25th Trillium Award

On Writing, the CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize Edition, with Terri Favro

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CBC Canada Writes Creative Nonfiction Prize

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, we speak with Terri Favro, nominated for "Icarus". You can read her essay here.

Open Book:

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

Terri Favro:

?Icarus? is the story of the summer I graduated from university, when I lost my first ?real? job (before it even started, thanks to the stagnating economy of the late 1970s) and became involved with a boy with a motorcycle, a gun and bad taste in books. Not exactly an auspicious beginning for a woman with a background in Modern British Poetry who was planning to move to Toronto and become a ?famous writer.? Everything seemed to be falling and failing — me, the boy, the economy and the space station Skylab, which was falling out of the sky above us.

Predicting where Skylab would crash generated as much excitement as the discos that were packed that hot summer. Just ten years earlier, the so-called conquest of space promised a bright new future for my generation; by 1979, NASA didn?t have enough money or motivation to keep a malfunctioning space station from falling on our heads. My ambitions for the future seemed destined to fall too.

In the sexual politics of the times, the boy — as much of a ?bad boy? as he seemed to be — represented one possible future of traditional marriage, likely to a man who wasn?t going to be crazy about having a writer for a wife. My ambitions were leading me elsewhere but the boy was, in his own maddening way, comforting and familiar. He also had his own unmet ambition, to become a professional engineer. When his life took a tragic turn, I had to decide whether to stand by him or stick with my plan to live my own life as a writer in Toronto.


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


I?ve been dancing around this story for about seven years, when I started writing about my childhood and early adulthood in the Cold War years, when space flight was the dominant narrative of progress and hope. I?d written short memoir pieces about events of that summer — including humour — but I?d carefully avoided writing about the boy?s role in my life at the time. I finally decided that 34 years was long enough to wait.

The other catalyst for ?Icarus? was learning that a row of historic buildings in downtown Hamilton had been slated for demolition: I thought one of them had housed the disco where the boy and I met. I felt bereft, as if the landscape of my past was being erased. I wanted to preserve what felt like an important piece of my personal history in writing.


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


The biggest challenges were to honestly portray myself as a 22-year-old would-be writer, and to portray the good and bad traits of the boy, while still protecting his privacy. I had to come to terms with my own vulnerability, arrogance and ruthlessness at that age. Having come out of a small-town, working class background — something I was trying to escape by going to university — I felt that the boy was ?punching above his weight? by being with me. I feel uneasy with the ?me? in the story, yet without a certain bravado and willingness to take risks, I wouldn?t have been able to throw myself into the world of copywriting and freelancing writing.


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


Soon after I finished the first draft of ?Icarus?, I knew that I wanted it to be bigger than this one story. I?m hoping to turn it into either a book or a screenplay. Likely I would treat ?Icarus? as part of a larger story about life in rustbelt Ontario in the late 1970s, with a special nod to the personal impacts of the space program and disco culture. I?m not sure I?m quite brave enough to describe the entire story of ?Icarus? in the form of creative nonfiction, although my feelings about that might change. I?ve never attempted to contact ?the boy? (or others who were part of the larger story), so fiction might be safer for a full-length work. We?ll see. And as to how I knew this story needed to be bigger: gut feeling. I learned to trust my gut a long time ago.


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


I?ve been blown away by so many creative nonfiction works that I read this year that I have to offer a list: Wild by Cheryl Strayed, Why Not? by Ray Robertson, How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, Outside the Box by Maria Meindl, Walk Like A Man by Robert Wiersema and Naked by David Sedaris.

Originally from Niagara, Terri Favro is a freelance writer based Toronto. She is the author of The Proxy Bride, which won the Ken Klonsky Quattro Books Novella Award. Terri has collaborated with artist Ron Edding on two graphic novels, Bella and the Loyalist Heroine and Waiting For Mario Puzo (Grey Borders Books). Her non-fiction and short stories have appeared in Prism, Geist, Accenti, Red Line and Broken Pencil, among other literary magazines and sites. Visit her blog at terrifavro.ca.

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

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