Category Archives: Awards

Griffin Shortlist Evening: straight to the heart of poetry

I had a most extraordinary experience of silence last Wednesday night at the Griffin Poetry Prize Shortlist Reading, here in Toronto. In a packed theatre you expect a certain amount of noise — a cough, shoes shuffling, program pages turning – even where there should be none. But it seemed to me there was indeed actual silence between the words and the lines of Anne Michael’s poetry. She read to us with a seriousness and intensity that both dared and demanded our complete devotion.

The Griffin Poetry Prize, the most generous poetry prize in the world, awards $65,000 each to a Canadian and an International poet. Each of the finalists gets a cheque for $10,000. And everyone gets a night of hearing some of the best poets in print today (for only $17.50!). Brenda Hillman, this year’s winner in the international category was, like the other finalists, emphatic in her thanks to the audience: “Thank you for coming, thank you for reading poetry.” Brazilian poet Adélia Prado received the Lifetime Achievement Award. I’d never heard of her before but this weekend will search for translations of her work.

“The smallest of poems is a servant of hope.”

~Adélia Prado

All of us at Descant send our congratulations to each of the finalists and especially to Canadian winner Anne Carson, whose “Short Talks” we published in 1991 (Descant 74). On Wednesday night, the tall and regal-looking 63 year-old told the audience that a friend of hers said he liked her (first) book by the same title, but he admitted he thought it was called “Small Cocks.” Through the surprised laughter I heard her say, “I thought I’d called it that, too!”

Of the many beautiful, funny and moving words I heard that night (and Sue Goyette’s line, “the ocean is the original mood ring” is all three), it was that sudden and profound silence that I keep thinking about; a silence borne of words, in between words — made of words. It brought me, in Brenda Hillman’s words, “straight to the heart of poetry.”

Griffin Logo_0As it was Descant volunteer Justin Lauzon’s first time at the event, I’ll let him tell you about it in more detail.

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Griffin Poetry Prize 2014

As poetry lovers young and old walked across the second storey bridges in Koerner Hall, we were ushered in by the sound of trumpets playing from one of the balconies of the original brick building. If this sounds pretentious, don’t be fooled. A night at the Griffin Poetry Prize Shortlist Reading is both intimate and humble, even if sprinkled with a few brass instruments. I was taken aback by the elegant modern design of the Koerner building, which merges the old brick façade of the Royal Conservatory with so much light coming in through the three-storey windows.

The evening began with an introduction by Scott Griffin, the big cheese, during which he announced Margaret Atwood’s retirement from the Griffin’s Trustees. Atwood has been on the board since its inception in 2000, but now, after voluntarily stepping down, has been succeeded by poet Karen Solie and prolific Irish novelist (and poet) Cólm Toibín.

Each writer was introduced by one of the judges, all of whom praised the tough competition this year, which amounted to a whopping 539 book entries, from 40 countries, in 25 languages. Scott Griffin thanked the immense, if not herculean effort of the judges. On stage, there was one less chair than there were people, forcing the writers to play a strategic game of switcheroo musical chairs, each speaker taking the seat of the following one, shifting positions throughout the night, constantly gaining a new perspective.

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The international poets kicked off the readings, beginning with English poet Rachael Boast (Pilgrim’s Flower, 2013) who said “it’s lovely to see so many people here this evening. The last poetry reading I gave was to six people. Six of my students. In a disreputable pub.” It was a great introduction into the intimacy of the rest of the event; though 1000 people were in attendance, the whole thing seemed very personal. American poet and social activist Brenda Hillman (Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire, 2013) told a moving story of her father in intensive care, who, as a farm boy, chose a pig’s valve instead of a plastic one for his heart surgery. After a few stumbled lines of thank yous, American poet Carl Phillips (Silverchest,2013) stood at the podium and commented, “I don’t say a lot during readings because it usually comes out…stupid.” The audience chuckled as he went on to read the first of four poems that clearly spoke on their own.

Brenda Hillman....

Brenda Hillman, poet and social activist, won in the international category.

