Category Archives: Arts & Letters News

25th Annual Prize – Submissions Open!

Prize submission period February 1st – March 31st

25th Annual Arts & Letters Prize Judges Announced

2024 Prize Judges

Poetry: Chelsea Rathburn 

Creative Nonfiction: Beth Ann Fennelly

Fiction: Tiphanie Yanique

Poetry, Creative Nonfiction, and Fiction Winners will appear in next year’s Fall or Spring issue of Arts & Letters.

About the Prizes
For our prizes in fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction, we offer the winner a $1,000 prize and publication in the next year’s Fall or Spring issue. Our prizes are made possible through generous gifts to our prize endowments from Dr. Martin Lammon, Dr. Barry Darugar, Bahram and Fari Atefat, and other friends of Arts & Letters. If you are interested in contributing to our endowments, please contact us!

Submission Guidelines:

Please do NOT include your name on any part of the uploaded file you submit to any genre.  We accept most file formats (Word, .rtf, PDF).

We prefer, for the prizes, that your work not be simultaneously submitted. This helps us preserve the integrity of the contest(s). Our judges’ decisions are usually made by the end of May.

All fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction prize submissions will be considered for publication at regular payment rates.

All writers and poets writing in English are eligible to enter, excepting friends, relatives, or current and former students of the current-year judges.

The submission period for our annual prizes is February 1 – March 31st. The entry fee is $20.

Arts & Letters Prize for Fiction:

Submit a manuscript of up to 25 pages, typed, double-spaced

Susan Atefat Prize for Creative Nonfiction:

Submit a manuscript of up to 25 pages, typed, double-spaced

Rumi Prize for Poetry:

Submit a manuscript of up to 4 poems, typed, single-spaced (poems need not be thematically linked, though it is fine if they are)

All submissions are through our Submittable site:


24th Annual Arts & Letters Prize Winners

Rumi Prize for Poetry Judge: Rodney Jones WINNER: Owen Lewis, for “Something’s Wrong,” “Waking This New Year’s Day,” and “More Than Twice”

Arts & Letters Prize for Fiction Judge: Francesca Ekwuyasi WINNER: Patricia Grace King, for “Pax Americana”

Susan Atefat Prize for Creative Nonfiction Judge: Sue William Silverman WINNER: Jonathan VanBallenberghe, for “Winchester Street: Living with My Father’s Suicide”

Issue 47

25th Anniversary
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Patricia Grace King
Pax Americana

Jonathan VanBallenberghe
Winchester Street: Living with my father’s suicide

Owen Lewis
Something’s Wrong, More Than Twice, and Waking Early This New Year’s Day,


Christy Sheffield Sanford
Wreck Tangles of Désirée Acking


Laura Cruser
Counting Mississippis


Ciaran Berry
The Last Days of the Amato Opera

Billy Collins
L’esprit D’escalier

Todd Davis
The Dam on Loup Run
The Bear Inside the Bear

Kathie Jacobson
Feynman, Joan
Still Life with Boat and Woman

Zachary Kluckman
Describe a Skull to Someone Who Has Never Seen One
Agree to Disagree
Half Sunken Home

Chelsea Rathburn
“…And That’s How People Burn to Death in Hotel Rooms”
On Failing to Feel What I Think I Ought at the Keats House, London


Nolan Capps
Strange Fire

Kristin W. Davis

Gila Green
Messianic Games

Alexandria Peary
Sleeping with Knickknacks


Jessica Barksdale
Ready for Digging

Sophia Khan

Alyson Mosquera Dutemple

Anna Schachner
All My Appreciation

Laura Newbern
Creative Nonfiction Editor

Peter Selgin
Fiction Editor
Chika Unigwe
Poetry Editor
Kerry James Evans
Managing Editor
Alexis Calhoun
Assistant Managing Editor
Cas McKinney

Assistant Editors
Collin Bishoff
Timothy Connors
Jordan Crider
Sherri-Anne Forde
Aachel Kerger
Aron Liebig
Aatalie Mau
Michaela Reed
Jonna Smith
Nathanael Williams

Issue #47 – Special Issue Announcement 

Arts & Letters is pleased to announce that Issue #47 will be published as a special mid-year issue in celebration of the journal’s 25th Anniversary. The 25th Anniversary issue will feature the work of our 2023 Annual Prize Winners (Patricia Grace King, Jonathan VanBallenberghe, and Owen Lewis) and our Unclassifiable Contest Winner (Christy Sheffield Sanford). We are happy to share that Sanford’s “Wreck Tangles of Désirée Acking” will be printed in color for the occasion. The issue will also feature poetry by Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate of the United States, and Chelsea Rathburn, current Poet Laureate of Georgia, plus prose by New Hampshire Poet Laureate Alexandria Peary and Flash by Sophia Khan. Issue #47 will be available for purchase in January. We hope you look forward to this special issue as much as we do!

