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The Kemosa Scholarship: An Opportunity for Indigenous Mothers who Write

by Joshua Dakin

Dr. Nhung N Tran-Davies (photo credit: Larry Wong / Edmonton Journal)

Many Canadians hold authors like J.K. Rowling, Carol Shields and Margaret Atwood in high regard; Harry Potter, The Stone Diaries, and A Handmaid’s Tale keep beloved spots in our hearts. These writers, all of whom were also mothers, created (and continue to create) captivating and engaging worlds for us to get lost in.

Like these women, Dr. Nhung N Tran-Davies is also a mother who is a writer. She first came to Canada with her own mother and five siblings as refugees of the Vietnam War when she was just 5 years old; now, she lives with her husband and three children in Calmar, Alberta, working as a family physician and finding time to write.

Richard Van Camp

The Canadian sponsors who helped fund their escape from the war were strong advocates for social justice, and often took Nhung and her family to First Nations communities to see the perspectives and struggles of Indigenous Canadians first-hand. She considers education to be a key component to creating an equal society free from intolerance, violence, and poverty. When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission published their findings on Residential Schools, it was clear that the Canadian education system had failed the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples, and has been a massive contributing factor to the inequality that still exists today.

She also understands the difficulty of trying to balance your writing with your career while raising a family, and how these struggles are often amplified for Indigenous Canadians. To help combat these obstacles, she partnered with Tłı̨chǫ author Richard Van Camp in 2017 to establish the Kemosa Scholarship for Indigenous, Metis and Inuit Mothers Who Write

Dr. Tran-Davies is no stranger to the world of writing; her first book, Daddy is a Conundrum! was published in 2012 by Friesen Press. It won second place in the 2014 Mom’s Choice Award and received an honourable mention in the 2014 Purple Dragonfly award. Her second book, Ten Cents a Pound, was released on April 18th, 2018, and was named as one of twelve books to look forward to by CBC books. She is currently working on two other stories: A Grain of Rice will be hitting shelves in the fall of 2018, and Green Papayas has yet to determine its release date.

She is also an accomplished advocate for science, education and justice: she co-founded the Children of Vietnam Benevolent Foundation in 2013 with other refugees who fled Vietnam 40 years ago, was part of the UN’s “I am a Migrant” campaign in 2016, currently spearheads an initiative for improved math courses in Alberta public schools, and also awards another annual scholarship to Calmar Secondary School students who graduate with the highest achievements, and are planning on extending their education in science or medicine. 

Daddy is a Conundrum! was illustrated by Stephanie Parker, and published by Friesen Press in 2012. 100% of the proceeds from this book are donated to the Brain Tumor Foundation of Canada.

Growing up in Canada, Dr. Tran-Davies became fascinated with the stories of this country and its people, and her frequent exposure to Indigenous culture gave her a respect for the timeless stories passed down by the First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples. With this scholarship, she hopes to help eliminate some of the financial constraints that mothers, particularly mothers with Indigenous backgrounds, face when trying to write their stories. Writers who are eligible and interested can email their samples–a maximum of 15 pages, plus a cover letter–of prose, poetry, fiction, nonfiction, illustrated literature such as comics and graphic novels, or other forms of writing to [email protected]

There are three prizes for the scholarship: first place receives $1000 to focus on finishing their work, second place $500, and third place $250. The winners of the first annual Kemosa Scholarship were Rhonda Gladue from Edmonton, who won first place; Catherine Lafferty from Yellowknife, who won second; Brittany Johnson from Beaumont, who won third; and Paige Cardinal, also from Edmonton, who got an honourable mention: she was awarded with funding to buy a new camera, so that she can accompany her poems with her photography. 

The Kemosa scholarship is a wonderful opportunity to give mothers, who often find they don’t have the resources to finish writing a novel, an extra boost they will need to complete their work. Those who are eligible for the scholarship should take full advantage of it if they can. With luck, this scholarship will be one of many small steps to help cultivate a new, truly Canadian community of talented writers for a new generation of readers to experience. 

If you would like more information about the Kemosa scholarship, including testimonials from the 2017 winners, then we encourage WGA members to read “Giving Voice to Indigenous Mothers who Write,” written by Shari Narine in the July-September 2018 edition of WestWord Magazine.

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