But no one sounded stupid, and it was refreshing to hear experienced poets talk about, and read their own work. Hillman spoke of poetry as “an investigation of the mystery of existence.” Canadian poet Sue Goyette (Ocean, 2013) commented on how the environment in the theatre had changed over the course of a couple of hours: “I can feel the air is different now. When we first sat down it was just plain old air, but now it’s fortified with all these poems. I’d be doing a lot of inhaling if I were you.” And when Toronto’s own Anne Michaels finished off the night with an interweaving selection from Correspondences (2013), she closed with a beautiful line that summed up the elusive nature of poetry: “the line break forever [changes] the word above and the word below, altered by breath.”

Anne Michaels was shortlisted for Correspondences.

Descant contributor Anne Michaels was shortlisted for Correspondences. Our evening program was constructed like her beautiful book — accordion architecture that circled back on itself.

As a welcome change, the writers didn’t take themselves too seriously, and some really had fun. After Carl Phillips read one of his solemn final lines, “why do we love at all,” he paused to grab his water, then added wryly, “because it’s actually quite rewarding.” The audience howled. He said that the final line was good at the time, but now seemed a little dramatic. Anne Carson (Red Doc>, 2013) read from Short Talks, and got the audience to participate with a word or line which we recited on cue (“deciduous?” a thousand voices queried enthusiastically).

Anne Carson won the Canadian prize this year and...

Anne Carson won the Canadian prize this year. She also won the inaugural prize in 2001.

A highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award. Griffin Trustee and former US Poet Laureate Robert Hass presented the award to Brazilian poet Adélia Prado, “a sexy, mystical, Catholic poet.” She came on stage with a translator and read her speech in Portuguese, and at the end gracefully thanked the audience herself with both “thank you,” and “merci,” a simple touch that spoke volumes of her charm.

Brazilian poet Adelio Prado, reading her acceptance speech with the help of her translator.

Brazilian poet Adelio Prado, reading her acceptance speech with the help of her translator.

Maria Rosenthal, who translated Tomasz Rozycki’s Kolonie (2006), did a joint reading with the Polish poet. Four poems were read, in both English and the original Polish, the latter elegantly read by Rozycki, in a near duplicated cadence from the English translation. Rosenthal thanked the Griffin Trust for including translations in the competition because “not everyone understands the art that goes into it.”

To close, Scott Griffin presented each writer with a leather-bound copy of their own book. The final prize was given out the following evening and the poets seemed to enjoy the low pressure of the shortlist reading night. And it’s precisely that atmosphere that will bring me back next year, whoever the nominees may be, for this much needed celebration of poetry.

By Justin Lauzon

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Justin Lauzon is one of Descant’s newest volunteers. He has reviewed Texas, Kafka’s Hat and, with Jack Hostrawser, co-authored this review of Rove for us. Justin is a writer and teacher from Oakville, interested in magic realism. He studied fiction at York University and the Humber School for Writers, and is currently working on his first novel. Check out his film blog, “The Alternate Take,” here and follow him on twitter, @JLauzonwrites.

Announcing the Finalists for the Winston Collins/Descant Prize for Best Canadian Poem

On Wednesday, February 20th we will celebrate the memory of Winston Collins by announcing the winner of the 2012/2013 Winston Collins/Descant Prize for Best Canadian Poem. In anticipation of this occasion we’d like to share with you the finalists for the prize, chosen out of the many who have been reviewed.

Here are the finalists (not listed in a particular order):

Richard Scarsbrook: “Fortune”
Laura Lamont: “Night Vision”
Elizabeth Greene: ”Summer’s Children and Their Mother”
Terry Ann Carter: “Letters of War”
Hector Williamson: “Aesthetics Come Slowly”
John Lee: “Bringing the Farmhouse Down”
Margot Maddison-MacFadyen: “The Emergent Seed”
Joan Crate: “Leda”

For more information about the prize please visit our website: www.descant.ca/winstoncollins

Confessions of an OAC Juror

Dickens did not take critique very well either.

The e-mail appeared in my inbox along with the usual make-money-from- home spam. It seemed I had been chosen to be a juror for the Ontario Arts Council. All I had to do was read a few manuscripts and give my opinion about the relative literary merits of each application. For this simple task I would be financially compensated.

