Revelstoke’s Leslie Davidson is the winner of the 2016 CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize for her story Adaptation.
CBC Books announced the winner of the Canada-wide competition on Wednesday morning. Davidson will receive $6,000, a 10 day residency at the Banff Centre for Arts & Creativity, and her work will be published in Air Canada’s enRoute magazine and online at CBCBooks.ca.
“Adaptation is the story of a long-married couple going for a walk along the river near their town. Beyond the strong and simple writing lies all the complexity of love and pain and how we must get used to the hard things we are not used to,” said the jury. “Told with tenderness and gentle humour, it is the story of searching for signposts to help us navigate the new terrain of our lives as we age.”
The jury consisted of writers Brian Brett, Diane Schoemperlen and Drew Hayden Taylor.
Davidson is originally from Kingston, Ont., and lived in Grand Forks, B.C., for 35 years before moving to Revelstoke several years ago. She took up writing after retiring from teaching and began submitting her stories, collection “rejections and advice, discipline and humility for my wannabe writer-self,” she said.
She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2011, and her husband was diagnosed with dementia not long after.
“Telling our story began as therapy but became the articulation of a journey, full of sorrow but coloured by astonishing love, humour and compassion,” she said.
Davidson is about to publish her first children’s book, The Red Canoe, which will be released at the Revelstoke Library on Oct. 27.
You can read Adaption by clicking here.
A Q&A with Leslie Davidson, conducted by CBC Books follows:
1. Tell us about yourself.
I am an aging Alice down a rabbit hole of contradictions, making sense of a life with Parkinson’s Disease and without my husband whom I am losing to Lewy-Body Dementia. I am, at the same time, a joyous grandmother, grateful beyond words to be living in the same beautiful mountain town as our two daughters and three, soon to be four, incredible grandchildren. I am a retired teacher, still missing the classroom after almost a decade into retirement, yet thrilled every September that I am not heading off to school. I am a beginning writer, fulfilling a dream happily delayed by other passions: being a mom, a teacher, a traveller, a get-me-out-of-the-house-right-now nature lover, a reader, a friend, a grandmother, and a partner/caregiver. Not for a moment do I regret waiting for this. Not for a moment do I wonder what I might have grown to become, had I started writing sooner. I am simply astonished and grateful that what I find myself doing now, because I cannot but do it, has found a readership, of sorts, and that others have found in my writing something worthwhile.
2. What was the inspiration behind your story?
Well, the events themselves, the ones described in the piece, haunted me…or perhaps, “stalked” is a better word. They just would not leave me alone and without Lincoln, my husband, to talk to, and anxious to not over-burden our staunch friends, I needed a place to tell the story. I think of Wordsworth’s “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” I can’t say that I was recollecting in tranquility, exactly, and I am a very poor poet but the emotions recollected were powerful. The passage of time gave me a perspective from which to explore the experiences and my reactions to them, to try and give them their due and a place to live that was not so big and troublesome. I needed the stalker to go home or at least, to its own room and get out of mine. Writing it down helped.
And there is this other piece: Is it okay to write about Lincoln? I don’t know how he would respond. Or what he would have felt had I been able to say to him…you know when you are sicker and more lost to me, I am going to write about it and I am going to share my writing, publicly. I believe our story is important to share. For me, for him, to make these experiences not something out of the ordinary because they aren’t…they are very hard but so many families are living through similar situations. People living with dementia feel very lost to those who love them and I suspect feel very lost and confused within themselves. My husband, and so many others like him, are in care facilities. They are hidden away and I hate that. I don’t know what a better model would look like and I also hate how inadequate I am when it comes to imagining a change, much less making one, but I am grateful for a having a safe, kind place for him to live. I can bring a rested, joyful self to him every single day and I have the energy and capacity to love him and express that to him. Our children and their children are very engaged with him. I know it makes a difference to us and to Lincoln. I hope when people read what I write they recognize the challenges of the journey but also that there are moments of gold that loving someone who is so changed bestow.
I learned a long time ago to think of love as an action word…not an abstract noun… not something you wait and wait to experience, not something you wait and wait for and hold others responsible for bringing it into your life, but something you DO. I forget that sometimes and that is when I struggle the most but when I remember…for me there is an internal shift that lightens the load and straightens the path a bit. And writing it down, that reminds me to love, that I can love, that we are loved. I am astounded by the reservoir of loving energy our little family and our wider tribe of family and friends possess. And I know that what I am doing in telling our stories is the most right thing in the world for me to be doing.
3. How did you feel after writing it?
Really, really tired. And satisfied that what I had said was what I wanted to say.
4. What do you think is the power of writing creative nonfiction?
Oh boy. Hard question! I am new at this and have an old brain. Is it in the knowing that the story played itself out on the surface of this planet, not in the imagination? I don’t think fiction or non-fiction, one or the other is more “true”, not at all, but perhaps the knowing that there is a person out there who lived through, or is living through something that has meaning for another, gives it some power. I suspect even writers of non-fiction have personas but there is still something very risky about self-disclosure. You can dislike a character but love the writer in fiction but when the author is the character…yikes! I don’t have the skin to be this self-revelatory and also hated, so it is a risk. And risk has power.
I don’t actually know what I am talking about. Next question.
5. What other things do you write?
Ah, that’s better. I write for kids. All the time. Poetry, stories, even a novel for young readers. A lot of it is not good and some of it has potential. I think. I have a nice little collection of kids’ magazines with my stuff in them and a picture book coming out this fall with Orca. Yay!
I write a lot of short personal pieces about our lives, Lincoln’s and mine.
I write not-good poetry and always regret when I share it.
I write a great Christmas letter in the years when I actually get around to doing it.
I write for friends and family, to tell them I love them, about the stuff they are going through, to express gratitude for them just being.
6.What was one book or authors that hugely influenced your life? How?
I love Jane Austen and reread all of her works every year or two but I don’t know how or if she has influenced my life. Doris Lessing helped me give myself permission to leave an unhappy first marriage when I was very young. Now that’s influence! I am very
grateful and I am sure my first husband is, too.
Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking… the beautiful craft of the book in the midst of such pain left me awestruck. I read it while Lincoln was still at home and went back to it many times in the months he was first in care, looking for help with grief that was on the edge of unbearable. It did help and it didn’t. That wasn’t her job, anyway.
Most of Me by Robyn Michele Levy… Parkinson’s and breast cancer in the same year. I have a Cry Lady, too. And funny! So it’s okay to laugh. Life is mostly absurd.
Wab Kinew, The Reason You Walk, because this old white woman needs to understand and this book lead me forward, confirmed what I know but don’t always practise. “To depart from this world leaving only love. This is the reason you walk.”
I know you asked for just one. I couldn’t do it. You choose.