Elizabeth Venart Prize
One prize ($1,000 cash, a $500-value one-week residency at Jampolis Cottage, and approximately $200 in advisory sessions through the Coffee Chats program) is awarded each year to an emerging writer working in any genre of fiction, nonfiction, poetry whose work-in-progress shows promise and career-advancing merit.
Eligible writers are those who identify as women and/or as other marginalized genders (including but not limited to Two-Spirit, trans, nonbinary, and fluid genders).
Introduced in 2021, the Elizabeth Venart Prize provides the recipient with time, space, and professional development as they complete, revise and edit, and/or submit work for publication.
The endowment for the prize was established in memory of Elizabeth Venart (1937 – 2008), a writer and mother, through the generous support of the Venart family.
The writer eligibility for this prize recognizes the unique barriers to literary creation faced by women and other marginalized genders, particularly the lack of time and space imposed by systems of gendered labour and gendered childrearing.
The Elizabeth Venart Prize facilitates the recipient’s literary endeavours for 5 months—the January through May following the submission deadline—during which time they are offered a one-week residency at Jampolis Cottage and three meetings with a literary advisor.
Literary activities during the prize period may include drafting new writing, revising existing writing, contracting and working with an editor, submitting writing for publication, undertaking creative mentorships or professional training, and other relevant activities.
Scheduling of the Jampolis Cottage residency and consultations and selection of a Writers’ Council advisor are determined by the recipient with assistance and the approval of WFNS. Conducted by phone or video chat, the consultations are intended to help the recipient assess and recalibrate their writing strategies, troubleshoot creative and professional challenges, and plan future career development.
2023 Elizabeth Venart Prize Recipient
Roberta McGinn says winning the 2023 Elizabeth Venart Prize is the “pinnacle of delight.”
“I’m grateful and utterly astonished,” says Roberta, 70, who is retired as a disability manager for the Workers’ Compensation Board. She lives in Dartmouth with her husband, dog, and two cats. “Now I don’t have to worry so much about having to go through December without a pay cheque.”
Since 2017, when she joined WFNS, Roberta has taken several writing workshops, so much so that “I feel I’ve done a degree in creative writing.” She tries to write every day, and has been working on a fiction manuscript for several years.
With the supports received through the Venart Prize, she is hoping to concentrate on finishing her manuscript and, “oh, maybe getting it published.”
2022 Elizabeth Venart Prize Recipient
A speech-language pathologist, Trina has worked on the South Shore of Nova Scotia for past 20 years. From an early age, she found adventure, friendship, solace, and guidance in libraries and books. For just as long, she has written privately as a means of self-discovery and self-expression, but the bulk of her writing has been for academic or professional purposes.
It was during the COVID-19 pandemic that she decided to explore writing creative non-fiction. Her submission to the Elizabeth Venart Prize was the product of writing workshops she’s taken through the University of King’s College and the WFNS. She plans to use the Elizabeth Venart Prize to foster her creative writing practice.
Trina lives with her husband, young daughter, and excitable six-month-old golden retriever, Rosie. Beyond books, Trina believes in the transformative power of stories and the courage it takes to tell them.
Elizabeth Venart (1937 – 2008) was born in Halifax to an unwed mother from Port Greville, Nova Scotia. Given up for adoption, she suffered abuse and malnutrition in several homes before she was adopted, at age four, by a couple in Springhill, NS. At sixteen, she attended nursing school in Halifax—but nursing didn’t satisfy her, so she applied and was accepted to Mount Allison University, where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and English. Working as an English teacher in Temiskaming, Quebec, she met mechanical engineer James Venart, fell in love, and married. They moved to Scotland, where she taught briefly before becoming a mother to the first three of her seven children.
Elizabeth had the mind and attention of a poet, but she did not always have the confidence to believe in her vision and voice. She spent the 1960s and 1970s raising her family in various homes in Britain and Western Canada before settling permanently on a farm in Elgin, New Brunswick. In the late 1980s, when she had raised most of her children, she worked full time on her farm, selling lamb, wool, milk, butter, and geese, among other things. At this time, she also began writing seriously.
Elizabeth kept a journal and during a writing workshop at Mount Allison (a four-hour round trip to attend), she began writing poetry and fiction. She received encouragement in that workshop and support from a writing group in Sussex. Elizabeth’s work began to win prizes. At that critical time, Elizabeth was also given some financial support by the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia, and her work flourished. She claimed a room in the family’s farmhouse as her writing room and had her husband install French doors and two long desks. The windows to this room faced an apple tree that overlooked an interval and a river. The other window faced several bird feeders and one of her flower gardens. Around this time, Elizabeth won a fellowship to the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity to work on a novel, which has yet to be published.
Much of Elizabeth’s work remained unfinished at the time of her death. She produced a manuscript of poems, a short manuscript of stories, and, of course, her novel. She also wrote thousands of pages of journal entries. According to her daughter, the poet Sarah Venart, this journal writing—unrestricted, unquestioned, and unedited—is some of Elizabeth’s best. It chronicles the quotidian work of family and farm life in a sparse, exact, and uniquely Elizabeth voice. According to Sarah, her mother’s work “influenced the way that I see the world in every conceivable way.” Sarah Venart’s 2020 poetry collection, I am the Big Heart, brings some of her mother’s journal writing.
Sarah Venart remembers Elizabeth as being “most satisfied and content when she was producing words in her writing room with her chosen view of apple blossoms and the sipping hummingbirds.”
Like so many writers, Elizabeth wasn’t confident about her writing. Yet when she was diagnosed with cancer in 2004, she underwent surgery but declined chemotherapy so as not to disrupt her plans to spend the fall and winter writing her novel. Cancer returned a few years later, and Elizabeth died on July 9, 2008.
Elizabeth Venart came from very little and worked hard every day of her life. She was acerbic, witty, fiercely loyal, incredibly intelligent, and proud. She missed nothing at all: her attention to detail was fascinating and alarming. When she read her words in public, she mesmerized audiences, leaving them profoundly silent with wonder.
On the Day I Cut Cabbage
by Elizabeth Venart
On this day I cut rows of cabbage;
leave them sitting on the ground like
buried to their shoulders,
Winds blew those ancient Chinese soils.
Rain washed their blood into the seas.
A sift of sand piled their stories
here and there
upon stacked streets where
peasants wrote their lives
between the lines of sow and reap.
Loosed from their yellow clay,
blown over the rim of silence
their soundless offering
this highest form of thought.
Silence blowing over, flowing under
shifting soiling empires
until no peasants write their lives
between the lines
upon our weighted streets.
the ducks would rise from the river
the sky would darken
the birds would stop singing
the smoke would come in at the windows
the cake would fall in the middle
the dog would be lost
the dishes would never get done
the grass would turn into wildflowers
the rocks would pile at the edge of the water
the crows would find him
At the Foundling Home *
there were always little children you could hug
and older children who’d touch you.
The Dress *
I am like a dress–
a clean dress
over a terrible wound.
The dragging of a belly
is under my dress.
* Poems found in Elizabeth Venart’s journals and published in I Am the Big Heart (Brick Books, 2020) by Sarah Venart.
The Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia thanks Sarah Venart and the Venart family for providing details on Elizabeth Venart’s life & work and for generously supporting the endowment for the Elizabeth Venart Prize.