Why Vancouver? Why You?
I once retained a firm to write content for my real estate website which resulted in them sending me articles with titles like “Paw-fect Dog Parks in Point Grey” and “The Five Best Bars at UBC.” And while I have a fondness for dogs and enjoy the odd drink, I was discouraged about the trite subjects and impersonal nature of this approach. Wanting more intimate, engaging stories I launched the Why Vancouver? Why You? writing competition which resulted in my receiving nearly a hundred essays from a varied and interesting background of people.
Fourteen panellists were then invited to rank the shortlisted top ten essays in order of preference. Most of the panellists had university degrees: there were three professional writers, four teachers, and a mix of other diverse, artistic and skilled backgrounds.
Interestingly all the prize winners were immigrant Vancouverites from other parts of the country though one came from a Vancouver suburb. Also telling was that most of the writers focused or touched on Vancouver’s social and economic schisms.
The first and second place winners were actually very close in their voted positions. Since “The Flinging Place” finished first and collected the grand prize, I’ll take the liberty of flinging a slight barb out there by stating it wasn’t the title that earned this piece its victory. I find “Flinging” carries more negative connotation (a careless throwing action) than it does positive (doing something with great enthusiasm and energy). But herein we get the first hint of where many of these essays are going as they transverse the paradoxes and dichotomies of Vancouver and her citizenry. The Flinging Place’s punchiest line in describing Vancouver: “She’s a ruthless host.” The essay clearly puts the onus on you the individual to get out there and make the connections you’re after.
The second place piece “Living Bigger, Looking Closer” is certainly a well-crafted bit of writing, and definitely no flinging occurs. Though somewhat self conscious, the writer chooses and then acts to live out her title. Gotta give credit where credit is due.
Third place prize winner “Irrational Vancouver” had the highest number of panellists (twelve) giving some level of upper grade though none gave it a first place vote (irrational voting?) If the prizes had been based on the total number of panellists giving an essay a nod, it would have finished first overall. The writer’s personal odyssey in struggling to integrate more fully with Vancouver is something most people can relate to. The title alone captured the thematic overture of most writers’ submissions.
“Maybe it’s the Cherry Blossoms” the other third place winner (a tie occurred in the judging tabulation) is a piece I wasn’t sure was going to advance into the prize circle until I heard my sister share it was her favourite story. But given my sister is naturally effusive and runs a quaint tea shop, and given the writer of Cherry Blossoms wove the terms “blubbering” and “pumpkin loaf” into her opening sentence, I’m not totally surprised. And in keeping with its title, this story had a gentler, more redemptive tone then most other finalists.
Of the non-prize winning semi finalists “Benching in Vancouver” penned by one of the few Vancouver born and raised contributors had three panellists give it a first place vote while nine denied it any grade at all. Clearly a select few like to “get benched” while the majority of local folk just walk on by.
One panellist gave “The Vortex Effect” a first place vote, two gave it a lower grade, and the rest panned it altogether. The writer’s experience, while haunting, left most readers bereft of meaningful connection to the author or the city. Ironically this literary shortcoming (or avant-garde literary technique) echoed the broader, tangible disconnects found in Vancouver that many others—including the prize winners—wrote about.
Connection and increased community are what I hope all writers and readers have experienced at some point in this contest.
And what of my own answer to my own question, Why Vancouver? Why You? I wrote a little ditty prosaically titled “Why I Live in Vancouver”
Or if you wish to read the top ten contest essays click this link: Bring me back to the list of winning essays
Ken’s home page: click here