Naturally, I did not believe the legitimacy of this e-mail. Why me? I was hardly a famous author, just someone who had published in a few literary magazines. I goggled googled the name of the e-mail’s sender, John Degen, and he was indeed the Literature Officer at the Ontario Arts Council. Perhaps this really was a genuine request to adjudicate this year’s grant applicants.

I eagerly accepted the assignment, and soon two boxes of manuscripts were delivered to my door, each box stuffed with the aspirations and sweat of some one- hundred- thirty-five struggling writers. Just how many hours of collective gazing-into-a- monitor did these stacks represent? How many agonizing rewrites and how much head banging for just the correct word? Each deadline the OAC Works in Progress program only ever has enough money to dispense less than two-dozen grants. Thus the statistical reality is that the majority of these submissions would receive a rejection letter, and although we writers are accustomed to rejection, no one finds it painless. I was beginning to regret having accepted this responsibility.

There were four jurors assigned to adjudicate the literature category, which consisted of short-fiction, novels, non-fiction, young adult (both fiction and non-fiction) and graphic novels. The competition is anonymous; each entry is marked only with its title. Each juror was asked to read every word of all the manuscripts, making notes on each entry on a special form sent to us, along with our vote of either, a yes, a no, or a maybe. A meeting had been set up at the end of September where all four jurors, along with the Literature Officer, would gather to reach a consensus upon which few would receive a grant this year.

The manuscripts had arrived in late July (delayed by a postal strike) and that meant there was less than two months to read all the manuscripts and still do them justice. And as luck would have it, I was flying to the UK for three weeks smack in the middle of this intense reading period. This is where a writer’s discipline is useful. I worked out that if I could read six manuscripts a day, I should be in good shape before the scheduled meeting with the other jurors. Submissions are allowed to be forty pages, plus up to three pages of bridging material and a one page summary. However, the majority of submissions seemed to be over forty pages. A few even attempted to pack in more pages by shrinking the font (most were disqualified by OAC but a couple did slip through). The jurors, just like publishers and literary mags, are inundated with submissions they need to read before a deadline. Any writer who adds stress to that process does do himself any favors. Personally, I made a conscious decision to not read anything past page forty of any manuscript sample: there is nothing in the remaining four pages that is going to alter my opinion about the writer’s clarity with structure, the prose, the dialogue, the plot and characters that he has not demonstrated in the previous forty.

The OAC also allows writers to include a summary of the book they are attempting. Although this page is not mandatory, I discovered that many of the entries included two or three pages of summary, much of it full of hyperbole, as though these pages were a pitch meant to make me want to read the sample. Jurors are obliged to read all samples. A hyped up summary, to me at least, served as a wish list for what the writer hoped to achieve in this book. The attached sample then, spoke of the writer’s ability (or inability) to reach that goal. I later found out that some of the jurors did not read the summaries at all. My advice would be to not include a summary of the book. I know from picking up books at libraries and book stores that by reading the first page I have a pretty clear idea of what the theme of this book is and whether or not I will find it engaging. Your sample writing is there to speak to the juror about the themes and conflicts in your book, as well your style.

The adjudication meeting itself turned out to be the most enjoyable part of the whole process. The OAC has been doing this a long time and they have honed it to an art. As the title of each submission was called out, the jurors gave their vote of either yes, no, or maybe. Any manuscript with four yeses (about 10%) needed no further discussion. These entries were brilliantly skillful. They had rhythmic sentences, which flowed effortlessly into concise paragraphs. Such manuscripts were notably free of grammatical and spelling errors (perhaps proofed by a professional editor?). Similarly, any manuscript that garnered four nos was destined for a rejection letter (about 40% in our batch). A few of these were clearly amateur, more a demonstration of vanity than talent. Others were bizarre derivatives of au courant fiction (think teen vampire superhero who attends wizard school), or they were so experimental as to be abstract and indecipherable. It was the remaining 50% that we the jury spent the day discussing. Each of these entries had potential that was cluttered by clumsy writing. Some manuscripts had passionate champions among the jurors (both for and against) attempting to persuade the other jurors to change their votes. The debates were lively, but respectful to both the writers and to the fellow jurors. It was interesting to hear the different viewpoints and all the jurors benefited from having his or her biases and justifications challenged. Often the writers were very close to having a winning manuscript but were making one or two fatal mistakes in the writing process. It is unfortunate that at present the OAC does not have a mechanism for submitters to benefit from that discussion (they are working to rectify that).

