Nanaimo author Julia Jenkins is at work on her first novel and its first chapter has already gained national attention.
Last week it was announced that Jenkins is one of 32 writers from across Canada to make the long list for the 2020 CBC Short Story Prize for her story I am Aani Littlecrab, which was adapted from the first chapter of her in-progress book of the same name.
“I’m really thrilled and I had a feeling, because it is a very different story, that it would be up there,” Jenkins said. “I really thought it would get some notice and it has and so when it did I’ve just been ecstatic ever since.”
The story takes place in the pre-contact territory of the Tlingit people on the modern-day Alaska panhandle and follows a girl who is seriously injured after falling into a fire pit.
Jenkins said she’s long been curious about West Coast First Nations and as a child growing up in Qualicum Beach she familiarized herself with many of their stories.
“I always wondered what was here before I got here because I realized by the time I started school that we hadn’t been here very long…” she said. “I collected a lot of stories, not formally but just wondering and keeping track, until a story started to bubble up.”
Jenkins said she drew from her previous knowledge when writing I am Aani Littlecrab, but she also did additional research to ensure her details about the setting and way of life were accurate.
The book also looks forward. The epilogue follows Littlecrab’s descendants into the late 21st century and foresees an imagined future where Alaska is heavily populated by climate refugees.
“The Tlingit people do survive,” Jenkins said. “Because actually they have far better skills at surviving than we do.”
The winner will be announced on April 22. The grand prize is $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and a two-week residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Four runners-up each get $1,000 and, along with the winner, will have their stories published on www.cbcbooks.ca.
Jenkins said the Banff Centre residency would be a valuable experience. She said writing is a solitary endeavour and there is a need to listen to, relate to and share with other writers.
“That opens up your mind and your heart and your spirit,” she said. “And I think I would become an even better writer and certainly it would move me along with the book tremendously.”