Creative Nonfiction Collective’s Conference

I’m writing from Banff, where I’ve just attended the Creative Nonfiction Collective’s annual conference—two days of readings, panels, workshops and conversations devoted to this exciting, capacious genre. Some of my personal highlights included: Betsy Warland‘s hypnotic essay about the writing life (you can find it on her website); Erna Paris’s warm, sparkling, and beautifully modulated keynote speech, which exemplified literary nonfiction’s multiple and overlapping pleasures; meal-time conversations with old friends and new acquaintances; and, of course, the annual Readers’ Choice Awards—and not only because this year, I was the fortunate winner!

What I loved about this event was its generosity. Members of the group are invited to nominate a piece of literary nonfiction published within the last two years. They send a short excerpt of the writing to the President, David Leach, and at the conference they read the excerpt aloud to the assembled participants. (The President reads if the nominator is unable to attend). Conference-goers then cast secret ballots to choose the winner.

The nominated work does not have to come from a book, which means that it’s possible to bring attention to newer or less well-known writers through the nominations process. And for me, Lynne Bowen’s reading of Kaitlin Fontana, and Myrna Kostash’s reading of Eufemia Fantetti were among the most vivid and powerful of the evening. What a gift to hear these voices in such a setting! And a gift to those nominated, too. I know I felt honoured to be included in such wonderful company. Also, the readings inevitably illustrate the full range of the genre, which includes everything from narrative or fact-based reportage to memoir to the fragmented, mosaic-style lyric essay.

A nominator’s passion for his or her nominee is infectious. I won’t soon forget Jerry Haigh’s rendition of a rousing and hilarious selection from Paul Nicklen’s Polar Obsession, or Fiona Tinwei Lam’s moving introduction to the work of Sharron Proulx-Turner.

My nomination this year went to Shawna Lemay’s Calm Things. I have reviewed the book on this blog, and I’ve also interviewed Shawna. It felt so good to introduce a book that I’ve admired to readers who would appreciate it when they found it. True to my expectations, when I mentioned the book’s title, publisher, and author, many grabbed pen and paper to write them down. They care. They’re interested. They want to find new work and learn from it. It’s this spirit of generous curiosity that for me, characterized the conference as a whole.

Thanks to the organizers for inviting me, and thanks to all participants for making it such a great experience!

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