Technological breakthrough! Pregnant Pause essay now up

A few weeks ago, my new essay on mothering, writing, research and on “my” librarian (the subject of my forthcoming book) appeared in Feminist Formations. I’ve finally figured out how to upload PDF files onto the site. So, here’s the essay for anyone who wants to read it. You can also find it under Publications on the right margin.

The essay is called “Pregnant Pause: On Ona Šimaitė, Research, Writing, and Motherhood.” I share it with the journal’s permission.

As the day goes on, I’ll use my new-found skills to link to more publications.

[Photo: loungerie]


Call for Submissions: Prose Writers

18th Annual Short Prose Competition for Developing Writers
$2,500 PRIZE

The Writers’ Union of Canada is pleased to announce that submissions are being accepted until November 10, 2010 for the 18TH ANNUAL SHORT PROSE COMPETITION FOR DEVELOPING WRITERS. The winning entry will be the best Canadian work of 2,500 words in the English language, fiction or nonfiction, written by an unpublished author.

$2,500 for the winning entry and the entries of the winner and finalists will be submitted to three Canadian magazines.

Writers Tarek Fatah, K.V. Johansen, and Sharon Pollock will serve as the jury.

This competition is open to all Canadian citizens and landed immigrants who have not had a book published by a commercial or university press in any genre and who do not currently have a contract with a book publisher. Original and unpublished (English language) fiction or nonfiction.

•    Entries should be typed, double-spaced, in a clear twelve point font, and the pages numbered on 8.5 x 11 paper, not stapled.
•    Submissions will be accepted by hardcopy only.
•    Include a separate cover letter with title of story, full name, address, phone number, e-mail address, word count, and number of pages of entry.
•    Please type the name of entrant and the title of entry on each numbered page. This is not a blind competition.
•    Make cheque or money order payable to The Writers’ Union of Canada. Multiple entries can be submitted together and fees can be added and paid with one cheque or money order, $25 per submission.
•    Entries must be postmarked by November 10, 2010 to be eligible. Results will be announced in February 2011.

• Mail entries to:
WFC Competition,
The Writers’ Union of Canada
90 Richmond Street East, Suite 200
Toronto, ON
M5C 1P1

Results will be posted at Manuscripts will not be returned.

[Photo: Visentico / Sento]


New essay on writing and mothering: Pregnant Pause

A while ago I wrote a post on failure and returning to the first-person voice. I told how I’d worked on an essay that got rejected countless times before it found its form and its home.

That essay has now appeared in the journal Feminist Formations, in an issue about the body.

Called “Pregnant Pause: On Ona Šimaitė, Research, Writing, and Motherhood,” my essay explores the riddle of being a writer and a mother. It’s a love story between a writer, her new baby and her biographical subject (a Holocaust rescuer and librarian).

You can read the essay here. 

If you don’t have access to Project Muse and would like a copy of the essay, feel free to send me a note via my Contact page, and I’ll get a PDF version off to you.

[Photo: Shutter Daddy]


Life-blood: Patrick Madden

Patrick Madden, Quotidiana. University of Nebraska Press, 2010.

I started reading Quotidiana because I liked the title and because I’ve recently discovered how much I love the essay form. Good essays take the small, apparently throwaway details of everyday life and find in them universal truths and occasionally devastating beauty. Joan Didion is one master of the form, Phillip Lopate, another. Even Walter Benjamin worked in this vein through his examinations of Paris detritus, and of how his library mapped out his life.

It is their tradition in which Patrick Madden writes: “During my first extended encounters with the essay, I was struck (dumbstruck, moonstruck) by those authors who wrote from seemingly insignificant, overlooked, transient things, experiences, and ideas, who were able to find within their everyday, unexceptional lives inspiration for essaying” (2).

Quotidiana is about everyday things. In his essays, Madden examines love, family, fruit, garlic, physics, spirituality, foreignness, music, writing, sickness, teaching and raising children. My favourites are “Laughter” (that starts with a description of his baby daughter’s giggle at dancing sunlight) and “Ego Vici Mundum” that, using a visit to Buenos Aires’ Cathedral, ends up taking the reader almost accidentally through the history of Argentinean repression, the disappeared and the untiring activism of victims’ grandmothers. It’s a very, very good essay.

