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2 Writer’s Studio alumni up for major literary prizes

April 13, 2011
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Sarah Leavitt.

By Amy Robertson

Two graduates of SFU Continuing Studies’ award-winning creative writing program, The Writer’s Studio, were up for major literary prizes this spring.

Sarah Leavitt’s Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer’s, My Mother and Me was a finalist for the 2011 Hubert Evan Non-Fiction Prize and the 2011 Alberta Reader’s Choice Award, while Gurjinder Basran’s Everything Was Good-bye was a finalist for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize.

“They’re very original, fresh, powerful books,” said Betsy Warland, who directs The Writer’s Studio.

Winners of the Hubert Evan Prize and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize will be announced April 21 at the Lieutenant Governor’s B.C. Book Prize Gala in Vancouver.

Winners of the Alberta Reader’s Choice Award will be announced in June at the Alberta Book Awards Gala in Calgary.

Update:

Gurjinder Basran won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize on April 21, 2011.

Tangles tells visual story of mother’s battle with illness

Tangles: The Story of My Mother, Alzheimer's and Me

Tangles (Freehand Books, 2010), a graphic novel, documents Leavitt’s experience as her mother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.

It was important to Leavitt, who is a cartoonist as well as a writer, that her experience be documented visually and not just in prose.

“It allows the reader to engage in a different way,” she said, explaining that readers sometimes respond more deeply and more immediately to images. “My hope is that it’s a way for people to understand the experience more.”

Leavitt began collecting sketches and notes shortly after her mother was diagnosed in 1998. In 2001, after Leavitt had moved to Vancouver, she began assembling pieces of the book as she studied at The Writer’s Studio. Leavitt’s mother died in 2004.

Tangles was also a finalist for the 2010 Writer’s Trust of Canada Non-Fiction Prize—and it was the first graphic novel to be a finalist in this category. It was in The Globe and Mail’s top 100 books of 2010 and Maisonneuve Magazine’s top 10 for 2010, and it won the CBC Bookie award for Best Comic or Graphic Novel in 2010.

Everything Was Good-bye represents what ‘nobody talked about’

Everything Was Good-bye.

Everything Was Good-bye (Mother Tongue Publishing, 2010), centres on Meena, a young Indo-Canadian woman growing up in Delta as she struggles to find her place between Indian and Canadian culture.

It began as a journaling project for Basran and her sisters, but quickly turned into fiction. Basran later crafted the story into a novel at The Writer’s Studio.

Several people have asked Basran whether she had an agenda as she wrote Everything Was Good-bye, which explores themes like arranged marriage, abuse, unfaithfulness, and struggle as Meena grows from a teenager into a woman and chooses to marry, then divorce and have a child.

Basran said she may have wanted to send a message about repression as she started writing, but that changed as the story developed.

“I just felt like I had to tell the story. It was … partly a reconciling of some of my own experiences, but partly wanting there to finally be a representation of things that were happening in the world that nobody was talking about. Or things that were happening in my community that nobody talked about.”

Gurjinder Basran.
Photo by James Loewen.

Basran said she wanted to represent—tell one person’s story—without being representative of the entire community.

There are other experiences, and maybe somebody else will write about them. Maybe I’ll write about them.”

Everything Was Good-bye won Mother Tongue Publishing’s Search for the Great B.C. Novel Contest. It was also an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award finalist.

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