Charles Lillard Founders' Award for Creative Nonfiction

2019 Winner: Life in the Fab Lane

The University of Victoria, on behalf of The Malahat Review, is pleased to announce that the recipient of this year's Charles Lillard Founders' Award for Creative Nonfiction is Neal Debreceni for his essay, "Life in the Fab Lane," which appeared in the Queer Perspectives Issue 205, Winter 2018. His essay was chosen by award judge, Dale Lee Kwong.

Established in 2016, the Charles Lillard Founders' Award recognizes the best work of creative nonfiction (for example, a memoir, a lyric essay, travel writing, or personal essay, among others) to have appeared in The Malahat Review in the previous calendar year. The winner, selected by an outside judge who is recognized for their accomplishment as a creative nonfiction writer, is announced prior to the publication of The Malahat Review's Spring issue.

Of Debreceni's essay, Dale Lee Kwong says: "From the internal rhyme in the title to the opening sentence and until the last word, Neal Debreceni captivated my attention with a topic I did not even know interested me. 'Life in the Fab Lane' is a no-nonsense personal essay about the author’s experience performing drag before it became mainstream. The total commitment to honesty is what most impressed me. The craft is not flashy or literary as one might expect; instead the narrative is straightforward, and deceivingly simple. I appreciated the opportunity to be inside the mind of a drag performer. I experienced first hand the unconditional freedom afforded someone who, in this writer’s case, is normally introverted. 

'Life in the Fab Lane' gave answers to questions I hadn’t articulated, and even if I could, who would I ask? But now I have a newfound respect for those who choose this art form. How do I know? I accepted tickets for a show I normally would have bypassed, and was thrilled to meet and pose with Pearle Harbour (aka Justin Miller) after her show, Chautauqua, was featured at the 33rd Annual High Performance Rodeo in Calgary. I’m not so sure that would have happened before reading Neal’s humourous and candid reflection of his years as T’Wanda DeWitt. She’s gone into hibernation for now, but I’m thankful I met T’Wanda on the page – she challenged and changed me, for the better! Something all creative nonfiction should aspire to."

Neal DebreceniA voracious reader of gay fiction and comic books, Neal Debreceni lives in Calgary with his husband of 24 years. A firm believer in life-long learning, Neal recently completed his Master of Education from the University of Calgary and a Certificate in Creative Writing from University of Calgary Continuing Education.
Writing both fiction and creative non-fiction, Neal draws on his life experiences as a gay man in western Canada. Some of the identities Neal has assumed in the LGBTQ+ community over the last 30 years include bartender, business owner, entertainer, board member, Emperor, and, finally, author. "Life in the Fab Lane" is his first published work.

Dale Lee Kwong is a poet, playwright, and essayist. Her work has appeared in Canadian Literature, The Malahat Review, and anthologies. Her play, Ai Yah! Sweet and Sour Secrets premiered at Lunchbox Theatre in February 2018. She is based in Calgary, AB, where she is an active member of the literary, theatre, LGBTQ, and Chinese-Canadian communities. Every May she leads a Jane’s Walk through Calgary’s Chinatown, and is especially pleased to have published a Chinatown Walking Tour chapbook through Loft 112 creative space. She performs under the direction of a border-collie heeler cross named Fonzarelli.

For more information about the Charles Lillard Founders' Award for Creative Nonfiction and how you may support it through a donation, please email The Malahat Review.

Look for an interview with Neal Debreceni in our upcoming April e-newsletter!

Previous Charles Lillard Founders' Award Winners