Themes that return again and again are the band Rush (whose music drifted up from my brother’s basement while I was growing up), life in Uruguay, the name Patrick and how it repeats itself and multiplies in Madden’s family, and (a current obsession of mine) Mormonism — Madden is a Mormon convert, and writes frankly and openly about the two years he spent as a missionary in South America.

Every essay in the book thinks about what the essay is and what the essay does, and the ways it can be simultaneously big and small, lyrical and mathematical.

When I read that while still a student, this author had been warned by a professor to switch from essays to fiction, since he would soon run out of material to write about, I scoffed (as apparently did Madden).

Truth is, anyone who lives life every day will always have something to write about. You just have to pay attention.

That’s the point of the essay.

And that’s the point of Quotidiana.

You can learn more about Patrick Madden at his site (whose URL acquisition he writes about in his book) at

[Photo: Elizabeth Anne Photography]


Globe and Mail essay: “My link to the past is gone”

Today, my essay about my maternal grandmother appeared in the Globe and Mail newspaper. It’s a text I started a few months ago, while she was still alive.

For years, even decades, my grandmother barely aged. My mother and I marvelled at how well she was doing, and celebrated each birthday as a gift.

But after age 95 or so, she seemed to grow old at an accelerated pace.

A few months ago, it became clear that she was starting her exit. Her body was tired, and we knew death was not far off.

That’s when I started writing about her.

Originally, the essay was supposed about a kind of anticipation of mourning or grieving in advance. But with her death, it became an elegy. The Globe piece is a slightly shorter, tighter version of a text called “Blessings from Venus” that I read at her funeral.

My grandmother, Veronika (Verutė) Kubilius, died on June 10, 2010. Had she lived to September 4, 2010 she would have been 99 years old.

You can read the essay here.

[Photo of Veronika Kubilius ca. 2009 by Julija Šukys]


Malahat Review — Creative Non-Fiction Prize

Creative Non-Fiction Prize

The Malahat Review, Canada’s premier literary magazine, invites entries from Canadian, American, and overseas authors for its Creative Non-Fiction Prize. One award of $1,000 CAD is given.

2010 Deadline

The deadline for the 2010 Creative Non-Fiction Prize is August 1, 2010 (postmark date).


The entry must be between 2,000 and 3,000 words. Please indicate word count on the first page. Please double space your work.
No restrictions as to subject matter or approach apply. For example, the entry may be personal essay, memoir, cultural criticism, nature writing, or literary journalism.

Entry fee required:
$35 CAD for Canadian entries
$40 US for American entries
$45 US for entries from Mexico and outside North America.

Entrants receive a one-year subscription to The Malahat Review for themselves or a friend.

Entries previously published, accepted, or submitted for publication elsewhere are not eligible.

Entrants’ anonymity is preserved throughout the judging. Contact information (including an email address) should not appear on the submission, but along with the title on an enclosed separate page.

No submissions will be accepted by email.

The winner and finalists will be notified via email.

Entrants will not be notified about the judges’ decisions even if an SASE is enclosed for this purpose.

The winner and finalists will be announced on the Malahat web site, with the publication of the winning entry in The Malahat Review’s Winter 2010 issue, and in Malahat lite, the magazine’s quarterly e-newsletter, in October 2010.

No entries will be returned, even if accompanied by an SASE.

Send entries and enquiries to:

The Malahat Review
University of Victoria
P.O. Box 1700
Victoria, B.C. V8W 2Y2

Telephone: 250-721-8524
Fax: 250-472-5051

Entrants wishing to pay by credit card may download and complete our Credit Card Payment Form then enclose it with their entries.