Unclassifiable Contest 2023 Winner and Finalists

The 2023 Unclassifiable Contest has ended, and a winner has been chosen by judge Michael Martone!

Winner: “Wreck Tangles of Désirée Acking” by Christy Sheffield Sanford

A fast-acting, highly combustible and comestible collage, “Wreck Tangles” invoked in me, with its dreadlocks of images and words, a kind of vasovagal syncope, a heady high, that such an arrangement of sight and sound could blow-up my blood pressure, make my heart trill, put me flat on the floor. This fibrillating fiction maps an anatomy of a new novel nerve, the 13th cranial nerve, a twisted caduceus indeed.

Michael Martone

Kelly Houle “Alphabet Shell and Other Poems”

Tom Laichas “Four Pieces”

Ayesha Raees “CYCLE”

Julie Marie Wade “Healthcare Hopscotch: 2001-2011”

Thank you to all who submitted, for stretching our minds and engaging our imaginations! We hope to see your work again next year.

25th Annual Arts & Letters Prize Winners

Announcing the Winners of the 2023 Arts & Letters Prizes in Fiction, Creative Nonfiction, & Poetry:

Arts & Letters Prize for Fiction
Patricia Grace King, “Pax Americana”

“I thoroughly enjoyed reading “Pax Americana.” This story deftly intertwines elements of the interpersonal with larger societal and political narratives to produce a profoundly humane reflection on marriage, politics, youth, and choices, told in an assured and compelling voice.”

– Francesca Ekwuyasi, Judge

Brenda Salinas Baker, “The Apprentice” and Shane Dutta, “Sally’s Daughter”

Susan Atefat Prize for Creative Nonfiction
Jonathan VanBallenberghe, “Winchester Street: Living with My Father’s Suicide”

“Word by word, the author of “Winchester Street: Living with My Father’s Suicide” brings the reader inside the psyche of the narrator’s father, and his decision to end his life. Even more gripping, we also read about the narrator’s own feelings toward suicide—as well as the cultural allure of guns that cause so much destruction. The author’s composed voice underlies the deep trauma of the event. I greatly admire the clear and unsentimental tone as a portal into the depth of feeling this narrative conveys. The writing is stunning, the story urgent, the reflective voice compelling. This essay most assuredly deserves to win.”

– Sue William Silverman, Judge

Tatiana Hollier, “I Am the Ornament of the Sky” and Jaye Murray, “Sentry”

Rumi Prize for Poetry
Owen Lewis, “Something’s Wrong,” “More Than Twice,“ and “Waking Early This New Year’s Day”

“Though there were moments I liked in each of the manuscripts of the finalists, I have chosen this manuscript because this poet was able to sustain, in poems that were about something of real emotional substance, an acute attention to making the language both lovely and telling.”

– Rodney Jones, Judge

Robin Knight, Ari Mokdad, Sammi LaBue, Mark Smith-Soto, David Moolten, and Ruth Kessler

Each winner receives $1000; the winning pieces will appear in an upcoming Issue.

Issue 46

Spring 2023
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Emily Farranto
Postcard of Delicate Arch


Erin Cecilia Thomas
A Rapture Coming

Francis Walsh
The Big Man

Dennis McFadden
Dancing with Calypso


Travis Mossotti
Book(s) of the Dead
After the Miscarriage

Jesse Lee Kercheval
Iowa City, Iowa

Arthur Solway
The New Cowboys
Samuel Beckett’s Tree

Kathryne David Gargano

Karan Kapoor
The Way Waiting Becomes an Injury

Craig Blais
from /The Vents/

Helena Mesa
A Conversation
Self-Portrait with a Cubano de Paso


Spencer Lane Jones
On Nodding Terms


Tiffany Crum
Kitty Good

Laura Newbern
Creative Nonfiction Editor

Peter Selgin
Fiction Editor
Chika Unigwe
Poetry Editor
Kerry James Evans
Managing Editor
Darian Araiza-Samples
Assistant Managing Editor
Cas McKinney

