Irina Kovalyova’s Kobo Emerging Writer Prize Speech June 28 2016
The Kobo Emerging Writer Prize is an award that supports talented debut authors. We’re thrilled that Irina Kovalyova, author of Specimen, won this year’s Emerging Writer Prize in the Literary Fiction category! Here’s a transcript of her moving acceptance speech from the night’s ceremonies:
Last night I went for a walk with my daughter — she is eight years old, just finishing grade two — and I asked her about what I should say at the award ceremony, if I win. She said and, I quote, “First of all you are not going to win. Secondly, in the unlikely event that you do win, say something interesting.” “Like what?” I asked her, “what is interesting?” “I cant think now,” she replied, “but I do have one question: what does emerging mean?”
I explained to her that emerging described someone who was starting out in their career, coming out into the world, in my case into the literary world, a person who was surfacing, like from under the water. (We go swimming together, so I knew she would appreciate the metaphor.)
Then I started thinking more about this word “emerging” and I thought about emergency. Because we all are in an emergency right now. I am standing in front of you tonight as an immigrant woman, while there is extremism, expediency, dishonesty, and closemindness south of the border.
In writing “Specimen” I tried to encourage my characters (and my readers) to look beyond borders, to live an authentic experience, to truly become the masters of their own destiny.
My daughter asked me to say something interesting tonight. I believe that the most interesting things happen when we look beyond ourselves and foster capacity for empathy. When we stop putting people in boxes.
On the way here I called a friend of mine to tell her about a political speech I was contemplating. She said, “Are you crazy? Why would you do that? Go there, accept your award, say thank you very much and drink wine. What is your problem?”
I said, “Listen, humanity is my problem. This is why I write. This is why I will continue to write. And this award, this recognition, means the world to me. It makes me want to do better. Like we all should.
This is an emergency.”
Specimen by Irina Kovalyova
Inspired by a wide range influences — including early-twentieth century Russian avant-gardists, British science fiction and dystopian novels, as well as contemporary Canadian and American novelists — Specimen is a highly original collection of stories that explore the place where physical reality collides with our spiritual and emotional lives.
In “Mamochka,” nominated for the 2012 Journey Prize, an archivist at the Institute for Physics in Minsk, must come to terms with her daughter’s marriage to a Chinese man in Vancouver. In “Peptide P,” scientists study a disease of the heart that seems to affect children after they eat hotdogs. In “Side Effects,” a woman’s personality is altered by botox injections. In “Specimen” a teenage girl discovers that she was conceived using a sperm donor. In “The Big One,” a woman and her daughter find themselves trapped in the rubble of an underground parking garage after an earthquake. In “The Blood Keeper,” a novella, a young academic travels to North Korea to work on her dissertation and embarks on a dangerous affair.
Stylistically varied and with settings that range from North Korea and Minsk to Vancouver and Gdansk, Kovalyova is daring and confident new voice in Canadian fiction.