A former Clearwater resident recently won a prestigious short story contest, coming out as number one from 2,400 entries.
Brenda Damen, who now lives in Calgary, was announced the winner of the 2020 CBC Short Story Prize for her work called Gibson.
“I don’t think it has sunk in yet. I just can’t believe it. It’s still trying to sink in I was even on the shortlist, let alone won the contest. It’s amazing. It’s insane,” said Damen.
Gibson is a story about a young girl who has a violent home life and spends a lot of time in nature. Her adventures in the outdoors not only depict the beauty of the wilderness, but many of the harsh realities faced by wildlife as well.
In the end, the young girl manages to muster up the will to perform a small act of rebellion, letting the reader know she’s finding strength and taking her life into her own hands.
“I wasn’t going to write a story unless it was meaningful. I wanted it packed full of stuff, so I have a lot of nature in it,” said Damen.
“She’s really exploring nature, but it’s not all pretty and she’s in some pretty dangerous situations climbing the mountain and getting down into caves. I hope the underlying message that comes through is she is gaining strength to take back her own identity.”
Much of the story was lifted from a novel Damen had been working on called Third Trick, which features aspects of the different places she’s lived in throughout her life, and while her experiences in Clearwater didn’t make it into Gibson, much of them are prominent in the larger work.
Damen lived in Clearwater only briefly when she was about five years old, back in 1965-66, and though her time in the Gateway to Wells Gray wasn’t lengthy, the impact it had on her was quite profound.
Clearwater was the first real town Damen lived in, prior to having only lived in extremely rural locations.
“First, we lived in a little railroad junction town that doesn’t exist anymore, then into a remote forest location. When we moved to Clearwater it was my first town. I was terrified, but I was fascinated,” she said.
“I was fascinated by the paved roads. At night they looked like black rivers and they were solid. I wasn’t used to paved roads. Just old abandoned logging roads. Clearwater at that time was still small and really close to nature, so I could still escape into the forest, but it was loud, there were T.V.s and people on the street.
“Clearwater was the transition — getting to know other kids, someone else my age, seeing families walking together, and sitting on the porch. It was coming into civilization. I would love to come back and see Clearwater, I bet it’s grown a lot.”
With the CBC Short Story Prize having a word limit of 2,500 words Damen couldn’t cram all of her experiences into the story, so instead made the above-mentioned junction town the backdrop for Gibson.
She said if she ever gets the full-length story organized and put together properly she’d try to get it published, but at the moment she’s still trying to absorb that she won such a high profile contest.
The prizes that came with the win include $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and a two-week writing residency at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.
Anyone interested in reading Gibson can find it at CBCBooks.ca