The write stuff!

June 2022

Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop just wrapped up its 24th Annual International Writing Contest and LitFest 2022 with New York Times bestselling author, Cathy Marie Buchanan. For their first live event since the pandemic began, it was an inspiring time.

“LitFest 2022 was a great success and Cathy Buchanan is awesome!” says NOWW president, Clayton Bye. “She read from the manuscript of her fourth novel (at the Definitely Superior Art Gallery), then spent the better part of an hour answering questions and visiting with the audience. She also gave the keynote address following the dinner at the Prince Arthur Hotel, and the audience was so interested that we deviated from our program to allow her to answer even more questions. LitFest 2022 was also her first speaking engagement since the beginning of the pandemic and she seemed pleased by our warm, Northwestern Ontario welcome.”

Part of LitFest is a morning workshop with the key-note speaker, and for writers in the region who tend to be more isolated than their southern Ontario peers, this hands-on, personal experience can be invaluable.

“Participants in Cathy’s workshop were thrilled by the many writing exercises she gave us,” says Bye. “I was particularly pleased by the historical questions and photo prompts that focused on Thunder Bay. Cathy’s knowledge of the craft of historical fiction writing is deep, and she willingly shared all aspects of her writing process. I found her insightful and inspiring, and I heard similar comments from those who attended LitFest. The author is personable, down-to-earth, and genuinely interested in helping other writers.”

With 24 years under its belt, the NOWW Annual International Writing Contest is growing bigger and better every year, thanks in part to the participation of high-profile judges from the Canadian writing scene. This year, those judges were novelist/Giller Prize nominee Casey Plett, UBC professor/writer Billy-Ray Belcourt, award-winning writer John Elizabeth Stintzi, writer/journalist Sierra Skye Gemma and writer/poet Chelene Knight.

“I think the higher-profile judges are lending a greater sense of credibility to the contest,” says Bye. “And, in the long run, will attract a wider range of writers. Cathy stayed on for the awards ceremony and mentioned how impressed she was with the scope of our contest. It was much more than she expected from a regional organization. The board of directors is considering a hybrid festival (live and Zoom broadcast) next year to allow regional, national, and international contest participants to attend the events. NOWW is committed to increasing BIPOC participation, and we’re considering adding another permanent category to the five we have now. If possible, the contest will migrate to Submittable (an online submission/ application program) for 2023.” 

I asked Bye what it was like holding a live, in-person event after the pandemic years.

“NOWW offered a Zoom version during the pandemic,” he says. “However, this was our first live event in three years, and many of our guests expressed joy at being able to meet in person. I found the enthusiasm infectious, especially during the workshop. The only disappointment of the weekend came in the form of lower attendance at the dinner and awards ceremony. Our enquiries determined that fear of COVID is still very much at play.”

In the ever-changing landscape shaped by a global pandemic, one thing remains constant, and that is NOWW’s mandate to support local writers and writing. As they move forward, one of the goals is to find creative ways to involve university, college, and high school students in the local writing community.

For more information on NOWW, the LitFest and the Annual Writing Contest, check out their website at, or follow them on Facebook at and on Twitter at @nowwwriters.

Winners of the 24th Annual Writing Contest

Short Fiction
Judged by Casey Plett
1st Place: Ellie Sawatzky - “Majestic”
2nd Place: August C. Bourré - “Mark Jarvis, Prophet”
3rd Place: Sue Blott - “When the Clock Stopped”

Creative Nonfiction
Judged by Sierra Skye Gemma
1st Place: Cindy Matthews - “Law of Averages”
2nd Place: Sue Blott - “No Straight Lines: A Memoir”
3rd Place: Sally Basmajian - “Spring Melt, 1972”

Judged by Billy-Ray Belcourt
1st Place: Samantha Martin-Bird “ciimaan” & “sacrilegious”
2nd Place: Ruth Daniell - “Lucy’s Warbler”
3rd Place: Jennifer Krag - “Home Invasion”

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

Visit her website at

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