When everyone found themselves at home without the usual activities last year, the Estonian Foundation of Canada offered up a welcome distraction – a short story contest. Stories could be fiction or non-fiction, but entries had to have a tangible connection to the Estonian-Canadian experience. The goal of the contest was to celebrate the experience of our Estonian roots here in Canada – and to encourage individuals in the community to think about this connection in new ways.
Thank you to everyone who submitted a story. And, an especially big thank you to Anneli Andre-Barrett, Kati Kiilaspea and Karin Marley for generously contributing their time and expertise as judges in this blind competition.
Winner: “Stage Fright” by Imbi Uukkivi
Honorable Mention: “Mesipuu” by Häli Puust
Judges: To those of us who grew up going to an Eesti Kool here in Canada, with the compulsory performances at every holiday, the story told in “Stage Fright” definitely hit a nerve. But the romantic element made this such a lovely twist.The evocation of the backstage nerves was strong, and two main characters felt like they belonged in a young adult novel. The setting was well drawn, and there was a lot of emotion packed into a tight scene and setting.
Winner: “Kärbes” by Marja-Leena Kiik
Honorable Mention: "Prints, The Biscuit Baker” by Monika Hutchings
Judges: There were very strong contenders in this category, and the winner could easily find a place in a published short story collection. “Kärbes” was a delightfully creepy story, with strongly drawn main characters, a setting that’s familiar to a lot of us here in Canada, and an evocative plot. We particularly loved the dialogue, with its very relatable mix of English and Estonian - the Estish so many of us speak. The slightly cranky Vanatädi who is difficult to relate to until she starts telling tales is a familiar character. The image of flies crawling out of the hiiglane made the skin crawl - in the best way!
Winner: "Like Always” by Elmar Maripuu
2nd Place: “The Estonian Pompeii” by A. Christina Tari
3rd Place: “The Staff of Life” by A. Christina Tari
Honourable Mention: “Killukesed Antsla lapsepõlvest. My Mother’s Story.” by Ruth Patterson
“Like Always” - This was a simple, evocative, youthful story told with nice dialogue and humour. It best fit the definition of a short story, with a strong plot, distinct well drawn scenes and characters, and a contained scenario with a beginning, story arc and ending.There was a good tension between the charm of the kids and their questions about Santa Claus, about the differences between Estonian and English culture, even about god - but the bigger stresses weighing on the adults were there in the background too. Canadian-Estonians can relate to the oddity of having our own Christmas traditions, where we see Santa Claus in person - and can prove wrong the Canadian kid - “smarty-pants Fraser” in this case - who says Santa Claus doesn’t exist. We’ve seen him!
“Estonian Pompeii” - This piece of creative memoir has a strong beginning, with a mother who always worries her family every March 9 - a date in 1944 that the narrator doesn’t know the significance of when she’s young. The story strongly reflects the refugee experience of living with parents whose trauma we may not know or understand, and trying to learn more about it as an adult. In a story with a lot of tragedy, the author still manages to mix in humour, as well as very strong symbolism, with the shoes her mother lost on the night Tallinn was bombed.
“Staff of Life” - This creative memoir strongly reflects part of the universal experience of the children of immigrants - through the image of Estonian leib. The parents’ generation has a nostalgia for the bread they ate back in the old country - a bread that can’t be bought or made quite the right way in their new home. The story is told with humour and is very relatable for Estonians abroad.
Honourable Mention: “Killukesed Antsla Lapsepõlvest” - a touching memoir of a childhood in Estonia nearly a century ago. We enjoyed reading it and thank the author for taking the time to share their story with us!