Assistant Editors
Natalie Mau
Tim Connors
Colin Bishoff
Rachel Kerger
Jonna Smith

Issue 45

Fall 2022
Order Online


Jodie Noel Vinson
First Do No Harm

W.J. Herbert
Journal of the Plague Year
Ice Storm
Liminal Passage
The Birth of Venus

Zoe Pappenheimer


Kyle Impini
A Song for Mrs. Harris


Vernita Hall
The Sol Notes: Dead Reckoning


Jane Zwart
To Shuck Miracles

Certain Maples

Erin Carlyle
Are We Really Living in a Simulation

Marcus Cafagna
Friendly Fire
Lost the Signal

Kathryn Hargett-Hsu
Petition for Naturalization

John Sibley Williams

Donte Collins
Prologue #9


Raphael Rae
Introduction to Safecracking for Transsexuals

Hannah Sward
Nobody Wants a Crying Stripper


Carolyn Flynn
A Recipe for Desire

Laura Newbern
Creative Nonfiction Editor

Peter Selgin
Fiction Editor
Chika Unigwe
Poetry Editor
Kerry James Evans
Managing Editor
Darian Araiza-Samples
Assistant Managing Editor
Cas McKinney

Assistant Editors
Mer Alsobrooks
Shannon Yarbrough
Tim Connors
Courtney Schmidt
Denechia Powell

Unclassifiable Contest 2022 Winner and Finalists

The 2022 Unclassifiable Contest has ended, and a winner has been chosen by judge, Michael Martone!

Winner: “Postcard of Delicate Arch” by Emily Farranto

 I love the postcard as a form, and this fiction presents itself as a postcard diary (a collage of postcards) recording a trip west and return to the record of it in the delivered postcards, a scrapbook of postcard messages sent from the writer to the writer. Postcards, analogue tweets, inhabit a strange quasi-public, quasi-private space. They interact with the delivery system as well—postmarks, sorting barcodes, machinery damage, smears of ink—as if the transport itself is making a commentary on the text, aging the age. The text captures the sadness of postcards and the existential nature of the ephemera we all are constantly producing, the fictional residue of the vanished factual living. Publishing a story in a book or magazine creates the illusion of permanence—this will last, the type is set. But postcards (and this fiction) are about things disappearing before our eyes. Sublime evaporation. Sublime. Evaporation.

Michael Martone

Tori Rego, “Erased Pink Eraser”
David McDannald, “Online Dating is the Devil Theorem”

Thank you to all who submitted, for stretching our minds and engaging our imaginations! We hope to see your work again next year!

24th Annual Arts & Letters Prize Winners

Arts & Letters Prize for Fiction Zoe Pappenheimer, “Apparitions”

“Apparitions” is a beautifully written story that weaves together two very compelling storylines and juxtaposes two very complex relationships. I loved the seamless way the author moves between past and present, between memory and present action, and the way the tension grows gradually through small moments in the story, through those unspoken conversations that seem to be taking place between these characters. As the title implies, there are metaphorical ghosts in this story, including ghosts of all of the characters’ former selves, but there is also a very emotionally charged surface story, one that raises questions that are both topical and timeless. This is truly a remarkable story by an extraordinarily talented writer. I loved everything about it.”

– Andrew Porter, Judge

Holly Pekowski, “Almost There;” Adam Peterson, “Stumbledown”

Susan Atefat Prize for Creative Nonfiction
Jodie Noel Vinson, “First Do No Harm”

“First Do No Harm” is a timely, deeply personal meditation on the experience (and ripple effects) of long Covid, as well as a rigorously researched investigation into medical history (and its own ripple effects today). The author writes of volunteering at a vaccine clinic as “an acknowledgement that we are all connected, that our decisions—to get on a plane, to shop at a store, to wear a mask, to get the jab—have consequences on other lives; that to do no harm is never a passive decision, but an always active awareness.” This essay in itself is a beautiful reminder that we are all connected, a beautiful example of an active, compassionate awareness at work. I’m grateful to have read “First Do No Harm” and am honored to award it the Arts & Letters/Susan Atefat Prize for Creative Nonfiction.

