Sonja Larsen wins the 2017 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction

Photo by Luke Sarazin

Sonja Larsen’s Red Star Tattoo: My Life as a Girl Revolutionary has been chosen as the winner the 2017 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction which includes a $1000 award.

The memoir is coming-of-age story involving the author’s youth in counterculture organizations.

“To get [the story] from a first person perspective, and a child’s perspective as she grew up with it, you really get a sense of the way in which politics for her was something marginal but central to her life,” Richard Nemesvari, dean of the faculty of arts at Laurier said.

“She’s very skillful at showing that and kind of radical politics in particular, and the ability to create that effectively is why she was [on the shortlist and the winner] [sic].”

Sonja Larsen’s accomplishment will be celebrated on Nov. 9 on Laurier’s Waterloo campus in the Robert Lange Art Gallery and Library where she will be presented with the award, after which there will be a book reading held.

“These authors are doing something that is cutting edge because it used to be, you weren’t supposed to blend those things — non fiction was just the facts. But I think that recognizing that it’s possible … it’s an interesting approach to writing.”

Following that event on Nov. 10, Larsen will be attending a meet the author event at Laurier’s Brantford campus in the Carnegie Building.

Earlier in September, Laurier announced two other books, alongside Larsen’s, which were chosen as part of the shortlist for the 2017 award, this included The Shoe Boy by Duncan McCue and The Elephants in My Backyard by Rajiv Surendra.

“All three are very good writers obviously and so they’re very powerfully able to evoke the events in their lives that are the centre of the narrative,” Nemesvari said.

Approximately 50 submissions were received this year to be considered for the award.

Nemesvari explained that, each year, a selected committee will choose a lengthier shortlist consisting of eight or nine books. From there, a group of three panelist judges select the three finalists to be on the shortlist and, finally, the winner after that.

The judges for this year were Bruce Gillespie, Laurier associate professor for digital media and journalism, Anne Russell, Laurier associate professor for English and film studies and Sharon Brown, former Laurier librarian.

The award was created by Edna Staebler herself in 1991, who was a Canadian author born in Kitchener.

“She became particularly connected to Laurier because she saw it as a place that encouraged the development of new talent — and that’s what she wanted her award to do,” Nemesvari said.

The award, comprising of $10,000 and administered by Laurier, recognizes Canadian authors for either their first or second work of creative non-fiction which must incorporate a Canadian locale or significance.

An additional aspect which makes this award unique is the genre on which it focuses.

While non-fiction as its own genre usually reports facts, adding the creative aspect to the genre brings forth a complex and unique addition to the stories.

“Creative non fiction is an effort to take those facts … and by using literary devices, giving them an additional impact. It’s a blending of creativity and non-fiction which is increasingly recognized as an interesting approach to art,” Nemesvari said.

“These authors are doing something that is cutting edge because it used to be, you weren’t supposed to blend those things — non fiction was just the facts. But I think that recognizing that it’s possible … it’s an interesting approach to writing.”

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