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‘Words have always been my favourite thing’: Liverpool resident shortlisted in CBC Nonfiction prize writing contest

Carla Powell reaches the summit of Dead Woman’s Pass on day two. Powell hiked on the Inca Trail in Peru from Sept. 17 to 20, 2016. Powell’s story about the experience was shortlisted in the 2017 CBC Nonfiction Prize.
Carla Powell reaches the summit of Dead Woman’s Pass on day two. Powell hiked on the Inca Trail in Peru from Sept. 17 to 20, 2016. Powell’s story about the experience was shortlisted in the 2017 CBC Nonfiction Prize.

LIVERPOOL, NS - Carla Powell was laughing and choking because she couldn’t get air.

That was her reaction when she found out her story had been selected for the 2017 CBC Nonfiction Prize shortlist. The Liverpool resident said she screamed so loudly her cat came down from the attic.

“I am very happy,” Powell said.

Powell found out she was in the top 29 – the long list – a couple of months ago. She was notified via email.  

“I’ve been sitting on that,” she said. “We weren’t allowed to release it. They wanted to release it to the public.”

That finally happened Sept. 2.

“I was ecstatic and happy and jumping all over the place, but I couldn’t tell anybody,” she said.

Powell entered Canada Writes in February. She wrote her piece, “The Road to Machu Picchu Starts at 385 lbs,” over a weekend. After writing it, Powell said she let it sit and submitted it with some edits the following weekend.

She said she knew what she wanted to write.

No one else, until Sept. 12, had read Powell’s story.

Writing

“Since I could walk,” said Powell, about how long she’s been writing. “I’ve been writing for a very, very long time and words have always been my favourite thing.”

Powell said her mother was an English teacher, so words were extremely important. She remembers writing stories from a young age and has been keeping a journal for 30 years.

Writing is her favourite thing to do, said Powell.

“It’s what I consider my innate talent.”

Despite the importance writing holds for Powell, she said she’s rarely brought it into a public environment. Now, though, Powell said she’s braver. That increased bravery is what led her to submit her story to the annual, national competition.

She says placing in the top five has helped to validate what others have been telling her: to put her writing out there.

The piece

Powell said there was a significant moment when she went to Peru to hike on the Inca Trail when she realized she had a story.

“It was linking so much to a constant theme in my life of feeling loss and having so many people around me die, and there I was in this very, very hard, strenuous hike that was making me feel very alive,” she said.

Powell said the story she wrote is “exactly how it happened.”

Almost a year ago, Powell said she rolled out of bed and booked her trip to Peru. She did the hike from Sept. 17-20, 2016.

“When I found myself on the shortlist, I just felt extremely humbled because most of the other people on the long list were published authors,” Powell said.

Writing plans

Powell lived in the Middle East for a while and said she’s been working on a book about her time spent there.

Nonfiction, she said, is what she’s most comfortable with.

“I’ve been working on that (book) for quite a while,” Powell said.

Originally from Alberta, Powell moved to Liverpool in 2010. Now that she feels settled in her hometown, she feels as though she can focus more on her writing.

Powell said she’s always writing stories and will likely submit them to magazines.

“But my ultimate goal is to write a book,” she said.

Nonfiction Prize

The winner of the competition will win $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and attend a 10-day writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Her story will be published on CBC Books and in Air Canada enRoute magazine.

The other four finalists will get $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and have their stories published on CBC Books.

The announcement for winner is scheduled to happen Sept. 19. The jury includes Carmen Aguirre, Dave Bidini and Charlotte Gray.

Go online: To read Powell’s story, visit http://www.cbc.ca/books/literaryprizes/the-road-to-machu-picchu-starts-at-385-lbs-by-carla-powell-1.4265654.

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