– Gayle Brandeis, Judge

Alisa Koyrakh, “The Love of Doing”

Rumi Prize for Poetry
W. J. Herbert, “The Birth of Venus,” “Liminal Passage,” “Ice Storm,” and “Journal of the Plague Years”

“The other selections were great, but I kept coming back to these…they work beautifully separately and apart. I love this poet’s lyric touch. Elegant diction and a light touch with imagery…These poems have an irresistible grace to them!”

– Allison Joseph, Judge

Laurence O’Dwyer, Vernita Hall, Saudamini Siegrist, and Donte Collins

Each winner receives $1000; the winning will appear in our Fall Issue.

Issue 44

Spring 2022
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Unclassifiable Contest Winner

Helen Hofling


Becky Hagenston
La Mesa

Derek Anderson

Nana Howton

Dinah Cox
“Oh, I Know”


Rodney Jones
Something is Happening, But You Don’t Know What It Is, Do You Mr. Jones
Identifying With Stars In A Time of Pandemic
All Human Time Is Simultaneous

Rebecca Foust
Life Is Beautiful

Aleš Šteger, translated by Brian Henry
Returning Home

Meg Reynolds

Hala Alyan
Ode To My Lungs
Buck Moon

A. Molotkov
Damp Postcard
Time Scale


Boyer Rickel
On Insomnia

Jessie Van Eerden
When I Dream Us Into The Book of Ruth


Stevem Ostrowski
Facing It

Michael McGillicuddy
Herald’s Lament

Jessica Alexander & Katie Jean Shinkle

Laura Newbern
Creative Nonfiction Editor

Peter Selgin
Fiction Editor
Chika Unigwe
Poetry Editors
Kerry James Evans
Managing Editor
William Warren
Assistant Managing Editor
Darian Araiza-Samples
Assistant Editors
Denechia Powell
Courtney Schmidt
Timothy Connors
Shannon Yarbrough
Merick Alsobrooks
Kelly Piggott
Paul Bryant

Unclassifiable Contest 2021 Winner and Finalists

The 2021 Unclassifiable Contest has ended, and a winner has been chosen by judge, Michael Martone!

Winner: “ARMORY” by Helen Hofling

The “author” is dead–no news there–but the “writer” and the writing endures. But what does the writer do now when the writer writes with this incredible powerful typesetting machine connected to the world wide web? Well, you do this this. You begin to collapse the categories of writer, editor, typesetter, publisher, designer, illustrator, printer. Long live the media artist, the artist mediator, the rewritten “righter.”

Michael Martone

(Honorable Mention) William Lessard, “from Techniques for creating facial animation using a face mesh”

Chelsea Biondolillo, “Weeds”
Noah Farberman, “Greaseboy Rules Second Edition”
Tucker Leighty-Phillips, “The Rumpelstiltskin Understudies (play)”
Arreshy Young, “The Stars in Middle Age”

Thank you to all who submitted, for stretching our minds and engaging our imaginations! We hope to see your work again next year!

23rd Annual Arts & Letters Prize Winners

Arts & Letters Prize for Fiction
Karen Day, “The Cellar”

“[“The Cellar” is] a taut and wonderfully written story that uses the suspense of a looming natural disaster and the claustrophobia of a basement hideout to explore as well as explode the secrets, tensions, hopes, and dreams of a Midwestern family in crisis. Through precise dramatization, “The Cellar” moves beautifully in and out of time, casting a revelatory weight on the present with each excavation of the past.”

– Novuyo Tshuma, Judge

Thomas Maya, “El pan de cada dia,” Perry Glasser, “Not That Anyone is Asking,” and Reena Shah, “Stardust”

Susan Atefat Prize for Creative Nonfiction
Lee Anne Gallaway-Mitchell, “The Tax of Quick Alarm”

“One thing I particularly love about “The Tax of Quick Arm” is how immersed the author made me feel in the life of a military spouse in Korea—this is a life I’d rarely, if ever, contemplated on my own, and suddenly she had me *right there,* and she did it with grace and efficiency. The dual way she uses the MOPP system is also brilliant. And most of all, I feel like this is an essay the world *needs* right now, when so many women are at MOPP 3 because of systems they did not build and can’t control. It is, sadly, wonderful timing for this piece to find an audience.”

