Writing. Her forthcoming book—a hybrid work in memoir and fiction exploring grief, motherhood, and the opioid crisis will be published by Arsenal Pulp Press in the fall of 2022.

The story’s goal is to show the impact of drug addiction; and the pain of losing [those you love] to drugs.  The narrator provides a clear description of the state of a mother who has lost a son to overdose from heroin.  One can feel the hopelessness and lack of energy that surround the family.  The narrator wants us to remember every detail of the mothers’ experience as she struggles to gather courage to go find out why her son became an addict, witnessing the consumption of heroin; a scene that makes the reader shed tears. This is a very powerful story and the narrator provides vivid descriptions of every scene. You can actually see the images in your mind. Dr. Njoki Wane


You can find Emily and Jillian’s winning entries in Room 45.2, to be published in June of 2022. As for the honourable mention, you can read Tara’s piece via the link above. Our heartfelt gratitude to our judge, Dr. Njoki Wane, for sharing with us her time and expertise while still continuing her full-time work at OISE – we are truly grateful.

Thank you to everyone who shared their work with us, we hope to read more of your writing again soon. In case you missed the earlier announcements, you can find the longlist and shortlist again here. Our Creative Non-Fiction Contest opens each year in April.

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