Prof wins prize for poetic short fiction piece featuring female pyromaniac

Celebrated poet and York English Professor Priscila Uppal is burning up the page in her latest work, which just co-won the Vanderbilt/Exile Short Fiction Competition for a writer at any career point. Her short-story, “Cover Before Striking”, is what award sponsor and judge Gloria Vanderbilt called “beautifully crafted – original, disturbing, poetic”, saying “it pulled me on”.

The title, says Uppal, is a reference to the warning on packs of matches. “My narrator is a female pyromaniac and the story is PriscilaUppalTwotold through unconventional minimalist fragments of poetic prose that are literally burning up – pieces are breaking apart from the story and appear as ashes at the bottoms of the pages.”

Priscila Uppal

It is a story that Uppal first started during her undergraduate years in creative writing with Professor Richard Teleky at York, and which has been close to her heart, morphing over time into the award-winning piece it is today. “I keep going back to it, more than any other story I’ve ever written,” says Uppal, who hopes to have a new collection of stories published in the near future.

Uppal’s story shares the prize with Giller Prize-winning author Austin Clarke, who has published 10 novels, six short-story collections and three non-fiction works, including the memoir Growing Up Stupid Under the Union Jack. His short-story collection They Never Told Me, and Other Stories is forthcoming with publisher Exile Editions in the fall.

Although Uppal says she essentially has a brain of a poet – a natural ability to find correspondences between disparate things – she “has always been fascinated with genre and all literary and artistic forms”. She also loves a challenge, which is why she continues to explore different types of writing. Hot off of a United Kingdom book CVCBookPriscilaUppaltour for Successful Tragedies: Selected Poems 1998-2010 (Bloodaxe Books, 2010) her first play, 6 Essential Questions, will have its world premiere at the Factory Theatre in March 2014. Her memoir, Projection: Encounters with my Runaway Mother, will be released in the fall by Thomas Allen Publishers.

The 12 shortlisted stories, including Uppal’s and Clarke’s winning entries, as well as the story, “When John Lennon Died”, by the emerging category winner Sang Kim, will be published in the third CVC Carter V. Cooper Short Fiction Anthology Series. It is billed as an anthology featuring the best of today’s short fiction. The Vanderbilt/Exile Short Fiction Competition attracted hundreds of entries.

Vanderbilt will hand out the awards Saturday, June 15 at the third annual celebration evening, including dinner, books and readings. For tickets, contact Exile at A book launch for the anthology will follow Monday, June 17 at the Dora Keogh Irish Pub, 141 Danforth Ave., Toronto, with readings from the anthology’s winning writers.

For more information, visit the Exile website. Exile Editions is a Canadian literary press that publishes fiction, poetry, translation, drama and nonfiction.

By Sandra McLean, YFile deputy editor