Wednesday 30 December 2009

Nominated for a Pushcart prize and Best of the Net award

After over two decades in molecular genetics research (mostly in McGill University-associated labs), Beverly Akerman realized she'd been learning more and more about less and less. Skittish at the prospect of knowing everything about nothing, she turned, for solace, to writing. She's been winning awards for her work ever since.

Sixteen of her short stories have appeared (or soon will) in publications hailing from Canada, the USA, and Germany: The Antigonish Review, The Binnacle, BluePrintReview, carte blanche, Cliterature, The Dalhousie Review, Gemini Magazine, Descant, Ear Lit Shorts, Fog City Review, The Nashwaak Review, The New Quarterly, Red Wheelbarrow, Rio Grande Review, r.kv.r.y. quarterly, and Windsor Review. Her story "Pie" was recently nominated for a Pushcart and a Best of the Net nomination (Sundress Publications) (read "Pie").

She attended the Kenyon Review Writers' Workshop, studying with novelists Brad Kessler and Nancy Zafris, and has also been a Fishtrap Fellow, attending the Oregon workshop with Pulitzer Prize Nominee and Kiriyama Prize winner Luis Urrea. In 2009, Beverly participated in The Banff Centre for the Arts's Writing Studio residency program as well as completing a Quebec Writers' Federation mentorship with Robyn Sarah.

Her other achievements include: first prize in the Fog City Writers Short Story Contest and in Gemini Magazine's Flash Fiction Contest; second place for the Sheldon Currie Fiction Prize; honourable mentions for The Potomac Review Fiction Prize, The Binnacle's Sixth Annual International Ultra-Short Competition, and the Writers' Federation of New Brunswick’s David Adams Richards Prize; finalist, Freefall Magazine’s Prose Contest, The Writers' Union of Canada’s Short Prose Competition (twice), and for the Glass Woman Prize.

Beverly's writing has also appeared in venues such as Maclean's Magazine, The Toronto Star, The National Post, The Montreal Gazette, A&U America's AIDS Magazine and on CBC Radio One, as well as in a number of other lay publications and learned journals. She is working on her first novel. Her most recent article is "'Have you ever seen a bus full of the English blow up?'".

Click the title to hear find her reading an excerpt from "Tumbalalaika."

It pleases her strangely to believe she's the only Canadian writer ever to have sequenced her own DNA.

Saturday 31 October 2009

International creativity contests: Quebecers not wanted on the voyage

At first glance, internet behemoth Google, Esquire magazine, and Cisco Systems don’t have a lot in common – different lines of business, dissimilar in size, and varying widely in global reach. But it turns out the world’s largest search engine, the men’s magazine and the networking giant do have a significant shared feature: their attitude towards me and my province. Specifically, the “no Quebecers allowed” policy in all of their contests and competitions.

While the welcome mat’s out for Americans and Canadians from the other 12 provinces and territories, unfortunately if, like me, you are a Montrealer – or live elsewhere in La Belle Province – you are sh*t outta luck!

Another example of incipient Francophobia? Nope. This is consumer protection run amok, a problem of Quebec’s own making called c. L-6, r.3.1 (Rules respecting publicity contests) of R.S.Q., c. L-6, s.20 (An Act respecting lotteries, publicity contests and amusement machines).

Few of us have ever heard of these laws, but my interest was piqued recently when I read an article in Le Journal de Quebec called “Le Québec membre d’un étrange club banni par Google.” Quebec, Marc-André Séguin wrote, is part of a sad set of outcast jurisdictions — including Cuba, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. Turns out citizens of these places are excluded from participating in Google’s latest Code Jam, a computer code-writing competition where students and professional programmers, under time constraints, solve complex algorithms on the road to a $5000 US grand prize. Something about this seemed familiar. Then I remembered the Esquire contest.

Several years ago, I quit molecular genetics research to reinvent myself as a creative writer, and one of the most worthwhile tips I received was the suggestion to seek out and enter writing contests. Which is how I stumbled across Esquire magazine’s 2009 fiction contest. The $2500 US prize money was impressive, but the fine print--once again--deemed Quebecers ineligible.

After reading Séguin’s article, I pulled up Paul McNamara’s Buzzblog post, “What does Cisco have against Quebec?” Here again was an ostensibly international competition that banned Quebecers. But this time, instead of computer or literary innovation, Cisco’s I-Prize challenge was, as McNamara put it, to come up with “the best idea for a company," the prize being "a bunch of money and the entrepreneur gets taken under [Cisco’s] big-time corporate wing.” Creative and potentially pretty lucrative, too. By the time the contest concluded in October 2008, some 2500 individuals from over 100 countries had tested themselves and their ideas. In the end, a team from Germany and Russia won with a plan to improve energy efficiency.

