Category Archives: 2017 Festival

1st Place: PLATES  DON’T  FALL 

by Marlan Siren, Grand Bend
There’s not nearly the amount of stuff you’d expect in a one bedroom apartment. (She was minimal and I was mellow.) I could have called a second-hand shop to remove everything, but something in me wants a process, not an event.  I will keep my laptop, my Kindle, the red chair, my lamp, and the little black table.  Everything else can go.

     A woman in a yellow sweater asks, “Your couch.  Was it expensive?”

     “Dunno,” I say.  “I forget.”

She explains that she has a decent couch but her dog died on it last week and now she can’t bear to sit on it.  He died of a broken heart.  She and her husband split up and after the cheating bastard moved out the poor dog just lay there.  It took him two weeks to stop living. Friends will help her move the couch tomorrow. 

     “Will you take $200?”

      Fine with me.  I would have taken less.

An old gentleman, turbaned, suited and tied, strokes the stack of books with elegant piano-player hands.

     “No bookcase?” he asks.


They were her books. Abandoned, like everything else in the place.  She left with only her Blackberry, her flute, a shoulder bag and our smallest suitcase.                                                                                                 

Piano man wants all the books. His grand-daughter has just started reading again, after a drunk driver left her with three sightless years and another drunk driver produced a donor for a cornea transplant.

Two women, twins, come out of the bedroom, carrying garments. “You’re selling these?”  (I hadn’t considered her closet.)

     “Sure,” I say.

Most of the clothing is orchestra black.  Some white shirts.  She called them shirts, not blouses.

The twins volunteer for an organization that helps underprivileged women “dress for success.”

      “Check the shelf in the closet.  Should be two pair of shoes and one purse.  Take them all.  No charge.”

      “Any jewelry?”


I learned that lesson the night I proposed.  Down on one knee, offering up a velvet box, the whole cliché. 

      “But I don’t wear jewelry.”

      “An engagement ring is not jewelry.”

      “Of course it is.  It’s the most jeweled of all jewelry, the most examined, quantified in both dollars and carats.  I do believe there is something very wrong with the thing and the concept.  What I could really use is a new tooth.”  She pointed to an incisor.  “This one’s dead.  Remember my root canal?” 

The tooth was cheaper than the ring, but something lingered besides the money in my bank account.

For the same reason, we didn’t need a bookcase.  Or a bed frame. “The floor is the best support for a mattress.”  Or a dishwasher.  “Four of everything is enough. Four plates, four bowls, four forks, et cetera.”  (She said ‘et cetera’ a lot because she didn’t like to waste words.) “Just wash after each use. A dishwasher is simply a storage unit for dirty things.”    We each had a reading lamp. “If it’s beside the couch and you want to read in bed, you just unplug it and carry it to the bedroom.”  

At first I thought all this was quirky-cute, but after her first Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ place, her quirkiness became my comfort station. 

There was the usual feast of people, girded by sideboards groaning with trays and platters and casseroles and chafing dishes and tureens, offering a surfeit of every food group in various guises and disguises.  The buffet was aglut with animal collateral and condiments in boats and bottles and bowls, and biscuits, buns, and breads in a big basket.  A corner hutch was clotted with “salad” fare: cabbage salad, macaroni salad, potato salad, apple-marshmallow salad, and a disturbing jellied structure, lime green and shaped like a fish, which interred the shredded remains of former vegetables. 

Around the corner I had seen a wheelie cart laying in wait with a two-tiered  invasion of confectionery aggression: pies and cakes, custards and puddings, meringues, tarts, brownies and some beige 3D constructs shaped like pilgrim hats.  The only food-free zone was the other corner hutch, infested with the knick-knackery of familial mementos and products of the Franklin Mint.  The walls were littered with framed photographs and brass tchotchkes, the spreading of which was remedied by the plate rail where an illogical collection of plates with faces looked down.  Above the uncle seated across from me were Shirley Temple and Winston Churchill. As I heard the wheelie-cart gathering muster in the hall, I could feel Charles and Diana and a horse named Trigger counting the hairs on the back of my neck.  All this stuff lurking around the jam of human traffic.  Closing in.  I couldn’t breathe.  How had I grown up this way?