– Kristi Coulter, Judge

Jill Christman, “The Sandbox Ghost,” Frank Walters, “Judging the Distance,” Mary Petty Anderson, “Newt Terrell,” and David Mairowitz, “Transcribing Robert”

Rumi Prize for Poetry
L.A. Johnson, for “Where Warm and Cool Air Meet,” “Downriver,” “Radiant Stranger,” and “House Full of Someones”

“What is sight, what is smell, how do they lead us into life, into what we believe and become? In “House Full of Someones” we are strangers, we are putting our eyes to the window, we are with the speaker of the poem, we are curious, what world is this? We are caught in between the dead and the living, we are in the language. I am in awe of how the poem progresses, of what it seeks to achieve. At the end, the poem knows that knowledge is gotten through waiting, through patience, and as we wait with it, I ask myself, what have I learnt? Yes, it is too late for the dead to go back, to be alive, but what possibility lies in death? What becomes of us, of the dead in this world? What have we smelled, what have we seen, what do we wait for?

There are poems that teach us about the fullness of our humanity, that open spaces and show us the world that exists just beyond what we have been used to. When I read “Where Warm and Cool Air Meet”, “Downriver” and “Radiant Stranger,” I was ushered into a world where grace is alive and grief is pain, but also the gateway to hope. In the world of these poems even joy must be disguised before it is achieved and at the end of pain there is rebirth, a human life for a lemon. At first this looks impossible, but the language of these poems is alive, it is real, it leads us not just into the process of grief but also through the process of rebirth.”

– Romeo Oriogun, Judge

Danielle Williams, Monique Ferrell, Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach, Tom Laichas, Sally Lipton Derringer, George Kramer, Christopher Shipman, Doug Ramspeck, and Betsy Sholl

Each winner receives $1000; the winning will appear in our Fall Issue.

Contributor News: Jesse DeLong’s full-length debut, The Amateur Scientist’s Notebook, published by Baobab Press

Arts & Letters contributor Jesse DeLong’s poetry collection has been released this month by Baobab Press. His poems “So” and “a lump of snow weights on a branch” were published in volume 2 of Arts and Letters PRIME.

The Amateur Scientist’s Notebook is a collection of poems set among the mines and farmlands of Idaho. The severe landscapes move the speaker to investigate his romantic and familial relationships through lyric considerations of the natural world and scientific concepts. 

Purchase his collection here:

Congratulations Jesse and all the best of luck from the A&L community!

Ampersand Interview Series: Kat Mustatea interviewed by Kelsie Doran

Checkout our latest interview in our Ampersand Interview Series with our Unclassifiable winner, Kat Mustatea

In the latest Ampersand Interview, Assistant Managing Editor, Kelsie Doran, spoke with Kat Mustatea about instagram, New York, and her piece, Voidopolis, which is published in Issue 42 of Arts & Letters.

Kelsie Doran: “Voidopolis” is a unique story told through the help of Instagram. At what point did you realize you wanted Instagram to be your story-telling vessel, or was this just a natural progression of your social media use?

Kat Mustatea: I quietly deleted seven years’ worth of my Instagram posts one night in June 2020 as a prelude to starting Voidopolis. At that point, New York City was deeply scarred by the pandemic. We had witnessed a staggering amount of death on a daily basis. The rituals of the everyday had become wholly altered under lockdown: daily life felt like a series of avoidances, constraints, and workarounds for things no longer possible to do. I felt that such a profound break with past norms and rituals needed acknowledgement. That whatever stories I might tell needed different rules and formats. All of my theater-related projects had shut down, so I decided to repurpose my Instagram account to enact something performative that, at minimum, might be as harrowing and weird as life itself.

KD: Do you think you would have written a piece like this if you hadn’t found someone like Nikita? What made you and Nikita bond?

KM: Inferno’s conceit is that Dante is being guided through hell by the great poet Virgil, who was clearly a towering literary influence for him. My guide likewise needed to be a poet because my project is equally a poetic journey, a way of organizing and shaping reality through language and its loss. But I am a product of my time and place, and in contemporary letters it feels unseemly and overwrought to make grand claims for the ameliorative role of poetry in the world—even if, like me, you happen to believe in the power of language to profoundly shape reality. We have the internet now; we are in whatever literary mode comes after postmodernism; we are used to a default in which everything is fractured and diffuse. My poet-guide needed to be poorer, pricklier, more obscure than Dante’s; he needed to be able to deploy sarcasm. A hobo, and yet a man of the world. Someone who has seen some things, but is maybe writing in a language no one would bother translating. I want to say I care really very much about Nikita—so much so, I have sometimes felt reluctant to finish Voidopolis. Nikita continues to be so vivid and beautiful to me that I just don’t want to let him go. 