Cisco PR officials initially told McNamara they had no idea why Quebecers were excluded. Then someone got back to him, explaining the injury was self-inflicted: “Quebec has one of the most stringent sets of rules and regulations for sweepstakes and other contests set out by the Quebec government.”

Seems our Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux regulates “publicity contests,” meaning any contest offered to Quebecers requires organizers to jump through multiple hoops, among them the filling out of forms, the registration of contest rules and publicity at least 30 days ahead of the start date, an upfront fee based on the prize value (McNamara’s source said 10%), and a final written report at the contest’s conclusion. Then there are the rules addressing complaints and court challenges …

The intention behind the law may be laudable corruption-busting, preventing contest prizes from being awarded to the organizers’ brothers-in-law, for example. But the real-world consequences? Important international engagements of the imaginative spirit that don’t want us on the voyage.

How ironic! Quebec, the loudest of jurisdictions on the value of culture to a society’s health and prosperity, is hindering the creativity at the heart — not to mention the pocketbooks — of our most innovative emerging writers, entrepreneurs and computer coders, keeping our ideas from shining on a global stage. Undoubtedly, the same is happening to Quebecers involved in all sorts of other artistic endeavours.

Talk about working at cross purposes. While one government department tries to foster vital innovation, another simply lets it bleed away.

Saturday 12 September 2009

"Have you ever seen a bus full of the English blow up?"

Moulin à paroles, this weekend’s Quebec City hot-air-a-thon marking the 250th anniversary of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, was organized following the cancellation of a re-enactment of France’s defeat, an event denounced by sovereignist groups as federalist propaganda (and hey, who knows propaganda better than some of these guys!).

Perhaps the organizers are still willing to accept, at this late date, additional submissions? I offer the following, from the Front de libération du Québec’s No.3, March 1969 issue of Victoire [all texts taken from Gerard Pelletier’s The October Crisis. Translated by Joyce Marshall. Toronto/Montreal: McLelland and Stewart Ltd, 1971. 247pp.]


…In a little while the English, the Federalists, the exploiters, the toadies of the occupiers, the lackeys of imperialism—all those who betray the workers and the Quebec nation—will fear for their lives and they will be right.

For the FLQ will kill.

…Our present cells will look like amateurs when our elite groups go into action.

Have you ever seen a bus full of the English blow up?

Have you ever seen an English library burning?

Have you ever seen the president of a Yankee corporation under fire?

Have you ever seen a pellet micro-bomb?

Have you ever seen a miniature incendiary bomb?

Have you ever seen a can explode on the shelf of a supermarket in the British quarter?

Have you ever seen a Protestant church burning?

Have you ever seen Westmount without telephones or electricity and with its water supply poisoned?

Have you ever seen sharp-shooters ambushed on roofs, shooting down traitors?

Be sure you soon will!!! [Pelletier, p.224]

I’m a writer researching the FLQ era for a novel I’m working on. And though I grew up in Montreal during that time, I was shocked at the true accounting of the FLQ’s handiwork, hundreds of crimes including:

From 1963 to 1967…about 35 bombs, most of them low-powered.

From 1968 to 1970…50 to 60 bombs, most of them high-powered (There were also some super-bombs, among them one composed of 141 sticks of dynamite, which was intended to destroy a section of Metropolitan Boulevard…[perhaps Montreal’s equivalent of the Gardner; Pelletier, p.79]

The bombs were set in mailboxes, at textile companies, on bridges, at radio stations, at union headquarters, on the McGill University campus, under statues of Queen Victoria, in Central Station. Trains were derailed. Not to mention the dozens of armed robberies that netted the group tens of thousands of dollars, electronic and military matériel.

These guys were not just a bunch of university loudmouths (though some were that, too). They were terrorists who trained in Jordan with Palestinian commandos. Eight months before the October Crisis, two FLQ members in a panel truck were arrested with a sawed-off shotgun and a communiqué announcing the kidnapping of the Israeli consul.

Perhaps Moulin à paroles will appreciate this apologia of René Lévesque’s, offered in the aftermath of the October Crisis, from La Presse, p. A6, November 9, 1970:

…there are certain things that make people turn to crime in Quebec. I am not excusing anyone and I will never applaud the assassination…[of a man M. Levesque knew and worked with for decades!]. But it can be explained. If we keep the same kind of society, we will have the same kind of thing…The police and the army will have to leave some day and Trudeau’s filthy tricks will not prevent all sorts of other kidnappings. [Pelletier, p. 180]

Trudeau’s filthy tricks? The mind boggles.

