Shooting for the Moon: Local Writing Contest draws National level judges

March 2017

Jane Urquhart. Ann-Marie MacDonald. Jayne Barnard. Stephen Kimber. Liz Howard. What looks like a Governor General’s Award short list is actually the list of the judges for Northwestern Ontario Writer’s Workshop (NOWW) Annual Writing Contest, and it’s generating a bit of buzz in the Canadian literary scene.

“It’s drawn attention locally from all the major media outlets,” says Jodene Wylie, NOWW contest director, “Even the Giller Prize and the Griffin Poetry Prize took notice,” mentioning the local contest on Facebook and Twitter.
I’ve known Wylie for a few years now and have always been impressed with her boldness, enthusiasm and boundless energy. I asked what made her think to approach so many high-profile writers.

“I decided to shoot for the moon!” she says with a huge smile. “I made a list of every big-name, award-winning, awe-inspiring Canadian author I could think of and started to make cold calls (or rather cold e-mails) to them, their assistants, and their publishers – anyone who could get me in contact with them. We were able to attract and impress some huge names who were interested in what we were doing here in Thunder Bay. It’s always a little nerve-wracking approaching the “greats” in your field but when you receive an email directly from them to you…it sends chills through your bones!”

While the Literary Contest attracts a variety of qualified judges each year, this year’s list seems to have sparked not only a national interest in the contest, but also a flurry of submissions.

“We aren’t Toronto or Vancouver,” says Wylie. “So when you tell people in the community that these are really our judges, they stare at you in shock and amazement! Their work is really going to be read by one of their favourite authors. How incredible would it be to have an author whose book is on your nightstand, decide that your short story, or poetry, or piece of creative nonfiction is the one that blew them away? Think of the impression and impact that would have on an up and coming writer - it fuels creativity and drive! This is such an exciting time for writers in Northern Ontario.”

An icon of Canadian literature, Jane Urquhart will be judging the Bill MacDonald Prize for Prose (Fiction). “Jane was born in Little Longlac, Ontario,” says Wylie, “ and has a long family history in and around Thunder Bay. I think she sees her participation as a way of supporting a community close to her heart, a community that in some ways feels like home.”

Liz Howard (Poetry) has been “making huge waves” as a finalist for the 2015 Governor-General’s Award for Poetry and after winning the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2016. Ann-Marie MacDonald (Short Fiction) is a Gemini award-winning actor, CBC television host and playwright. (Her play Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet was recently produced by Cambrian Players in Thunder Bay.) Jayne Barnard (Novel Excerpt, Speculative Fiction) is the winner of the 2016 Dundurn Unhanged Arthur, along with a 2016 eFestival of Words Award. Her most recent novel, Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond, was shortlisted for the Canadian Prix Aurora. Stephen Kimber (Non-Fiction) is an award-winning journalist, author and co-founder of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction at the University of King’s College in Halifax.

Topping it off, contest winners will be announced at NOWW’s annual Literary Awards Party in April which will feature keynote speaker Denise Chong, author of The Girl in the Picture, and The Concubine’s Children. For a little contest in a small northern city, the impact of such a roster is impressive.

“We wanted to find authors who are dominating their field in the hope that it would excite our local writers,” says Wylie. “And without a doubt, people are thrilled. NOWW is providing authors with an opportunity to connect with outstanding writers as their judges. What a great feeling bringing their skills to our contest here in the North!”

For more information about the NOWW Writing Contest, the Literary Awards Party or this fabulous roster of guest judges, check out NOWW’s website at The contest ends March 31, 2017.

Heather L. Dickson is a photoshop guru, zoologist and author of 6 novels.

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