When we returned home we sat, not on the couch but on the parquet floor, and peeled an orange and shared the sections.  Then we made some lovely love and, afterward, smiled smugly to each other like we knew a secret – like we were a secret.     

      “This poster.  How much?”  A man with Albert Einstein hair wearing a Blue Jays T-shirt, who I recognize as the tenant two doors down, is pointing to the wall.

It was our only gesture towards “art.”  A framed poster of two chairs by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

      “It speaks to me,” she had said.

      “What does it say?”

       “I don’t know yet.”

I often found her standing oh-so-still in front of that poster.  Divining.  When she finally told me what it said I should not have been surprised.  All the clues had been there.

      “Not for sale,” I say to Albert. (I don’t know why. I have not planned the details of this process. I’m making it up as I go.) 

But now this infliction of stories that don’t need to be told.  Dead dogs and unbearable couches, cheating bastards and drunk drivers.  Previously-used  corneas and clothing-deprived women.  The guy that bought the stainless steel garbage can has a neurotic one-eyed cat who chews plastic.  The toaster and kettle man hasn’t seen his daughter in nine years but hears she’s off to college now.  Figures she’ll appreciate small appliances for her dorm room.  “Like a graduation present, you know?”  Thing is, no one will tell him which college.  The scatter mat in front of the kitchen sink reminds a woman, dead ringer for Oprah Winfrey with dreadlocks, of the lap shawl her mother used during chemotherapy. Her voice is the soothing velvet of Rastafarian promises.  “One dollar,” I say.  The rabbi’s son is in rehab, his story bearing no discernible relevance to his purchase of my vintage Polaroid camera.

This anthology of humanity is exhausting.  I sit on the couch.

A skinny twenty-something dude sits beside me. 

     “What’s your story?” he asks.

     “My story?”

     “Ya – like are you moving?  You broke?”

     “No,” I say, though I’m pretty sure I am broken.

On his arm I see the oddest tattoo, but I’m too close to get a good look.  He sees me trying, stands up to display the artwork.  Some circlish things descend from his shoulder to his wrist where there’s an image I can’t decipher.  

    “What is it?”

His girlfriend tells us she’s going to an ATM.  She puts two big bags of kitchen stuff – pots, pans, mugs – at his feet. Thirty dollars, we figure.  She leaves.

     “A plate,” skinny guy says.  “A plate falling.” He points to his wrist.  “Plate breaks. Those are the shards.”

Now this is a story I want to hear.  I hate to say it, but the image speaks to me.

     “Why a plate?” I ask.  “Why a falling plate?”

     “You tell me your story, I’ll tell you mine. I’m a writer. I like to hear people’s stories.”

So I tell him. 

When I’m finished, he stands to scrutinize the poster. 

     “Wow,” he says. “She deconstructed the shit out of that one, I’d say.”

      “Eight years it took her.”

      “So how do you become a nun if you don’t have religion?  That is a conundrum…  So is she still at this retreat place?”


     “You want her back?”

      “Dunno. I forget.”

     “Great story.  Can I use it?”

     “Use it?”

     “Ya.  Like I said, I’m a writer.”

     I think about this.  What good is a story, I ask myself, if someone can’t use it? 

     “Sure,” I tell him.  “Use the hell out of it… Now it’s your turn,” I say, pointing to the tattoo.                                                                  

Here’s the story: his mother was an angry, violent woman with too many children and not enough chores.  He was drying the supper dishes in the kitchen when one slipped from his hands.  Crash.  What the hell was that? mom yelled from somewhere.  A p-wate fe-wo, he yelled back. Her fists swooped into the kitchen (his words exactly) as she yelled: Plates don’t fall! People drop plates! Now you say it!  He was shaking and his freshly broken lip stung like hell so it was even harder to talk than it usually was and it came out: Pwates don’t fawo.  Peepo dwop pwates.

     “I was only 3 years old. I couldn’t do L’s or R’s.”

I am chilled.  I actually shiver. 

