Lit­er­ary prizes at CBU

Cape Breton Post - - Front Page - Ken Chisholm The Cen­tre Isle Ken Chisholm lives in Syd­ney and has writ­ten plays, songs, re­views, mag­a­zine ar­ti­cles. He can be reached at the­cen­ter­isle@gmail.com.

Famed writer Mavis Gal­lant loved Cape Bre­ton.

From her first visit here in the mid-1980s un­til her death in 2014, es­teemed Cana­dian au­thor Mavis Gal­lant had a long and cher­ished re­la­tion­ship with Cape Bre­ton Is­land.

In fact, she fea­tured a re­cur­ring Cape Bre­ton-born char­ac­ter in her work; a gen­tle­man named Chisholm, as a mat­ter of fact, from In­ver­ness County. (I found that out while hav­ing my copy of her “Col­lected Short Sto­ries” signed dur­ing one of her fre­quent vis­its to the is­land. I help­fully be­gan spell­ing my last name for her when she fros­tily in­formed me, “I know how to spell ‘Chisholm’”.)

While born in Mon­treal, Gal­lant spent most of her life in Paris, France, where she was a reg­u­lar short story con­trib­u­tor to “The New Yorker”: her to­tal of 114 sto­ries was only ex­ceeded by the even more pro­lific John Cheever. The many col­lec­tions of her sto­ries were highly an­tic­i­pated, lav­ishly praised, and of­ten award-win­ning.

Dur­ing her first visit here, she did sev­eral read­ings around the is­land: to a packed room in Syd­ney’s Lyceum and to ex­cited stu­dents in Mabou at an event or­ga­nized by ed­u­ca­tor and sto­ry­teller, Jim St. Clair. The Mabou stu­dents’ en­thu­si­asm for her work and for be­ing able to ques­tion her about the writ­ing process made a last­ing im­pres­sion on Gal­lant.

Although ma­jor uni­ver­si­ties and lit­er­ary schol­ars were hop­ing to ac­quire her archives and other ma­te­ri­als as­so­ci­ated with her writ­ing, Gal­lant chose Cape Bre­ton Univer­sity his­tory pro­fes­sor, Dr. Mary Kay Ma­cLeod, to be her lit­er­ary ex­ecu­tor.

Dr. Ma­cLeod, on be­half of the es­tate, is presently work­ing to fin­ish Gal­lant’s last great writ­ing project: an ex­am­i­na­tion of the con­spir­acy and so­cial forces around the un­just con­vic­tion for trea­son of the Jewish mil­i­tary of­fice Al­fred Drey­fus. The es­tate is also con­sult­ing on the up­com­ing pub­li­ca­tion of Gal­lant’s jour­nals.

In 2016, an­other project ini­ti­ated by the Gal­lant es­tate, along with the Cape Bre­ton Univer­sity School of Arts and So­cial Sciences, had CBU stu­dents ex­plore the writ­ing craft through schol­arly es­says in any area of study. It is the only writ­ing award of­fered by the Mavis Gal­lant es­tate.

The Gal­lant Writ­ing Award of­fered two prizes of a $1000 each in two cat­e­gories: one for a first or sec­ond-year CBU stu­dent, the sec­ond prize for a third or fourth year CBU stu­dent.

In April of this year, CBU of­fi­cially an­nounced the win­ners: Grace McNutt, presently a third-year Bach­e­lor of Arts stu­dent with an hon­ours in His­tory, won in the first cat­e­gory, and Erin Bragg, presently a fourthyear Bach­e­lor of Arts stu­dent with an hon­ours in English, won in the sec­ond cat­e­gory.

McNutt’s win­ning es­say, “Are You OLD Dean Mo­ri­arty?”, fo­cused on the work of Jack Ker­ouac and the im­pacts of World War II on the Amer­i­can so­ci­ety, while Bragg’s es­say, “Fire He Sang”, ex­plored the phys­i­cal and spir­i­tual ef­fects of cre­ative ex­pres­sion, es­pe­cially in the Or­pheus poem by Denise Lev­er­tov.

With over 40 sub­mis­sions from a range of dis­ci­plines to con­sider, Jan Cur­tis of the School of Arts and So­cial Sciences and one of the panel of judges, com­mented in a CBU media re­lease, that “the other judges and I were im­pressed by the depth of re­search, the fa­cil­ity with lan­guage and the re­mark­able en­ergy of these sub­mis­sions.”

The judges’ panel also named four hon­or­able men­tions from the other sub­mis­sions: Celia Cameron’s study of the sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween Cape Bre­ton fiddling and Jewish-Amer­i­can Klezmer mu­sic; Sa­man­tha Ay­ers-Glassey’s ex­ten­sively re­searched ar­gu­ment for choos­ing Ve­gan diet as a life­style change that ben­e­fits both the in­di­vid­ual and the en­vi­ron­ment; Emily Ram­sey’s anal­y­sis of Mary Shel­ley’s “Franken­stein” and Sheri­dan Le Fanu’s vam­pire tale “Camilla” in terms of so­ci­ety’s cru­elty to mon­sters who share and seek the virtues of hu­man­ity; and Frank Sin­clair’s “pro­found, closely rea­soned study” (in the judges’ words) of un­der­stand­ing sym­bol­ism in terms of the rig­or­ous task of in­ter­pret­ing his­tory.

Dr. Cur­tis re­marks, “These pa­pers are strik­ing ex­am­ples of ex­cel­lent un­der­grad­u­ate writ­ing of which the au­thors can be proud.”

The Mavis Gal­lant writ­ing prize will be of­fered again in 2018.

PHOTO COURTESY OF CAPE BRE­TON UNIVER­SITY

Cape Bre­ton Univer­sity stu­dents Grace McNutt and Emily Bragg were an­nounced as the win­ners of the first Mavis Gal­lant Writ­ing Prize for ex­cel­lence in un­der­grad­u­ate writ­ing on a schol­arly topic this past April.

SUBMITTED PHOTO

Que­bec born au­thor Mavis Gal­lant formed a deep friend­ship with Cape Bre­ton late in her life. Cape Bre­ton Univer­sity and the Gal­lant es­tate re­cently an­nounced the win­ners of the first writ­ing prizes named in her mem­ory.

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