York grad student shortlisted for CBC Literary Award

In less than a week, York student Heidi Sander will know if she is a winner of the 2004 CBC Literary Award for a travel memoir which has now expanded to a novel-in-progress, “The Space Between Memory”. CBC will announce the winners publicly at a special gala awards ceremony, to be broadcast live on radio, in Ottawa on Feb. 25.

Left: Heidi Sander

Sander, in her final year of a master of environmental studies program, was delighted to have been shortlisted in the Travel Literature category, adding, “It’s an honour to be nominated. The letter [from CBC] said they had a large number of entries from all over the world, and that a shortlist is a great distinction.”

Official winner or not, she is definitely a “winner” to Faculty of Arts humanities Professor Susan Swan, who described Sander as a “talented student in my graduate English course last year. Heidi originally wanted to write a travel adventure book about Canada, but things took a different and more powerful emotional turn when she started to write about her German relatives who were sent to concentration camps in World War II. The world doesn’t really know much about their hardship and I encouraged her to go deeper into this delicate and mostly uncharted territory.”

Sander credits Swan’s course, Special Topics: Making Yourself Up: The Fictionalized Memoir, as the impetus for the piece she submitted to the CBC contest. “It gave me the freedom to try new styles of writing and to strengthen my own voice. Susan Swan offers the kind of student attention that is so rarely found – personal time to see that I took the right steps toward that goal. Even when the course finished, she continued to make herself available and has fielded questions and offered advice during the stages of writing my novel and looking for a literary agent.”

Right: Susan Swan

Speaking about her course, Swan said, “Some of the best creative writing I have seen in my 19 years of teaching these classes at York emerge in the graduate English memoir course, I think in part because grad students are mature enough to really delve deeply into their lives and write powerful work. They are no longer embarrassed by their backgrounds and, indeed, have started to become fascinated by their own autobiographical schema.

“As any creative writing instructor in any college can tell you, most undergrads in creative-writing workshops are trying to escape what they feel is their boring or difficult childhoods by writing pieces that have nothing to do with their lives. It takes time to move past this stage and realize that your life is an acceptable and even fascinating subject for literary work.”

Left and Right: Two non-fiction publications written by Sander

Reflecting on her work, Sander said, “It’s interesting when you look back at the development of a creative work. This is a story I’ve known since I was a child, and over the years I often thought of writing it. Through the creative exchange in Susan’s class, a chapter emerged and now is part of the novel I am writing.”

More about Heidi Sander

Writer and photographer, Heidi Sander has travelled worldwide, from trekking in Machu Picchu and sea-kayaking with orcas in the Pacific Ocean to skiing under the midnight sun in Lapland and dogsledding near Hudson’s Bay.

Under her pseudonym, Katherine Jacob, Sander has written and photographed a Canadian bestselling trail guide series: 44 Country Trails, Bruce Peninsula Trails, Grand River Country Trails, The Best of the Bruce Trails and Trails of the Oak Ridges Moraine. As well, she has published hundreds of travel and culture-related articles in national and international newspapers and magazine. Her latest books, “Closer to the Grand” and “Grand River Country Trails 2”, will be released this spring.

Her novel-in-progress, “The Space Between Memory”, tells the story of an innocent teenager, subjected to the horrors of war, who learns to draw upon her own inner strength to survive. The story is largely based on real-life events in one of the many villages outside of Germany’s borders from which ethnic Germans were sent to concentration camps in World War II. As Sander said, it is also a eulogy to a lost village, and a telling document of the strange dance between suffering and kindness that people experience during a war.

More about Susan Swan

Swan, whose books have been published in 19 countries, is author of such works as The Biggest Modern Woman in the World (English version, Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1983, and Key Porter, 1998); The Wives of Bath (Knopf, Canada and US, 1993), basis for the film, Lost and Delirious; Stupid Boys are Good to Relax With (Sommerville House, 1996); The Last of the Golden Girls (Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1989, and Key Porter, 2001); and Unfit for Paradise (Christopher Dingle Editions, 1981).

CBC Literary Awards

The CBC Literary Awards began in 1979, launched by Robert Weaver, a literary scout, editor, critic and anthologist at CBC Radio. Over the years, awards have been won by such writers as Michael Ondaatje, Carol Shields, Barry Callaghan, Susan Musgrave, Sauna Singh Baldwin and many others. By 1997, The Canada Council for the arts joined the competition and undertook to provide the cash awards. In 2002, Air Canada’s enRoute magazine became a co-sponsor and, at that time, the competition expanded into French, as well as English.

The first and second prizes of $6,000 and $4,000 cover the rights for first publication in enRoute and the recording and broadcasting of a reading of the winning entries on CBC Radio. Entry categories are Short Story, Travel Literature and Poetry.