We have a moment of silence.

     “You know Beyond the Fringe?” he asks.  “Peter Cook and -“

     “- and Dudley Moore?  Sure I do.  I love those guys.”

Then he puts on an English accent. “I coulda been a judge but I never had the latin, never had the latin for the judging. I just thought of that.”

     “Because …?”

     “Because she coulda been a nun but she never had religion, never had the jesus for the nunning.”

We both give a slap-your-lap kind of laugh.

An over-pierced teenager comes from the kitchen carrying four plates and four bowls.

     “Can I get these for a loonie?”

I’m feeling engaged now, even a bit brazen.  “If you don’t tell me why you want the bowls, you can have them for free. But not the plates. Put the plates back, please.”

     “And don’t dwop them,” skinny dude adds.

     Which leads to more lap-slapping.

Then another silence.

Then the girlfriend returns and they leave with their bags of stuff.  

At the end of the day the apartment doesn’t really look much different. The couch hasn’t moved to its new home yet.  No one bought the mattress. Though her missing lamp gives pause, the big difference is on the inside: inside cupboards, inside drawers, inside closets.  Decluttering.  Reducing.  She would approve.

I wash my hands in the bathroom and look at myself in the only mirror we’ve ever had, a 10” circle attached to the wall with a steel retractable claw.  I stand back to try to see more of myself, but can see only pieces.  Something like those blind people brailling an elephant and trying to describe the whole creature. 

There’s my belt buckle.  My elbow.  My wrist. There’s something mattering here, but my brain is moving faster than my mind. I take the elevator to the lobby with its overstatement of mirrors.  I look at my whole self.  From many angles.  Inside out.  

Yup, I decide.  I’m clutter.  That’s what she saw when she saw me.  Clutter.  One chair too many.  An excess plate.  An et cetera.

Back upstairs, I look down from my balcony to the expanse of concrete surrounded by construction-site ribbon.  They are re-paving the parking lot. It is 7 p.m. so all the yellow-hats have gone home. Every morning they vacuum the debris before they pave.  Tomorrow would likely be their last day.  I realize that I have plugged into their company during my morning coffee and that now I will miss them.  I go to the kitchen and return to the balcony.                                                                                   

I drop the first plate.  Though I am four floors up I can see pretty clearly what broken looks like, how shards are made.   I wonder about the skinny dude.  Did he grow up with that mean mother?  Go to Children’s Aid?   Foster homes?  Wish I had asked.  And what about dreadlock Oprah’s mother?  In remission or dead now?  How could I not have asked that?  And that poor fucking dog allowed to die on a couch?  How does that happen?  

I drop the second plate.     

Couch lady says she has friends to help her move the couch so if the dog was too big for her to budge, why didn’t she solicit those friends to help her get the dog to a vet?  Or arrange for a home visit.  Did she even bother contacting the cheating bastard about the depressed dog?  

I drop the third plate.  

Broken heart, my ass, that dog was neglected to death. Maybe Munchhausen-by-proxy.  Or maybe some twisted desire to punish the cheating bastard.  Whatever. When the Bitch of Belsen arrives tomorrow I’ll give her back her money and tell her she’s not getting the fucking couch.

I do not drop the fourth plate.

I take it back to the kitchen and put it in the cupboard.  The only other things in there are salt and pepper shakers and a roll of paper towels.  I like that.

I look at my couch.  I stroke the back of it and sit down.  It is a very comfortable couch.  Always was.  A good and faithful couch.  I hunker into the familiar and pat the seat beside me.  I realize I am glad my mental drift has brought me to this couch-keeping moment.

I look at the wall.  I decide that tomorrow I will knock on Albert Einstein’s door. If he still wants the poster, he can have it.


AMFSS Contest Winners announced …

The Alice Munro Festival of the Short Story is pleased to congratulate the winners of the 13th Annual Literary Short Story Competition for Emerging Writers. 

Our Short Story competition is a yearly opportunity for writers to explore the short story, a literary art form made popular by 2013 Nobel laureate Alice Munro

The contest winners were announced at the Alice Munro Festival awards luncheon this past Saturday, June 3, 2017 in Wingham, Ontario.