After listening to this insightful discussion, we were given a chance to review our votes for the remaining undecided entries. By 5 o’clock we had narrowed down the 50% into a consensus of yeses small enough to match the available funds from the OAC.

John Degen mentioned at the end our session that in his time at the OAC he had not encountered a jury which had discussed the manuscripts with such depth as we had and he felt we had given each writer his just due. I believe he meant it. I too was impressed by my fellow jurors. Despite the sometimes arduous reading schedule, all the jurors agreed that we would accept to adjudicate should we be asked again.

Pradeep Solanki

Please check out new blog on http://awarenessisfree.wordpress.com/

DESCANT Congratulates 23 Poets

Further to our blog entry of February 16th, we would like to confirm the names of each poet short listed for this year’s Winston Collins Prize for Best Canadian Poem.*

For 2011, our ‘short list’ includes the names of 23 individuals. Their names and poems are as follows:

Wendy Brandts                         Ardent Awakenings

Roger Bell                                Oh Wendy

Barry Butson                            Things I Touch

Terry Ann Carter                       The Call

Joan Crate                                Cherry Jam

Barry Dempster                        A Circle Of White Deck Chairs

Kildare Dobbs                          September 1939

Kate Marshall-Flaherty             Apocalypse of Bees

Susan Glickman                      Things From Which One Never Recovers

Elizabeth Greene                     Planet of the Lost Things

Gillian Harding-Russell             Gerontian Thoughts

Margaret Hollingsworth            Some Sage Said

Sheldon Inkol                          She Does Not Want

Ellen S. Jaffe                           Remembering September Tenth

Ellen S. Jaffe                           Continental Drift

Donna Langevin                      In Lieu of an Obit

Kathy Mac                              Lachesis Descends from the Mountain Alone

Anna Mamcini                        The Treeplanters

Talya Rubin                            Leaving the Island

Renee Sarojini-Saklikar           June 1981

Karen Schnidler                      Brief History

Susan Stenson                       Romantic Poetry

Josh Stewart                          Skeleton Beach

Myna Wallin                          The Self As Both Object And Subject

Descant congratulates each of these poets for their fine contributions to Canadian culture and contemporary literature.

We would also like to thank everyone who participated this year. We invite you all to consider entering our 2012 competition this fall. More details about next year’s event can be found at: http://www.descant.ca/contest.html

* We wish to confirm that all short listed entries will be clearly cited on our blog and website in the future. This information was not included in our previous blog entry, for which we apologize. Staffing changes this January led, regretfully, to a few items ‘slipping through the cracks.’ Again, we apologize for this temporary oversight.

Winston Collins Winner and Honourable Mentions of 2011

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On February 8, 2011 Descant announced the winner and two honourable mentions for this year’s 2011 Winston Collins/Descant Prize for Best Canadian Poem at Supermarket, Toronto. The night went off wonderfully with a speech from Descant’s editor-in-chief, Karen Mulhallen. We were lucky enough to have readings from Linda Woolven, Elisabeth de Mariaffi, Giovanna Riccio and R. Brian Rigg, as well as our three finalists who also read their winning poems (Pamela Porter read via a uTube video).

The winner of the Winston Collins Prize and $1,000 in prize money was Barbara Schott, with her poem Thin Ice. The judges described this winning poem: “This poet has turned a winter drowning into a rumination on our own personal descent into a cold wet world…’Thin Ice’ works on the surface as an accounting of failure, of childhood promise that is doused and expectations disappointed. Yet the beauty of the world surrounds us, our final breath is full of the sight of it…It is a humble poem about the ego and about ego’s loss, and while we submerge into the icy depths we read the poem – it is about us! – scrawled on the bridge above.”

