A finalist for this year's Journey Prize, one of the most prestigious awards for young and emerging writers in Canada, has been disqualified after it was discovered his story has "similarities" to the work of another author.
The story The Most Human Part of You, by Richard Kelly Kemick, a National Magazine Award-winning writer from Calgary, Alta., was found to share elements with the story The Dog of the Marriage by the American writer Amy Hempel.
As a result, Kemick's story, as well as a second work, have been pulled from The Journey Prize Stories, an anthology that features the best fiction published in Canadian literary journals and magazines.
"[This] is certainly a misstep that I take responsibility for," Kemick, 27, said in an interview. "I wrote this story with a certain carelessness that I think I no longer possess as a writer."
"I didn't act with malice, or the intentional attempt to deceive," he added.
The Most Human Part of You was originally published in the Spring 2016 issue of Maisonneuve, a Montreal-based magazine. Editor-in-chief Andrea Bennett noted the magazine employs a "thorough fact-checking process," even in the case of fiction, but the similarities went unnoticed for more than a year.
When the story was named a finalist for the Journey Prize, in September, the editors of Maisonneuve decided to make the story available to non-subscribers online. On September 18, the magazine received a Facebook message from "an astute reader" who pointed out echoes between Kemick's work and that of Amy Hempel.
"The story made it through a lot of people who read a lot of fiction before we had a person out there in the world who noticed," said Bennett, who added that Kemick is "an incredibly talented writer who we'd worked with before" so "we had no reason to suspect anything about the story."
The magazine alerted both the Writers' Trust, which administers the Journey Prize, and McClelland & Stewart, which publishes the anthology, of the situation.
"After careful review, we have serious concerns about similarities between" the two stories, said Jared Bland, publisher of McClelland & Stewart, in a statement. "Because of these concerns, Richard Kelly Kemick is no longer eligible for the Journey Prize and his work will not appear in The Journey Prize Stories."
On September 26, Kemick was informed that he was disqualified, and that this year's prize will now be awarded to one of the remaining finalists, Sharon Bala or Darlene Naponse.
Kemick's story is narrated by a man, whose wife is about to leave him and who works at the local airport with his dog, Orville, chasing birds away from the planes; Hempel's story is narrated by a woman, whose husband has left her and who trains guide dogs for the blind. Kemick said he wrote his story several years ago, while he was working as a dog walker in Vancouver, and after listening to a CBC Radio documentary "about a pack of dogs employed for the purpose of chasing birds from the airport's tarmac." Kemick acknowledges he has read, and is an admirer of, Hempel's fiction, and "modelled" his story "off Hempel's work." In a statement he provided to the Globe, Kemick said that "given the author's resonance for me, I should have both acknowledged her influence and double-checked that my material did not overlap hers."
There is overlap. Near the start of Hempel's story, for example, her narrator states, "I work with these dogs every day, and their capability, their decency, shames me." In Kemick's story, it appears as "I work with this dog every day and every day her honesty shames me." At another point Hempel's narrator states that "I'm in it for the dogs." In Kemick's story, he writes, "I'm in this for the dog."
"It's pretty plain for anyone to read it," said Kevin Hardcastle, who served on the jury for this year's Journey Prize. He said there was "no disagreement" among jurors that the story be removed from contention.
A second story by Kemick had also been selected by the jury for inclusion in this year's anthology; that story, The Unitarian Church's Annual Young Writer's Short Story Competition, published by The New Quarterly, won Kemick his second-straight gold medal at this year's National Magazine Awards. (Last year he won a gold medal for his essay Playing God, which was published in The Walrus, and received an Honourable Mention in the category of best new magazine writer.)
He is also the author of the poetry collection Caribou Run, which was published by Goose Lane Editions in 2016. In a statement, Goose Lane's publisher Susanne Alexander said that they are "confident that Caribou Run is an original work written entirely by Richard Kelly Kemick."
The Journey Prize was established in 1989 after the American author James A. Michener donated the Canadian royalties of his 1988 novel Journey. Past winners of the prize include Yann Martel, Alissa York and Saleema Nawaz, and a who's who of Canadian writers has appeared in the anthology's pages. Bland said that "this is the first time the Journey Prize has encountered this problem with any stories included in the Journey Prize anthology."
All copies of the anthology containing Kemick's story were recalled, and a new edition is being published this month. Bennett said that all remaining issues of the Spring 2016 issue of Maisonneuve have been destroyed, and that "this a significant erosion of trust, so we won't be publishing with Richard again, which we've let him know."
Kemick said he has also returned what he was paid for the story to the magazine.