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A Shiver of Recognition

The best stories and poems reveal something about human experience that hasn't occurred to us before

Writing is not easy. Ernest Hemingway called writing fiction “possibly the roughest trade of all in writing,” while American poet Ishmael Reed described writing poetry as the “hard labour of the imagination.”

I wish we could have given out more prizes in our short story and poetry contest in recognition of the sheer effort that went into the more than 300 submissions. (Entries flooded in from all over Canada and the U.S., but we also received stories and poems from Europe, Africa and Asia.)

For an amateur competition (writers who had published a book were ineligible), the quality of work was superb. Many people chose to write about life’s difficulties, such as illness, abuse, relationships gone wrong, but a considerable number also focused on such pleasures as love and travel. Works that demonstrated a clear, consistent voice and resonated emotionally garnered the highest praise from the judges. The best stories and poems, they said, accomplished a lot in relatively few words, providing a fresh take on some aspect of life. “I look for a poem that will make readers stop and think and maybe shiver in recognition of what had never occurred to them before,” commented Ian Lancashire, a U of T English professor and one of our poetry judges.

Rasha Mourtada (BA 1998 New College) took first place in the story contest for “Love Story,” a tale of addiction and marital breakdown, while Carleton Wilson (BA 2000 Innis) won the poetry contest for his work, “Smart Girls Writing Something Catch the Eye at Once.”

Mourtada, a 31-year-old web editor at the Globe and Mail, says she’s been writing ever since she was a child. “Love Story” is set in Damascus – a city she’s visited with her parents, who are Syrian. “I’m fascinated by life there,” she says, “by the rhythm of the language, by the social norms and by the deep dedication to religion.”

Mourtada, who had never entered a writing contest and has taken only one creative writing class (at U of T), says she was thrilled – and very surprised – to win. “This is a true honour and also proof that taking chances, even when you’re full of self-doubt, can lead to great things,” she said.

Poetry winner Carleton Wilson has been writing poems since 1993. He is working on his first book while also running Junction Books, a small publishing house. Wilson considers writing and publishing a labour of love. “I love the challenge of putting words together in order to make a kind of music that speaks to people,” he says. “To me, poetry is about the interaction of the raw material of words with the poet’s heart and intellect in order to communicate an essential concept or experience.”

Martin Kofsky was named runner-up for his story “Of Schumann and Sheep Skulls,” about a teacher who reaches out to a pair of difficult students, and Brigid Elson earned second place for her poem “France August 1992.”

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