25th Trillium Award

On Writing, the CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize Edition, with Linda Rosenbaum

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There's a reason so many readers love creative nonfiction. Fact, as they say, is stranger (and stronger) than fiction, but when it's paired with exquisite writing, complex emotion and keen observation, these real-life stories are utterly captivating. The ten finalists for the CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize / Prix du récit Radio-Canada have been chosen, and each of these talented writers has an incredible story to tell.

Open Book is pleased to feature each of the English language finalists in this week leading up to the announcement of the Grand Prize winner on Monday, July 22. Today, Linda Rosenbaum shares how her son inspired her to write "Wolf Howling at Moon," which shares a title with Michael's award-winning carving. The CBC has just revealed that Linda's compassionate and inspiring essay was chosen by readers for the People's Choice award this year. Congratulations, Linda!

You can read Linda's piece and view a photo of the carving here.

Open Book:

Tell us about the essay that's been selected as a finalist for the CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize.

Linda Rosenbaum:

I have written a piece called "Wolf Howling at Moon", the name of an award-winning bas-relief woodcarving my 26-year-old son has made. The creation of this carving is so significant because Michael has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, brain damage caused by the alcohol his birthmother consumed while pregnant with him. Neither success or accomplishment have come easily to Michael in his life, but through his woodcarvings, he is beginning to find his place in the world.

In the story, I try to express how important, albeit necessary it is for families like mine, with children who have disabilities, to relish and cherish the moments of joy that come our way.


When did you realize that you needed to tell this story?


I have been writing a memoir about our family, which naturally includes sections about the struggles our family has faced raising Michael. I wanted to end the book on a positive note, but I wasn?t exactly sure how to do it. The day I heard about the Canada Writes competition, I decided I would use it as a way to get the ending written. But I was feeling particularly blue and uninspired that day. Then Michael came up to me, all confident and excited about a carving of an owl he was beginning to work on. I knew I had both a story and an ending.


What was the biggest challenge you faced in the process of writing this piece?


It?s always very difficult to write about Michael. Though I feel nothing but love and compassion for him, I write about his disabilities. I think it?s important to educate people about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and to share thoughtful stories that are unique but universal to all parents. Yet, in some ways I am invading Michael?s privacy and must consider how he would feel about the things I write about him. I have to believe there is some greater good that comes from telling our family?s story, and I do. However, it?s still a struggle. Michael knows I write about him, but he?s not a reader and has no interest in reading what I write. I think that makes it easier on me.


Are you tempted to expand this essay into a longer project, or do you feel it's complete? How do you know?


"Wolf Howling at Moon" is the culmination to a longer piece, a memoir that I have been working on for years. In those years, I have watched my writing become tighter and stronger. All that cutting and editing and rewriting actually had a payoff. When I sat down to write this piece, I could tell it was more powerful than something I could have written years before. Even on my first draft I felt that I was pretty close to getting it right. Of course, it still took cutting and editing and rewriting before it really was.


Can you recommend a great work of creative nonfiction that you've read recently?


Ian Brown?s The Boy in the Moon was beautifully written, and of course, meant a lot to me because of the subject matter. Also, I consume issues of The New Yorker from beginning to end. Every article, no matter the subject, is engaging because the writing is so remarkably good. The best of the best.

Linda Rosenbaum is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health and medical issues. She has worked in TV and film and is a juror at the yearly Hot Docs International Film Festival for the Lindalee Tracey Award for emerging Canadian filmmakers.

Since Linda's son's diagnosis with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, she has written extensively about the subject and has become part of a network of families, professionals and organizations interested in FAS, adoption and children with special needs.

Find out more about the CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize / Prix du récit Radio-Canada by visiting their website.

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