What makes a person tick? We sometimes ask a question like that anticipating an equally laconic answer. Ah, but the magazine is among many things a forum for nuance and context. The best personal portraits are those that explore the underlying connections between a character’s traits and his or her environment, both past and present, and therein construct a deeper connection between the character and the reader.
The penultimate installment of our 2012 Summer Reading Series exposes the art of the profile, with three Canadians–a politician, an athlete and a scientist–whose lives jump off the page.
As you probably know by now, these stories and those of all finalists and winners from the past few years can be found in the National Magazine Awards archive (magazine-awards.com/archive).
1. “Madam Premier” by Lisa Gregoire in The Walrus (2011 Gold winner in Profiles)
One quickly derives from her matter-of-fact depiction of Nunavut premier Eva Aariak that 6-time NMA nominee Lisa Gregoire is describing someone composed of the arctic itself: vast, powerful, and capable of great transformation. The challenges facing the present and future of Canada’s youngest political territory may be greater than one woman can bear, but as Ms. Gregoire patiently investigates, Madam Premier is a person of uncommon determination and clarity.
“Eva Aariak is a patient January Capricorn, born when people in my world were building rockets and people in her world were navigating frozen moonscapes with homemade qamutiik (sleds), when people from both our worlds were founding Frobisher Bay, now Iqaluit, so my people could encourage her people to stop wandering and start praying. Nunavut has been imagined, designed, negotiated, legislated, and commemorated, all within her lifetime.” [Read more]
2. “The Unstoppable Lena Rowat” by Geoff Powter in Explore (2009 Gold winner in Profiles)
The title sums up this piece superbly. Lena Rowat was determined to ski from Vancouver to the Yukon’s formidable Mount Logan and then beyond to Alaska, the very idea of which is so bizarre and so compelling to most of us couch-based mortals as to beg the inquiry: Surely, someone or something would stop her; otherwise, there would have to be some degree of insanity involved, or else some untold truth of human motivation that demands a complete explanation.
“These are the days of a typical Lena Rowat ski traverse: Up with the dawn, breakfast is whatever liquid you’ve kept in the water bottle in your sleeping bag through the night. You break through the brain fog of the morning and find your pace, often on your own, in silence, up and down and across kilometre after kilometre of white ridges and glacial rolls. You stop and dig a pit for lunch, the big meal of the day, a carefully planned allotment of mega calories, with gobs of olive oil in every dish to get you through the long afternoon. You ski until your legs or the terrain tell you to stop.” [Read more]
3. “The Trials of Saint Suzuki” by Ken MacQueen in Maclean’s (2007 Gold winner in Profiles)
The gradual transformation of activist David Suzuki from drum-beating environmental voice in the wilderness to political and corporate environmental consultant has not gone unnoticed by those who have long held his tireless work as gospel. And yet there is no paradox in the character of one of Canada’s most famous citizens; rather, an evolution that is very much of the environmental movement itself.
“Climate change, doing what it does, has indeed changed the climate of debate. New tactics are called for from environmentalists, too, and that includes a corporate rapprochement, of a sort. Suzuki—whose organization, in the past, has taken pride in its lack of corporate donors—admits he’ll need an attitude adjustment.” [Read more]
Read these stories and more at the National Magazine Awards archive: magazine-awards.com/archive.
Previous editions of our Summer Reading Series: Travel | Essays | Sports & Rec | Fiction | Personal Journalism | Poetry | Best Short Feature | Arts & Entertainment