I returned home from running errands to an unexpected but very welcome email:
“On behalf of Kitchener Public Library & the KW Community Foundation, I am pleased to inform you that Tasneem Jamal, prose judge has selected your entry Excerpts from the novel Life By Fire as a winner in the Dorothy Shoemaker Literary Awards Contest. You have won 1st prize in the Adult Division and publication in The Changing Image!”
I had submitted my work to the contest last November and then promptly forgot about it. So, I felt surprised and…humbled when I read and reread the message. I didn’t dance for joy. I cried a little: Someone who had never met me had read a small piece of my work and found it worthy—in fact, more worthy than many others submitted.
How do these contests add value?
They encourage writers, who may otherwise give up, to continue to write.
I admit, I’d lost faith in this work—the novel I’ve been calling “Life By Fire”. Although I definitely hadn’t given up on it completely, I had put it aside and started other projects. Writing is lonely work. Engulfing yourself in a fictitious world with fictitious characters, completely detached from the “real” world and people around you, can feel alienating. I write based on a deep desire to connect with people through words, yet the practice of it isolates me. Combine that with repeated reminders from practical, well-meaning people that “even best-selling authors don’t make any money” and “it’s almost impossible to get a publisher” and “everybody’s writing a book”…and one begins to see writing as a guilty pleasure, a “hobby” at best and, at worst, a complete waste of time—time that should be spent making a reliable, steady income like everybody else.
But, Tasneem Jamal, an experienced editor and published novelist (who did give up making a reliable, steady income to pursue her writing and publish it successfully), had read my small excerpt (only 1,500 words) and deemed it worthy of an award—1st prize, even.
I Googled Tasneem and enjoyed reading her blog, particularly the post entitled We Packed Up the Kids and Moved to Tanzania. Then Things Fell Apart, which appeared in Chatelaine magazine’s April 2015 issue. In a way, she and I are completely opposite—she writes about having taken too many risks and I lament having taken too few. But a common thread appears to connect our writing: like so many women, we have both expressed guilt associated with “not doing ‘it’ well enough”. ‘It’ being life in general, parenting specifically…and, for me anyway, pursuing my writing goals.
So, perhaps, above all, receiving this small award has reminded me that doing it badly is better than not doing it at all. I will continue to work on Life By Fire in addition to my other writing projects, I will publish them, and I will experience success.
I feel a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation—and for that, I wish to say a very heart-felt thank-you…
Tasneem, thank you for reading my work and recognizing my efforts. Also, thank you also for your words and your honesty.
Ms. Shoemaker, thank you for establishing this literary award, ensuring its continuance, and, through it, connecting with me across time to encourage me to continue to write.
Kitchener Public Library & the KW Community Foundation, thank you for your ongoing dedication to administering the awards on Ms. Shoemaker’s behalf.
And thank YOU if you read down this far.
About the Dorothy Shoemaker Literary Awards
The Dorothy Shoemaker Literary Awards began in 1967 as a Centennial project, created by Dorothy Shoemaker, Kitchener Public Library’s Chief Librarian from 1944 to 1971.
In 1996, government funding for the Literary Awards was eliminated. To ensure the Awards could continue, Dorothy Shoemaker made a significant personal donation. In 2000, Dorothy Shoemaker died at the age of 94. However, her legacy of support for aspiring writers continues today through her ongoing endowment.
2016 Contest Winners
1st Place: Growth by Candice Rubie
2nd Place: Where I’m From by Ellia Bishop
3rd Place: The Lady of Badakhshan by Farzam Karimi
Honourable Mention: The Colour Brown by Devshi Perera
1st Place: Bearborne by Dylan Siebert
2nd Place: An Incomplete List of Animals, Extinct: 1985-2015 by Graeme Ruck
3rd Place: Ancestors by Leslie Bamford
Honourable Mention: Her Name is Nurse by Jenna Hazzard
Honourable Mention: The Diner: A Sestina by Jenna Hazzard
1st Place: Vultures by Rachel Garritsen
2nd Place: How I Wish it Went by Cynthia Wekesa
3rd Place: Wolf Boy by Mackayla Werstine
1st Place: Life By Fire by Deborah Jones
2nd Place: A Gentle Flutter of Feathers by Cheryl Rosbak
3rd Place: How Do You Do? by Ryan Boggs
Honourable Mention: Between, Amongst, On Top Of by Tiffany Irwin
Honourable Mention: No Man’s Land by Jennifer Sloan Walker