Judge’s Notes

Prairie Fire - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - BETSY WARLAND

“TAKE ME AWAY” IM­ME­DI­ATELY DREW ME IN, then mes­mer­ized me in its wave-like mo­tion of telling its story. As ev­i­denced in this piece, re­cent re­search has con­firmed that sto­ry­telling con­tin­ues to im­pact us far more than polemic or dog­matic writ­ing. The writer’s skill in trac­ing the small and large mo­ments of this story’s un­fold­ing en­ables the reader to ex­pe­ri­ence them too.

Cre­ative non-fic­tion of­fers an al­most un­lim­ited ar­ray of stylis­tic and struc­tural pos­si­bil­i­ties. This is its strength but also its vex­ing chal­lenge. In this kind of shorter form, it is cru­cial to hold the fo­cus in a dynamic, steady man­ner and gra­ciously ac­cept the lim­i­ta­tions a max­i­mum word count im­poses. Al­though the topic of this piece is pro­found on a per­sonal, so­cio-po­lit­i­cal, faith-based level, Jagtar Kaur Atwal has re­sisted over­stretch­ing.

With shorter cre­ative non-fic­tion pieces, it is even more chal­leng­ing to dis­cern how to sus­tain a reader’s at­ten­tion. When we fal­ter as CNF writ­ers, our read­ers’ re­ten­tion simply does not oc­cur. We’ve lost them. The pac­ing in “Take Me Away” is ex­cel­lent. We never skim the writer’s skill­ful sen­tences when they are com­prised of de­tail, back­story, evoca­tive en­vi­ron­ment/con­text and ex­pres­sive di­a­logue as well as in­ner re­flec­tion and thought. We re­main on the sharp blade of this nar­ra­tive just as the nar­ra­tor does.

“Take Me Away” took me some­where I’ve never quite been. The writer’s quiet in­quiry into re­ceived no­tions, at­ti­tudes, ex­pec­ta­tions and shift­ing val­ues changed and en­riched me as a reader.

Suzanne Nussey’s form is a per­fect mir­ror of the na­ture of the re­called vi­gnettes that haunt and shape us over the decades of our per­sonal and col­lec­tive lives.

In Mar­ion Agnew’s “Hours of Day­light,” a story of se­ri­ous me­mory loss and its pro­found im­pact on fam­ily, is mov­ingly book­ended by the open­ing and clos­ing sec­tions about her mother’s bright­ness as a child and an honorary math award given in her name.

Robin K. MacDon­ald’s qui­etly el­e­gant sen­tences take us into the sen­sate na­ture of the north and the dis­parate con­scious­ness (and ten­der con­nec­tion) of an In­dige­nous lover and set­tler in “Road­kill Heart.”

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