Previous Creative Non-Fiction Prize Winners:

2009  Judy Copeland
2008 Joel Yanofsky (Won Silver for Personal Journalism at the 32nd Annual National Magazine Awards)
2007 Vaia Barkas

[Photo: cgkinla]


How I stopped resisting and returned to the first-person

I keep going back to that month I spent at the Banff Centre for the Arts almost four years ago. Never before had I been treated with such generosity and respect (one of the Literary Journalism program’s mentors jokingly warned us not to get used to it, since never again would we be treated this well). The resources were humbling: everything to foster creativity and work was provided. So when I couldn’t deliver the quality of text I’d set out to write during my tenure there, I felt deep humiliation.

But my failure at Banff ended up teaching me about what kind of writer I am. What’s more, that failed text has finally (finally!) transformed itself into something good.

I travelled to Alberta in the summer of 2006 to write a 10,000 word essay on a librarian who hid Jews in a Lithuanian university library during the Shoah. I had my story, my archival documents to cite, and my ideas about what form it should take: above all, I wanted to keep myself out of the essay and avoid using the first-person voice.

Since I had written my first book in a quirky first-person, I was determined to try something new. I wanted to write something “straight”: to tell a story that deserved to be told without mucking it up with theatrics or by inserting myself into the narrative. It seemed like a good plan, and I stuck to it. At the end of four weeks of painful essay extraction, I submitted my final product.

The essay was a disaster. Clunky and lifeless. Even I had to admit it, so once I came home, I kept working on it, wrestling with it and trying to diagnose the problem.

Only after hundreds of drafts over many months, and a grudging return to the first-person voice, did the text begin to work. The story found its traction and my central character (the librarian) gained colour.

Why? What is it about the first-person voice that is so powerful? And why are we so suspicious of it?

Years ago, I was thinking about pitching something to the Chicago Public Radio show This American Life, and looked at their website for guidelines. One line from their description of what makes a good story has stayed with me. It’s now gone from the site, but it went something like: “We look for stories that appear to be about one thing, but that are actually about another.”

This is what the first-person voice is best at.

It’s easy to sneer at the glut of memoirs of the past decade, and to discredit the genre as somehow dishonest or narcissistic, but autobiographical texts and personal essays that really work are always about something bigger than the person writing them.

The best first-person texts flirt with navel-gazing, but are redeemed by insight, artistry, self-criticism, and honesty. By telling a story about their own singular lives, skilled autobiographers and personal essayists inspire revelations. In other words, these texts not only reveal something about the person writing them, but also about the one reading them.

My Banff essay didn’t work when it was just about my librarian, and began to gel only when I found the something else it was really about. Ultimately, the essay came to tell a love story between a researcher and her subject, and the ways in which a pregnancy disrupts this imagined relationship. This story that appeared to be about a Holocaust rescuer was actually about writing and motherhood.

After more rejections than I care to admit to, the essay (now called “Pregnant Pause: On Ona Šimaitė, Research, Writing and Motherhood”) has found its home in a journal called Feminist Formations, formerly the National Women’s Studies Journal. It will appear very soon, in a matter of weeks. I’ll let you know when it happens.

If you’re interested in thinking more deeply about the first-person voice, or simply in reading some top-notch texts, take a look at Phillip Lopate’s edited volume, The Art of the Personal Essay. It’s a massive, brick-sized tome, and will keep you inspired and interested for years to come.

[Photo: DelosJ]


Internet resources for writers: publicity, grants, submitting


I’m not expert on this, but my friend Jill Murray ( is. She’s a Montreal author of young adult fiction, and is super-tech-savvy. She recently gave a talk on how to build a web presence through social networking, and posted her slides on her website. I found the advice there really good. Check it out here. You can find a link to Jill Murray’s website at the right margin as well.


If you could use some tips on grant writing, check out Mira’s List. It’s a great blog where Mira Bartok gathers and disseminates grant announcements. I’ve subscribed to her email list, and have received a grant as a result of a listing I found there. You can also get to Mira’s List via the link under Grants at the right margin.


Though she doesn’t update very often any more, Sarah Wagner Yost’s blog archives give some good ideas as to where to submit personal essays and travel writing. She recommends trying The Smart Set and Modern Love (NYT) for starters. She provides editors’ email addresses and submission guidelines.

[Photo: austinevan]