Award nominee Madeline Sonik

Afflictions & Departures, the latest book by Department of Writing instructor Madeline Sonik, has made the longlist for the $40,000 BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction. After perusing 134 books submitted by 35 publishers, the jury—made up of former Vancouver Public Library City Librarian Paul Whitney, author Shari Graydon and former Vancouver Sun editor-in-chief Patrician Graham—then whittled that list down to 10 diverse books, including Sonik’s autobiographical offering, plus Charlotte Gill’s Eating Dirt, Brian Fawcett’s Human Happiness and Chris Turner’s The Leap, among others.

“Canada’s authors continue to inspire, engage and enlighten, and this year’s nominated titles well reflect our tradition of truly remarkable literary non-fiction,” said Keith Mitchell, chair of award organizers the British Columbia Achievement Foundation.

Sonik—an award-winning novelist, short-story writer, children’s author, poet, editor and non-fiction writer whose previous books include the likes of Drying the Bones and Arms (both from Nightwood Editions), plus Belinda and the Dustbunnys (Hodgepog) and Stone Sightings (Inanna)—has been nominated for prizes before, but says this is the shortest list she has appeared on to date.

“It means a lot to me personally,” says Sonik of Afflictions & Departures (Anvil Press). “Right from the beginning, this book has been a bit of a wild child. When I went looking for a publisher, I got so much, ‘Wow…, this is fantastic,… but how would we ever market it?’ ‘It’s not conventional memoir. It’s not conventional personal essay. It’s not like anything we’ve ever seen.’ Brian Kaufman at Anvil Press said the same thing—but fortunately, that’s what he was looking for.”

Unfortunately, says Sonik, the use of the word “essays” as the cover descriptor has been a bit of a stumbling block for Afflictions & Departures—which tackles the author’s life from conception to my mid-teens, as well as her touching on her late parents and the particular historical period through which they all lived as a family. “When the book was published in the summer, book editors didn’t want to review it . . . so really, word of mouth has been the only thing sustaining the book so far. This nomination will at least get the title out there a little further.”

Regardless of the outcome, Sonik says the BCNA nomination has inspired her to come up with a name for the new nonfiction genre in which she’s been working. “I’m going to call this book a ‘fracture’—a series of short, linked memoir pieces that uses techniques of hard-boiled journalism and literary fiction, and self-consciously disrupts or fractures conceptions of linear time. I think postmodernists will love this label!”

Last year’s winner was John Vaillant for The Tiger, and UVic’s Patrick Lane won in 2005 for There Is a Season.

Finalists for the seventh annual award will be announced December 5 and the award presentation will take place in Vancouver on February 6, 2012.

Sonik’s new poetry collection, The Book of Changes, is forthcoming in 2012.

And, as one of the 36 contributing authors, she is also participating in the local launch for the new collection, Slice Me Some Truth: An Anthology of Canadian Nonficiton (Wolsak & Wynn), at 7pm Thursday, November 24, at The Well, 821 Fort Street.


REVIEW: Madeline Sonik’s Afflictions & Departures was reviewed in the November 13 issue of the Times Colonist. Reviewer Candace Fertile describes the book as a “fascinating and deeply moving memoir” that “pulsates with raw, straightforward truth.”

“In addition to the realism contained in these essays is the tough and beautiful language,” praises Fertile. “It’s evident that words matter enormously to Sonik, and she consistently finds the right ones to use . . . . Afflictions & Departures is guaranteed not only to satisfy but also to inspire. Sonik has overcome enormous challenges and turned them into literary jewels. This book encourages readers to think about family, memory and history—and above all, resilience.”