Alice Munro Festival of the Short Story writing competition winners:

Adult category 

– 1st Place: Plates Don't Fall by Marlan Siren, Grand Bend
– 2nd Place: Finders by Carolyn Huizinga Mills, Breslau
– 3rd Place: Corralled by Patti-Kay Hamilton, Fort Smith, NWT

Youth category

– 1st Place: Imaginary Heart by Isabella Sheptak, Beaumont, Alberta
– 2nd Place: Hidden Deeper by Grace Eaton, Toronto
– 3rd Place: Three Black Roses by Grace McAuley, Goderich

Special category

The Arts and Letters Club of Toronto Foundation Youth Award for an emerging author in his or her twenties, from the Greater Toronto Area:

No Worse than Other Places by Ginny Monaco, Toronto.

Thank you to all of the emerging writers who entered this year's competition. Our judges were impressed by quality of all of the entries they reviewed. The judges tell us that they had a very hard go of it as the competition was strong and all the entries were examples of writing talent, strong prose skills and creative spirit.


Michael Ondaatje and Jane Urquhart Headliners of 2017 Alice Munro Festival

Michael Ondaatje
for immediate release
May 5, 2017

This year’s Alice Munro Festival of the Short Story starts things off with a screening of the 1974 documentary The Clinton Special: A Film About the Farm Show by Michael Ondaatje. The film documents the creation of the now legendary collective theatre play The Farm Show. In 1972 Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille Company moved into the farming community of Clinton, Ontario and area, and made a play out of the stories and events of the people of that region. The following spring, the company took its play, "The Farm Show," on a tour of the farming communities of southwestern Ontario, sometimes performing in auction barns and town halls.

The screening will be followed by an onstage discussion with Mr. Ondaatje and Paul Thompson, director of The Farm ShowThe Clinton Special screening takes place at 7:30 pm on Friday, June 2 at Blyth Memorial Hall. Tickets are $15.00 and are available through the Blyth Festival Box Office, 1-877-862-5984 or

The story of The Farm Show and its impact on Huron County and Canadian theatre continues with a program called The Drawer Boy from Stage to Screen on Saturday, June 3.  The Drawer Boy, an award winning play by Michael Healey revisited the creation of The Farm Show. Set in 1972 on a farm near Clinton, Ontario the play follows three characters: the farm's two owners, Morgan and Angus, and Miles, a young actor from Toronto doing research for a collectively created theatre piece about farming. A new film adaptation of the play was shot during the late summer of 2016 using many of the original locations in Huron County.  As a thank you to the community where the story takes place and film was shot, the film's Director/Producer, Arturo Perez Torres and Associate Director/Producer, Aviva Armour-Ostroff will be on hand to share the process of adapting the play for the screen, before the film debuts on the film festival circuit in 2017. This special event is by invitation only and anyone wishing to attend is asked to contact the Blyth Festival Box Office to reserve their space. 

Filmmaker, Rachel Thompson will also be screening her new documentary Theatre Beyond Walls with Paul Thompson, that tells the incredible story of Paul Thompson and a theatre company that provoked a cultural movement in Canada which includes The Farm Show.

Governor General Award winning author, Jane Urquhart will read from her national bestseller, A Number of Things: Stories About Canada Told Through 50 Objects at the Short Story Contest awards luncheon on Saturday, June 3.  Ms. Urquhart will be joined by the book’s illustrator, Scott McKowen. Together they will share some of the remarkable stories of the fifty objects and places that tell a powerful narrative about Canada in our sesquicentennial year.

A new partnership between the Festival and the Maitland Trail Association will see author Kyo Maclear go off the page and into the field as she and local guide Roger Goddard, lead a birding walk along the Maitland Trail on the morning of Sunday, June 4. Maclear’s national bestseller, 

Birds Art Life, follows her year-long adventure following a Toronto musician that is also a bird lover and photographer. The memoir celebrates the particular madness of loving and chasing after birds in a big city.