Honourable mention, winning $250 in prize money, was Carla Hartenberger, with Naked in the Sun. The judges spoke highly of this poem, “By the last words of this poem the reader may be filled with such a sense of loss and heartbreak that they may not be sure whether it was the poem that effected them so… That is because the summer that the poet recalls having spent in her youth with a sweetheart resonates so strongly that it will undoubtedly remind the reader of a summer they too had at some time. The poet uses a breathless, frolicking stream of consciousness to achieve this.”

Honourable mention, also winning $250 prize money, Pamela Porter with The Place of Feathers. The judges said this about her poem: “The author sees a landscape covered in feathers and allows herself to come to the conclusion that it was a multitude of angels that passed this way. This short poem describes the way that the natural world can transport us into the realm of myth and narrative. ‘The Place of Feathers’ takes an arresting moment and essentially arrests it, holding us there to feel that moment over and over again.”

The competition was fierce in its fifth anniversary, approximately 100 submissions came in from across Canada—from Victoria, British Columbia to Chateau Guay, Quebec; from Whitehorse, Yukon to Goulds, Newfoundland; from Canadians living as far away as Australia. Two rounds of judging narrowed the list down to 27 contenders, then to the final three.

The event was also for the launch of D151: Winter Reader, which is available in stores now. Descant would like to congratulate Kathleen Painter on organizing a wonderful evening and producing an enchanting issue. If you would like to have one delivered to your home, then please subscribe today by clicking here

Descant would also like to congratulate the three winners, as well as all those who made it onto the short list. We would also like to thank those came to the event on Tuesday 8th, we hope you had an enjoyable evening.

FEBRUARY 8: 2011 DESCANT/Winston Collins Prize

The Descant Arts & Letter Foundation Presents

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An evening celebrating the 2011 Winston Collins Prize for Best Canadian Poem!

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Tuesday, February 8th, 2011
7:30 – 10:00 P.M.
Supermarket
268 Augusta Avenue, Toronto
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This free event is open to the general public and we encourage the entire Descant community to attend! Refreshments and hors d’oeuvres
will be served and a cash bar available.

Descant will present the 2011 Winston Collins Prize for Best Canadian Poem, celebrating its fifth anniversary this year. The prize commemorates the life of Winston Collins, a writer and enthusiastic teacher of literature at the universities of Cincinnati, Princeton and Toronto. The annual prize perpetuates his remarkable talent for encouraging self-expression through writing. The winner receives $1,000 in prize money, and two honourary mentions receive $250 each. They will be chosen by this year’s judges, writers Heather O’Neill and Michael Winters, from 100 submissions that Descant received from poets across Canada.

Please come join us in celebrating this exciting event! Readings and the presentation of the Collins Prize winner and runners-up will be featured.

For more information about the prize and event, visit:
http://descant.ca/contest.html

Ian Brown wins the Trillium Book Award

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Ian Brown — writer, journalist, and past Descant contributor — has been awarded the 23rd Annual Trillium Book Award for his stunning memoir, The Boy in the Moon.

The Boy in the Moon explores the challenges of parenting a child with a severe disability. With a bare and loving sense of honesty, the book “slices through ignorance and trite consolation, leaving the eviscerated skins of relationships, social policy and medical expertise flapping in the wind” (Paula Todd, from The Globe and Mail Books).

Ian joins such writers as Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje and Alice Munro as a winner of this prestigious literary prize. And this is not the first award for The Boy in the Moon; the book was also recently honoured with the Charles Taylor Prize in literary non-fiction. Descant is thrilled to see Ian’s success with this incredibly deserving work and wish him much more to come!

Congratulations, Ian!

DESCANT Fiction wins Silver at the 2010 National Magazine Awards!

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We are happy to announce that Adam Lindsay Honsinger‘s short story, “Silence,” has earned a Silver award in the Fiction category at the 33rd annual National Magazine Awards — held last Friday at the Carlu in Toronto.

Steven Heighton’s “Shared Room on Union” won the Gold prize for Fiddlehead journal, while Honsinger’s “Silence” earned a respectable Silver position, beating out other nominated entries from Event, Malahat Review, Matrix Magazine, Prairie Fire and Vancouver Review (you can preview all the nominated works, including “Silence,” here).

