It’s official: There’s now less than a month to go before the deadline for PRISM‘s creative non-fiction contest! You’ve got a little over three weeks to put the final polish on your work, be it stranger than fiction or straight from the hip.
Writer Madeline Sonik won the non-fiction contest for her essay “Fetters,” which was published in the Spring 2010 issue. PRISM caught up with Sonik recently to ask how the award helped her writing and what she’s currently working on.
When you won PRISM‘s non-fiction contest, you had already published six books and won an Annie Dillard Award for Creative Nonfiction. How did winning this contest impact your work and how it is received?
I’d actually only published four books before I won PRISM’s non-fiction contest, and I have to say that the win had a profound impact on my writing. I’d been working on the collection, Afflictions & Departures, for years. It was the PRISM win that gave me the final rush of motivation to complete the project. It also motivated me to complete The Book of Changes, a largely autobiographical poetry collection I’d also been working on. Afflictions & Departures was published in 2011 and The Book of Changes was published last year.
Your winning essay, “Fetters,” went on to be part of a larger memoir, Afflictions & Departures. What was the process of putting together the collection like?
When I wrote the first essay that appears in the collection, I was an MFA student at UBC in Andreas Schroeder’s non-fiction class. He was really enthusiastic about the piece and encouraged me to think about writing an entire book of essays. I recall how he likened such a collection to a house, and how each essay would be like a room in this house. Although at the time, the thought of writing an entire collection of personal essays was daunting, that metaphor stayed with me. Over the years, memories of the most salient events in my young life and ideas about how I’d work with them kept me producing essays. By the time I wrote “Fetters,” I knew I was working on a collection, and it was just a question of chronologically filling in some blanks.
What are you working on now?
I always work on a number of different things, letting my energy and enthusiasm for a project guide me on a daily basis. The cross pollination in genres is creatively stimulating, and even though this doesn’t necessary lead to projects being systematically completed, it does allow for crucial periods of incubation. For example, at the moment, I’ve got a lot of energy for a novel in stories set in Windsor, Ontario, that I began thirteen years ago. In fact, PRISM has recently accepted one of these stories, “Transactions,” for an upcoming issue. I’m also writing two other collections of personal essays. One is kind of a continuation of Afflictions & Departures—life in England between 1975-1979; the other is sort of a prequel that deals with my father and his family—again this work is set in Windsor. I have a short story collection, almost finished, that’s chomping at the bit; an academic book on writing techniques; a new poetry collection that I seem to be channelling when I wake up at 4:00 am and can’t get back to sleep, and then there are a whole slew of other things that I’m not working on at the moment. I don’t know which one I’ll finish first. I do find that winning contests, such as PRISM’s, give a real boost to a project. Writing is such a difficult and lonely occupation, full of uncertainty, that when a contest judge validates a specific work, it helps the writer move confidently forward.
What are you currently reading (nonfiction or otherwise)?
I was on the GG nonfiction jury this year, so have just recently finished reading 176 nonfiction books. It was a fantastic and fascinating experience that I need to write about at some point. I was so very fortunate to be selected. The books this year were brilliant! Unfortunately, I can’t say any more than that, for the time being.
In fiction, I’ve recently read Bill Gaston’s The World. I really enjoyed this work, both the story and the ingenious structure. In poetry, I’ve recently read Patricia Young’s dark, beautiful, evocative collection Night-Eater and Marita Dachsel’s Glossolalia, which is a captivating work of poetic monologues.
At my bedside and in progress at the moment are (nonfiction) Gifts of the Crow by John Marzluff and Tony Angell; (short stories) The Best American Short Stories 2013 ed. Elizabeth Strout; and Carter V. Cooper Short Fiction Anthology Book Two selected by Gloria Vanderbilt; (novel) The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton.