Results of the 2015 Spine Online Writing Awards

Georgia Award for Best Blog

Judged by: Peggy Berkowitz

Peggy Berkowitz is the editor of University Affairs magazine, a national magazine for faculty members, graduate students and university administrators. Having been a reporter-writer earlier in my career and an editor currently, I can say with authority that writing and reporting are much harder.



First place: Alexandra Mazur, On Going HOme

You chose a smart idea for a blog, marrying sound and words and a passion of yours. And, you really put yourself out there to accomplish it. The blog is wonderfully personal, but also has varied content (choosing the headphones, for example.) Your writing style is lovely (“leaning forward like a prospector”). The blog has a beginning, a narrative, and an ending and you seem to grow through the experience. Well done, and thanks for the tunes.


Honourable Mention: Stephen Lowe, Full Script

You picked a good topic that you could tackle knowledgeably in three or four posts. Excellent use of the medium, including the image of the script and revised script. I loved how your question about self-directed learning led to a podcast episode from the experts, and how this excited you enough to feel “my dream was crystallizing.” I admire the challenge you set for yourself in the blog. You are already a good writer. Good luck on your journey.

HONOURABLE MENTION: Raisa Patel, Muggle Studies

Your blog has a wonderful start that draws the reader in: What IS this about? Through the four posts, it transmits the excitement of the trek and the goal, and how important Harry Potter was to your life and your friends’. For the first time, I understood how Facebook "friends" become real friends. It has a strong narrative – a natural one – and a surprise ending too. (You might think about whether you want to pitch a story based on this saga to an outlet such as Maisonneuve magazine, based in Montreal. They like quirky stories.)


Wingdings Award for Best Opinion

Judged by: Dan Rubinstein

After a decade as a magazine editor in Alberta and Ontario, Dan Rubinstein has returned to his freelance writing roots, contributing to publications such as The Walrus, enRoute and The Globe and Mail. He is the author of Born to Walk: The Transformative Power of a Pedestrian Act, which will be released in April by ECW Press.


First Place: Eleanor Fogolin, Cracks in the Ivory Tower

An articulate, astute critique of the humanities as an academic pursuit, complete with a sharp opening, personal storytelling and suggestions for how the field could change.

Honourable Mention: Alex Blahout, One of the Guys

A classic structure, built around three strong anecdotes, that shows how certain customers respond when served by a female employee working in a traditionally male field — and why those responses are out of step with the times.


Comic Sans Award for Best Humour

Judged by: Tim Falconer

Tim Falconer is an author and journalist in Toronto. His next book, Bad Singer, will be out in the spring of 2016.


First Place: Peggy SandsThe Interview

What struck me first was the good writing. I also loved how Sands doesn't try too hard to make us laugh. She doesn't even mention the dildos until the seventh paragraph, and from there we read on with amused amazement. Great piece.


Honourable Mention: Raisa Patel, Problems on a Plane

Air travel has long been a goldmine for stand-up comics and humour writers - with good reason, as this piece shows. The last line is especially good because Patel makes an important point while making us laugh. 


Century Gothic Award for Best Review

Judged by: Jenny Green

After a long and rewarding career in journalism, Jenny Green recently graduated with an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her writing and editing services can be found at


First Place: Carole Besharah, My October

With deft assurance, Ms. Besharah balanced description, commentary, and historical and literary context, giving the reader, not only a good sense of the novel, My October, but an echo of a deeply divisive period in Canada’s past.


Honourable Mention: Jeanette Jones, A Tale of Fraud and Deceit

Ms. Jones' cogent review captured not only the film, but a glimpse of this enigmatic man himself.


Times Award for Best Fiction

Judged by: Sheree Lee Olson

Sheree-Lee Olson worked for many years as an editor at The Globe and Mail. She is also an artist, and the author of award-winning short stories, poems, and the novel, Sailor Girl. 


First Place: Eleanor FogelinVasily of the Saints 

An impressive feat of imagination, Vasily and his  quixotic quest to knit coats for dead children will stay with me for a long time.


Honourable Mention: Cara Goodwin, They Will Call Me Killer

This is an edge-of-the-seat depiction of a young man's dangerous alienation - a topic much on our minds. The story's dispassionate voice opens a space for the reader's compassion.


Helvetica Award for Best Personal Essay

Judged by: Anita Lahey

Anita Lahey is a poet, journalist, reviewer and essayist. Her collection The Mystery Shopping Cart: Essays on Poetry and Culture, was recently published by Palimpsest Press. She is the also author of two poetry collections: Out to Dry in Cape Breton (2006) and Spinning Side Kick (2011). She is keeper of the blog “Henrietta & Me: People and other wonders found in books” (


First Place: Raisa Patel, Crossing the Ice

This piece is richly written and evocative, part portrait of a father, part adventure story, and part elegy for a threatened landscape and ecosystem. The author shows strong skill with language and imagery, the narrator's awe and respect for her father is captured but not overblown, and the descriptive passages are full of colour and life, beautifully written. The detail gleaned and relayed about another's experience display good interview and reporting skills, and the narrator's place in the story, though muted, is well-handled: the  5-yr-old's vision of a parent cast against the grown child's exploration of those early impressions. And a subtle parallel is drawn between the mystery of the north and the mystery of the man at the heart of the story.


Honourable Mention: Peggy Sands, An Invisible Grief

This piece is a strong narrative dealing with a painful subject using just the right measure of particulars and honest emotion. The author does an excellent job of situating a personal experience within a broader societal context, using research, quotes and examples. Her piece addresses an overlooked issue and segment of the population, making a convincing case that the grief of "ex" spouses is a widespread but "invisible" phenomenon that deserves more awareness and recognition. The telling of the narrator's personal journey—of her own growing understanding of her hindered ability to grieve and mourn and the reasons for that—is compelling and affecting.

HONOURABLE MENTION: Ashley O'Neil, The Dead Man's Apartment

This is an evocative, eye-opening portrayal of an unusual job: a nitty-gritty glimpse behind the scenes of an aspect of daily life that many don't notice. One of the piece's strength is in its simple details—the images and moments from these empty apartments and the questions they raise about the lives lived. The story's other strength is in the narrator's frank description (and questioning) of her own responses to the scenes in which she finds herself: her curiosity, her empathy, the calmness she feels in the face of the most graphic evidence of a life lost, which she finds unsettling but also, in the end, natural.