Creative Non-Fiction Contest 2023: The Winners

Drumroll, please! Here are the three winners of our 2023 Creative Non-Fiction Contest, as chosen by judge Tajja Isen. A big congratulations to these three writers!

FIRST PLACE: our brothers started dying, by Natalie Appleton

Natalie Appleton is a graduate of the University of Regina School of Journalism and the MA in Creative Writing (Narrative non-fiction) program at City University London, UK. Natalie has worked at newspapers across western Canada and her stories have appeared in publications around the world, including The New York Times. Natalie won Prairie Fire’s Banff Centre Bliss Carman Poetry Award, and she is the author of the literary travel memoir I Have Something to Tell You.

In taut sentences that crackle with sound and feeling, the writer conjures a community shaped by the dual aches of absent fathers and masculine aggression. The people and the setting of this Alberta locale are invoked vividly and instantly, with admirable attention to the specificity of their lives and the landscape they inhabit. Though many lines read like poetry, the essay never loses its fierce clarity about the power and precarity of familial bonds. A really beautiful example of finding the universal in the particular.”— Judge Tajja Isen

SECOND PLACE: Antiquity in My Hands, by Rayya Liebich

Rayya Liebich (she/her) is a writer and educator of Lebanese and Polish descent. She is the author of the award-winning chapbook Tell Me Everything (Beret Day Press) and full-length poetry collection Min Hayati (Inanna Publications). Passionate about writing as a tool for transformation and changing the discourse on grief, she has recently completed a hybrid memoir on her simultaneous experience of motherhood/mother-loss. She finds joy in teaching creative writing in beautiful Nelson, BC.

“This essay begins as a deceptively simple inquiry into a mother’s brooch but expands to reveal what feels like the world in a single piece of jewelry. Through twinned analyses of a diamond cross and the Hand of Fatima, the writer mounts a subtle, searching exploration of faith, family, and racial privilege. I was especially drawn in by the voice, which is wry, self-aware, and intriguingly equivocal as the writer probes their own ambivalences about these questions.” — Judge Tajja Isen

THIRD PLACE: Making Moccasins, by Shanna Lee Mumm

Shanna Lee Mumm (she/her) is a mother, a writer, a teacher, and a nature-worshipping free-spirit living on Treaty 6 Territory. She nurtures three beautiful children, has a doctoral degree, a beloved one, and many plants. Shanna teaches French at University and intends to bring together a “remember how to be human” school. Some of her work can be found in her children’s laughter, the light in her lover’s eyes, The Polyglot Magazine, and Capital City Press.

This is a blazing, deeply felt essay about pregnancy, miscarriage, and family-making. As well as being a moving act of remembrance, the piece is also an electrifying portrait of passion. Rippling through the essay is the writer’s love for their partner, a relationship that brings comfort and complication in equal measure. The voice in this essay is also a delight—frank, seductive, and sensitive.”— Judge Tajja Isen


You’ll find Natalie and Rayya’s winning entries in Room 47.2, to be published in June of 2024. You can read Shanna’s piece via the link above. Many thanks go to our judge, Tajja Isen, for taking her time with the submissions and considering each with such thoughtfulness and care. We are truly grateful for her time, effort, writing acumen, and generosity.

Most of all, 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 here. Our Creative Non-Fiction Contest opens each year in the Spring.

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