Carleton literary competition supports budding writer

Kirsti Salmi’s short story “Is that all there is to a fire” earned first prize in the 2016 Carleton University Literary Competition. (Photo provided)

Kirsti Salmi earned first prize in the 2016 Carleton University Literary Competition. (Photo provided)

Last summer, 29-year-old Kirsti Salmi quit her banking job in Thunder Bay, Ont., packed her belongings into a tiny hatchback and drove across the country to pursue a life-long dream. An aspiring writer, Salmi left everything behind and enrolled in creative writing courses at Memorial University in St. John’s.

While her writing bloomed, she found herself struggling to make sense of her identity in a city where nobody knew her name. It’s a topic Salmi feels most people can relate to and the inspiration for her short story Is that all there is to a fire, which earned first prize in this year’s Carleton University Literary Competition.

“I’m fascinated with what happens when your life gets uprooted in various ways and what you’re left with when you’re sort of stripped of all the pretence,” says the Lakehead University English grad and one-time Carleton journalism student of her big move to Newfoundland.

“I found myself, a lot of the time, considering life in transitional spaces — in airports and in gas stations and in grocery stores.”

It’s in these familiar in-between places, when we’re going from point A to point B during our day, that Salmi says we put down our social masks and confront things about ourselves. Whether it’s a fleeting conversation with a taxi driver or a moment of self-reflection, they can have a profound impact on the way we think.

For Salmi’s main character, Danielle, that moment comes in a grocery store lineup, where she finds herself judging the people in front of her based on their purchases.

“She’s kind of having to confront the fact that she’s got all these social indictments and she’s not really sure where they came from, and she’s also grappling with what’s going on in her own life,” Salmi says.

“I think she’s confronting appearances versus reality.”

Salmi says she’s fascinated by the capacity people have to be self-reflexive and come to realizations about humanity. It’s something that has continued to inspire her writing, although it took some self-reflection of her own to realize it.

“When I brought it to the class, they said that a lot of my writing occurred in these kind of ‘in-between’ spaces,” Salmi says.

“I would write about people who were in transit. They were going on business trips and they found themselves in airports or motels or an office space,” she says. “I hadn’t really noticed that I was tending to write those sorts of stories.”

Given the big changes in her life — moving to St. John’s and, more recently, moving back to Thunder Bay — Salmi isn’t surprised the themes of transition and reflection have shown up in her writing.

She hopes her stories will help others grapple with changes they might be going through in their lives and learn to appreciate moments of reflection a little bit more.

“I think they happen to everybody,” Salmi says. “We have fixed identities for a long period of time and when that kind of implodes — when you quit a job or you pursue a dream or you graduate — you have to rebuild in relation to what’s going on around you.”

“It’s scary, but I think it’s good,” Salmi says. “I think if we do the work and look inward, we see how we’re relating to what’s around us. It’s a work in progress all the time.”

You can read Is that all there is to a fire, here. This is Kirsti Salmi’s first published short story.

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Kirsten Fenn

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