Cal­gar­ian’s short story top’s na­tional con­test, wins $10K

Calgary Herald - - FAITH - CHRIS NEL­SON

Cal­gar­ian Bran­don Trot­ter has scooped first place, along with prize money of $10,000, in a na­tional con­test to ex­plore the best in con­tem­po­rary Cana­dian faith writ­ing.

His win­ning short story, en­ti­tled Saint 148, is set in a fu­ture world where a ro­bot ex­plores the pos­si­bil­ity of find­ing a soul and thereby dis­cov­ers if ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence is ca­pa­ble of faith. It was judged the best ef­fort in the in­au­gu­ral Ross and Davis Mitchell faith-writ­ing con­test.

A to­tal of $25,000 in prize money was handed out — $10,000 to the win­ners in the short story and po­etry cat­e­gories, with $2,500 go­ing to each run­ner-up. The awards were an­nounced at a gala evening held at Toronto’s Aga Khan Mu­seum last week.

The con­test’s goal was to give voice to those in­di­vid­u­als who can help re-awaken Cana­di­ans to the pow­er­ful truth, good­ness and beauty that be­lief brings.

Lawyer and busi­ness­man Ross Mitchell died in 2013 and his wife Davis backed the con­test to honour her hus­band’s life, legacy and love of sto­ry­telling. Fund­ing is al­ready in place to con­tinue back­ing and pro­mot­ing sim­i­lar faith-based lit­er­a­ture for the next six years.

About 300 en­tries were re­ceived, split evenly be­tween the short story and po­etry cat­e­gories, said Doug Sikkema, the project lead for the Mitchell Prize.

“While we will take the req­ui­site time to cel­e­brate these folks, I should ac­knowl­edge that the many un­known writers — per­haps some who saw the prize ad­ver­tised and de­cided to pick up a pen and pa­per for the first time — are what make this prize a real suc­cess.

“Our hope was, and con­tin­ues to be, that the vi­tal role re­li­gion plays for so many Cana­di­ans today will be shared, not sup­pressed,” he said.

Sikkema added the judges were im­pressed with Trot­ter’s story about a soul­less ro­bot’s search for faith in a fu­ture world be­cause of the writer’s won­der­ful imag­i­na­tion, which stretched the bounds of the con­test.

“The judges were look­ing for some­one who helped us en­ter into a unique world,” he said. “Bran­don cer­tainly did that.

“What does it mean for ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to wor­ship, can it wor­ship and be part of a church? It was fun, it was play­ful and it didn’t do any­thing pre­dictable,” added Sikkema.

The Mitchell Prize is part of the Faith in Canada 150 pro­gram that is be­ing pri­mar­ily driven this year by Car­dus, the Cana­dian Chris­tian think-tank.

Trot­ter — who in ad­di­tion to be­ing a writer is also a di­rec­tor, ac­tor, play­wright and arts chap­lain — was de­lighted and sur­prised to win the prize.

“Saint 148 is about a ro­bot in the fu­ture who de­cides to be­come a Chris­tian de­spite no hope for sal­va­tion as it has no soul,” Trot­ter said. “Through­out the story, it goes through a pe­riod of tri­als.

“It came about through my own wrestling with whether or not Chris­tian­ity is an al­tru­is­tic faith,” he said.

Trot­ter, 30, is a grad­u­ate of Calgary’s Am­brose Univer­sity where he stud­ied re­li­gion. He had worked as an ac­tor be­fore col­lege and now has a rare op­por­tu­nity to blend both his faith and his past ex­pe­ri­ence in theatre by work­ing as an arts chap­lain. He is af­fil­i­ated with Rock­pointe Al­liance church, which has three lo­ca­tions in the city, and the arts chap­laincy is a new and un­usual min­istry pro­gram.

“With this, I’ll serve the arts com­mu­nity in Calgary; specif­i­cally, the theatre com­mu­nity for now and hope­fully other me­dia as we go for­ward. I hope to be a spir­i­tual guide and helper, what­ever peo­ple need,” he said.

“I know of about four of us in the world right now, so this is pretty new. This part of the job only started last month so we are still mak­ing con­nec­tions,” he added.

Trot­ter said that although many peo­ple within the arts com­mu­nity as a whole are of­ten not af­fil­i­ated with a spe­cific re­li­gion, there is cer­tainly a search for mean­ing and faith within in­di­vid­u­als.

“There is far less in­ter­est in re­li­gion, but most of them have a very strong faith in some­thing. They are of­ten strug­gling with the greater ques­tions of truth and mean­ing that can­not be found in the ma­te­rial world alone,” said Trot­ter.

As for his $10,000 prize. Trot­ter said he is go­ing to be “quite bor­ing and put most of it on my mort­gage.”

Rowda Mo­hamud, a So­ma­l­i­born Cana­dian- Mus­lim poet from Oakville, Ont., took home the $10,000 prize for her suite of po­ems en­ti­tled Please Find Your­self a Space.

The work of the win­ners and run­ners-up will be fea­tured in an an­thol­ogy to be pub­lished in 2018.

Saint 148 is about a ro­bot in the fu­ture who de­cides to be­come a Chris­tian de­spite no hope for sal­va­tion as it has no soul.

Cal­gar­ian Bran­don Trot­ter won first place, along with $10,000, in a na­tional con­test to ex­plore the best in con­tem­po­rary Cana­dian faith writ­ing.

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