May 142021


Huge applause for Heather McCalden for winning the 2021 Fitzcarraldo Editions/Mahler & Lewitt Studios Essay Prize. Heather is another student from that remarkable Banff Arts Centre nonfiction workshop I taught four years ago. (I already posted about Madhur Anand making the list of finalist for this year’s Governor-General’s Award for Nonfiction.) The prize is worth £3,000 prize, but the winner also gets to spend up to three months in residency at the Mahler & LeWitt Studios in Spoleto, Italy, to work on her book. The book will then be published by the UK publishing house Fitzcarraldo Editions. Other Fitzcarraldo authors in include Ben Lerner, Nobel prize winner Elfriede Jelinek, Mathias Enard, and Annie Ernaux among many others.

Heather is a writer and performance artist (and sometime TV extra; she once played a police woman in one of those British detective series) living in London. She lost both her parents to AIDS.

Here is a description of her essay from the publisher:

We’re thrilled to announce that Heather McCalden has won the 2021 Fitzcarraldo Editions/Mahler & Lewitt Studios Essay Prize with her proposal The Observable Universe, a prismatic account of grief conveyed through images, anecdotes and Wikipedia-like entries, calibrated specifically for the Internet Age. Centred on the loss of her parents to AIDS in the early ’90s, The Observable Universe questions what it means to ‘go viral’ in an era of explosive biochemical and virtual contagion.

Heather McCalden is a multidisciplinary artist working with text, image and movement. She is a graduate of the Royal College of Art (2015) and has exhibited at Tanz Company Gervasi, Roulette Intermedium, Pierogi Gallery, National Sawdust, Zabludowicz Collection, Testbed 1, Flux Dubai and Seattle Symphony Orchestra. In 2017 she attended the Emerging Writer’s Intensive at the Banff Centre for the Arts and returned in 2018 for their Late Summer Writer’s Residency. In January 2021, she was a scholar at the Tin House Winter Workshop.

That workshop at Banff was golden. Another student, Toronto journalist Katie Daubs, last fall published a book she started in Banff, The Missing Millionaire: The True Story of Ambrose Small and the City Obsessed With Finding Him. This came out with Penguin Books (and I apologize for being late with the news by nine months. I can only blame COVID fog, even though I haven’t had COVID (I feel foggy).

For my reminiscences about that workshop, see the link below.

Out & Back | Adventure Workshops in Banff

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