If there’s a humour section, perhaps this gem will suffice:

We do not terrorize our people; on the contrary, the Front de Liberation du Quebec is a vast front of love and fraternity.

La Cognée, official organ of the FLQ, May 1964

It is hurtful in the extreme to the memories and the dignity of the dozens of people who risked their lives--who were hurt, maimed or killed--during the FLQ’s reign of terror.

Perhaps Moulin à paroles would like to close its “Hommage au FLQ” section with this from La Presse of October 19, 1970 [Pelletier, p. 102]:


LAPORTE, Pierre, Hon. A Montréal. Le 17 octobre 1970 à l'âge de 49 ans, est décède, l’Honorable Pierre Laporte. Ministre du Travail et de l’Immigration, gouvernement du Québec. Époux de Françoise Brouillette. Père de Claire et Jean. Les funérailles auront lieu mardi le 20 octobre 1970. Le convoi funèbre partira du Nouveau Palais de Justice No 100, rue Notre-Dame, Est, pour se rendre à l’église Notre-Dame de Montréal où le service sera célèbre a 4 heures. Et de la au cimetière de la Côte-des-Neiges, lieu de sépulture. Parents et amis sont priés d’y assister sans autre invitation. S.V.P. pas de fleurs. Dons au Camp Françoise Cabrini seraient grandement appréciés au 4285 boul. de Maisonneuve Ouest, Montréal 215.

May his memory be for a blessing.

Thursday 8 January 2009

Literary Profile

After over two decades in molecular genetics research--where her most valuable discovery was that she was learning more and more about less and less--McGill University-educated Montrealer Beverly Akerman left "bench work" to become a freelance medical and creative writer.

Her short fiction has appeared in Canada, the U.S. and cyberspace--in The Antigonish Review, carte blanche, Descant, Fog City Review, The Nashwaak Review, Red Wheelbarrow, r.kv.r.y quarterly, and Rio Grande Review (Erotica edition). With her tenth and eleventh stories in press--at The Dalhousie Review and The Nashwaak Review--she is seeking a publisher for her debut collection of short fiction. She is a winner of the Fog City Writers Short Story Contest and has twice been short-listed for The Writers’ Union of Canada Short Prose Competition for Developing Writers.

In 2008, Ms. Akerman:

- was a finalist in Freefall Magazine's Prose Contest,
- came second for the Sheldon Currie Fiction Prize,
- was an honourable mention for the Writers' Federation of New Brunswick's David Adams Richards Prize for an unpublished short fiction collection, and
- won a Fellowship to attend Summer Fishtrap, an Oregon writers' conference, where she worked with Pulitzer Prize finalist and Kiriyama Prize winner Luis Urrea.

She has twice attended The Kenyon Review Fiction Workshop, in 2007 working with novelist Brad Kessler, winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the Yaddo Rome Prize, and the Whiting Writers Award, and in 2008 with Nancy Zafris, series editor for the Flannery O’Connor Award and former fiction editor of The Kenyon Review.

Ms. Akerman's nonfiction and academic articles have appeared in Maclean's, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The National Post,The Montreal Gazette, The Chronicle-Herald, and The Daily Gleaner--among other newspapers and magazines--as well as on CBC Radio One, and in many other lay publications and learned journals.

Ms. Akerman now keeps in shape by wrestling with her first novel, which she will be working on this spring at The Banff Centre for the Arts. She hopes it will be a coming-of-age story that takes place through the years of The Quiet Revolution and The October Crisis (but she isn't making any promises, having recently realized her novel has a life of its own). Ms. Akerman also blogs as "The Gun Control Yenta."


2008 Finalist, Freefall Magazine Prose Contest (Alberta)

2008 Second Prize, Sheldon Currie Fiction Contest (Nova Scotia)

2008 Honourable Mention, David Adams Richards Prize (New Brunswick)

2008 Summer Fishtrap Fellowship (OR, USA)

2007 Finalist, The Writers' Union of Canada Short Prose Competition for Developing Writers

2007 First Prize, Fog City Writers Short Story Contest (CA, USA)

2006 Honourable Mention, Juniper Creek Short Story Competition (NV, USA)

2005 Finalist, The Writers' Union of Canada Short Prose Competition for Developing Writers

Professional & Volunteer Affiliations

Blue Metropolis Foundation, Canadian Writers Society, English Language Arts Network, Professional Writers Association of Canada, Quebec Writers' Federation, Writers' Federation of New Brunswick