The first year we ran the contest was 1996 (that’s the issue cover at right). That year, Toronto writer John Burton won first place in This Magazine’s Great Canadian Literary Hunt. Burton’s entry, “Sisters,” was his first-ever published story. It triumphed over some 1,000 other entries. Burton was a virtual nobody in the literary world, his writing a well-kept secret—until This spotted his talent.
How did he do it? Was it his handwriting on the envelope? Did he bribe us?
Nope. But here are my four best guesses.
1. Burton applied! (And so can you.)
First prize in each category is $750. In some regions of Canada, that’s a decent month’s salary for a new writer. In Toronto, that’s almost rent.
To have your writing judged, send us original, unpublished work in one of three categories:
- Poetry (poems of up to 100 lines)
- Fiction (short stories of up to 2,500 words)
- Graphic fiction (by this we mean illustrated stories of up to two-pages, though we’re sure your first sexy Harlequin novel will be a smash.)
The entry fee is $25 for one short story, one graphic story, or two poems. Each entry fee includes a one-year subscription to This. Each additional entry is $5. Many more details can be found here.
2. Burton discarded convention!
“As my mother was leaving for the hospital to deliver me, she asked my sister, who was not much more than 2, what she wanted: a girl or a boy.
A cat, my sister said.”
Burton used an unusual structure. His story unfolded in brief, sometimes one-line acts. Above is Act I. From it marched an army of non-linear scenes, each revealing more about the protagonist’s three older sisters and his place in their world.
Why on earth did he do that?
“I thought that if I could put it all down, that would be one way. And next the thought came to me that to leave it all out would be another, truer way.” – John Ashbery, quoted at the top of Burton’s story.
3. Burton wrote on a broader theme!
Some say male feminists are like leprechauns: they don’t exist. Others think feminism is inherently man-bashing. But I would call them wrong on both counts.
Burton emphasized his mother’s love of Simone de Beauvoir, Germaine Greer and Adrienne Rich. He used strong verbs when writing about women. He described nuns as matriarchal in a patriarchal structure. He wrote candidly about his own emotion and how he often expressed varieties of it. Whether you like it or not, Burton’s broader theme was feminism — the brand that promotes equality and understanding.
You are under no obligation whatsoever to employ a theme. But if it fits your style, here are some other topics we care about: social justice, environmentalism, human rights, greed, poverty, sexuality, gender, race – anything political. Everything is.
4. Burton fit the demographic!
“In a country where publishing and writing is always an endangered activity, seeking out new writers is, we think, one of the most political moves you can make.”
– Clive Thompson, This editor for the first Lit Hunt
The Lit Hunt targets new writers because we want to affirm their value in the world. In his editorial 15 years ago, Thompson described poetry as “the quintessentially anti-market product” — a human act with no “for rent” sign on it. We want to show that your fiction, poetry and graphic stories have value. Send them in and we’ll prove it.