“Silence” first appeared in Descant 145: Private Worlds, Public Exigencies, our Summer 2009 issue, an exploration of the boundary between the self and the other. To order a copy of D145, visit our website here.

To download a pdf file of all the 2010 winners and nominations given by the National Magazine Awards Foundation (NMAF), click here.

DESCANT Fiction nominated for 2010 National Magazine Award!

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Congratulations to author Adam Lindsay Honsinger, whose short story, Silence, has just been nominated in the 2010 National Magazine Award’s “Fiction” category.

Silence first appeared in Descant 145: Private Worlds, Public Exigencies, our Summer 2009 issue: an exploration of the boundary between the self and the other.

Adam Lindsay Honsinger has had fiction and reviews published in a number of publications, including Exile, The Malahat Review, Other Voices, paperplates, Pottersfield Portfolio, PRISM international and SubTerrain.

The National Magazine Awards Foundation is dedicated to the recognition of excellence in Canadian Magazines through its yearly awards program. This year’s Awards Gala is set to take place on June 4, 2010, at the Carlu in Toronto.

Congratulations, Adam, and good luck!

To order a copy of Descant 145, visit our website at here

To view the full list of categories and nominations, go here

Announcing the 2010 Winston Collins/Descant Prize for Best Canadian Poem Winner!

Descant is pleased to announce the Winner and Honourary Mentions for the 2010 Winston Collins/Descant Prize for Best Canadian Poem!

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Descant Editor-in-Chief, Karen Mulhallen, presented the $1,000 prize in honour of Newfoundland poet, Leslie Vryenhoek, during a celebratory reception at Toronto’s PageWave Graphics last night.

The Collins Prize commemorates Winston Collins, a writer and enthusiastic teacher of literature at the universities of Cincinnati, Princeton and Toronto. The annual prize perpetuates his remarkable talent for encouraging self-expression through writing. The response to the fourth year of this competition exceeded expectations. Submissions came in from across the country by first time and seasoned poets alike, attesting to the quality and diversity of poetry in Canada.

The judges for this year’s award — Nora Kelly and Eric Wright — were struck by Vryenhoek’s winning poem, “Letitia’s Cold Footsteps,” and praised it for its nuanced exploration of alienation. “‘Letitia’s Cold Footsteps’ takes us into the strangeness of arrival in a new country and makes us shiver. The chill of forty below and the chill of alienation are inextricable: we can see little clouds of frozen breath with each compressed utterance. The linking of the speaker with her nineteenth-century predecessor and spiritual twin is a wonderful device, beautifully imagined and creating a distinctly Canadian poem.”

Also recognized during Friday’s announcement were Jessica Hiemstra-van der Horst, currently a resident of Australia, and Toronto’s Myna Wallin. Both received Collins Prize Honourable Mentions and $250 awards.

In “Eating Quince with Musicians,” Hiemstra-van der Horst offers readers an “elegant meditation on metamorphosis, both mental and material”. The judges celebrated her work for its sensual sophistication and suggested that “The poet listens, tastes, and remembers, senses afloat, dipping into the past and then surfacing again, drawn by a perfect but fleeting moment.” Hiemstra-van der Horst is a visual artist and writer. She has recently been anthologized in Approaches to Poetry: the pre-poem moment, edited by Shane Neilson (Frog Hollow Press).

The judges called Wallin’s work “A poignant incantatory poem that draws together the speaker’s worries, weaving a spell around her fears.” In “Death, Wildlife and Taxes,” Wallin allows poverty and illness to “hover like evil spirits who must be placated by spiritual offerings.” Her poetry and prose has appeared in numerous literary journals. Her first book of fiction, Confessions of a Reluctant Cougar, is set for publication in Spring 2010 with Tightrope Books.

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ABOUT THE WINNERLeslie Vryenhoek is a poet, writer and communications professional based in St. John’s. Her work has appeared in journals and magazines across the country and internationally. In the fall of 2009, Oolichan published her first book, Scrabble Lessons, a short story collection. Leslie has just completed a manuscript of poetry exploring notions of home and belonging, with support from the Canada Council and the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council; “Letitia’s Cold Footsteps” is part of this manuscript.