Other programming highlights for 2017 include:  

Grandmothers, Sisters, & Aunties: The Female Voice in First Nation Storytelling, a panel of three acclaimed Canadian First Nation authors: Lee Maracle, Cherie Dimaline and Falen Johnson discuss how their own work and the voices of other indigenous female authors is contributing to the oeuvre of CanLit in the 21st century. 

Screening of the 2015 documentary film, Al Purdy Was Here with director and producer Brian D. Johnson. The documentary looks at the legacy of Canada’s unofficial poet laureate.  In 1957 Al Purdy and his wife built an A-frame cabin on Roblin Lake in Ontario’s Prince Edward County that becomes a mecca for the early pioneers of Canadian literature. 

Our annual Books & Brunch event on Sunday, June 4 at The Livery in Goderich will have an all-Canadian theme in celebration of Canada’s 150th.  Panelists Merilyn Simonds, Marni Jackson and Eva Crocker will share and discuss their favourite Canadian short stories and authors.

The 2017 Alice Munro Festival of the Short Story includes a series of masterclasses that allow emerging writers of all levels to learn from and network with the guest authors as well as readings and panel discussions. Program details, including box office information, for the festival can be found on the website The Alice Munro Festival of the Short Story is supported by the Ontario Arts Council, Township of North Huron, the County of Huron, Howick Mutual Insurance Company and Capital Power Corporation.


Michael Ondaatje photo credit: Linda Spalding



Rick Sickinger        519-482-5457 ext. 2730

Connie Goodall        519-357-3550 ext. 131


2018 Program

Festival Passes are also available
by calling the Blyth Festival Box Office – 519.523.9300
Includes all four MasterClasses, and/or Author Readings or Panel Discussion.  Lunches both days
Includes Author Readings,
all Panel Discussions and
Lunches both days
Individual Events tickets available through links on the Event Pages
9 a.m.10:30am

Witches of New York by Ami McKay,
Little Fish by  Casey Plett                   
Bayfield Town Hall, Bayfield (*R)
9 a.m.10:30am

Getting Out of Your Own Way
Sarah Meehan Sirk.
Bayfield Library, Bayfield  (*W)
11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

The Wonder, by Emma Donoghue and 
The Dead Husband Project​ by Sarah Meehan Sirk
Bayfield Town Hall, Bayfield  (*R)
12:30 – 2:00 p.m.

Madeleine Thien
Bayfield Town Hall, Bayfield (*W) (*R)
2:30 – 4:00 p.m.

Girls Don’t Slam Doors – $25
Emma Donoghue, ​Sarah Meehan Sirk,
and Casey Plett  (*R)
Bayfield Town Hall, Bayfield
2:30 – 4:00 p.m.

The Act of Writing – $25
Johanna Skibsrud

Bayfield Library, Bayfield  (*W)
10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
11:00 – 12:30 PM 
Scaachi Koul​
Johanna Skibsrud 
at Wingham Town Hall Theatre,
Wingham  (*W) (*R)
11:00 – 12:30 PM 
Giant Steps
with Ami McKay
Alice Munro Public Library,
.      (*W)
1:00 – 3:00 PM
Maitland River Community Church, 414 Josephine St, Wingham, ON N0G 2W0

3:30 – 5:00 PM 
Does That Make Me a Feminist
  – $10

​Panelists Ami McKayScaachi Koul​ 
and Johanna Skibsrud
Wingham Town Hall Theatre, 
274 JOSEPHINE, Wingham, ON N0G 2W0


3:30 – 5:00 PM 
Opening the Door – $25
with Casey Plett

Alice Munro Public Library,
381 Edward Street,
Wingham, ON
.                                       (*W)


Winning Short Stories 2016

Youth Category
Caleb Butcher of Ottawa wins first place for his story, He Waits
Iza Agullar of the Waterloo region wins second place for Remembering Autumn
Curtis Jeffrey of Goderich wins third place for Creeping Normality

Adult Category
Judy Waytiuk of Winnipeg wins first place for her story, The Neighbour
Ragna Goodwin of Peterborough wins second place for Wits End
Connie Cook of Melancthon wins third place for Reflections at a Funeral