KD: Your story leaves us with famous writers, mentioning Dickinson, Kafka, and William S. of Stratford-Upon-Avon, to name a few. Is there a reason your piece starts finds its ending, or rather its pause, here? We do know this story is ongoing, so maybe you could speak to that?

KM: In Canto 4 of Inferno, Dante describes how he gets to chew the fat with a group of poets on a mountaintop, and how “that fair company / Then made me one among them.” For Dante to position himself on equal terms with a coterie of the greatest poets that had ever lived—Homer, Ovid, Lucan, Horace, and Virgil himself—well, it’s a gesture of breathtaking chutzpah. I couldn’t help but take it as an invitation of sorts, to go ahead and write myself into a scene with my own cherished literary figures. 

When I submitted Voidopolis for Arts and Letters’ Unclassifiable Prize, I was only a few posts into what would become a 45-post narrative. I submitted what material I had, noting that the project was ongoing. To my delight, it won—and now I get to joke that I am the only person I know who won a prize for a story I hadn’t even finished writing. 

KD: In Part 2 you write, “A city in disarray, with its crisis walls and its missing inhabitants, is hardly a city at all.” Do you think New York would thrive if it didn’t have its people?

KM: More than twenty years ago, I underlined the following sentence in my copy of the Inferno (in the foreword of Robert Pinsky’s  translation): “A city, according to St. Augustine, is a group of people joined together by their love of the same thing.” It’s an idea that continues to be mysterious to me; a question I have turned over and over in my mind all these years. What are we clinging to when we form cities? What if a city is just a way of clinging to one another? 

KD: What is your advice to writers who want to write in an exploratory genre they haven’t tried before?

KM: A framing device is an excellent guardrail if the terrain is uncertain. In my case, the frame for this project was clear from the outset. I knew I was going to move through the Inferno canto by canto. I was going to try to distill an image or event or mood from each canto into a single Instagram post, depicting along the way my impressions of New York City. The text was constrained (no words containing the letter ‘e’), just as my life was. I was going to pay particular attention to the way the conceptual and real-life constraints might subtly affect the narrative. I gave myself 40-ish posts to get through the material, even though there are only 33 cantos in the Inferno, because I know myself and I know I tend to meander.

KD: Do you think you’ll write another piece that is influenced by the pandemic?

KM: Ah, well. I sincerely hope never to have the occasion to write during a worldwide cataclysm ever again. 

But I should mention that I will be posting to Instagram two additional sections after Voidopolis, corresponding roughly to Dante’s Purgatorio and Paradiso. Each of the subsequent sections will have its own distinct language constraint and visual style, establishing its own mood of increasing hope as we emerge from pandemic (ie, return to an uneasy kind of Paradise/normalcy). 

KD: Any other projects in the works?

KM: Together with my collaborator, Heidi Boisvert, I am working on staging a play I wrote about people who are turning into lizards. The story is, of course, autobiographical.

Kat Mustatea is a playwright and technologist whose experiments with language and live arts stretch theater into the digital age. She uses metaphors of hybridity and transformation to craft performances that investigate absurdity, misunderstanding, and what it means to be American. Her TED talk, about puppets and algorithms, originates a new thesis about the meaning of machines making art. She is a member of NEW INC, the art and tech incubator at The New Museum of Art in New York. Her first poetry manuscript was shortlisted for the Hecht Prize from Waywiser Press.

Ampersand Interview Series: Roy Bentley interviewed by Kelsie Doran

Checkout our latest interview in our Ampersand Interview Series with Roy Bentley

In the latest Ampersand Interview, Assistant Managing Editor, Kelsie Doran, spoke with Roy Bentley about Ohio, Greek mythology, and his upcoming books, Hillbilly Guilt and Beautiful Plenty. You can read his poems in Issue 42 of Arts & Letters.

Kelsie Doran: We have published two of your poems, “The United States of America in the Summertime” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” Were these poems were written around the same time?

Roy Bentley: To be honest, I don’t recall when either poem was written. They returned to my attention with acceptance by your magazine. I’m not saying that to be a smartass, either. I write a lot—or did during the Trump Years—as a means of escaping the Senselessness.

KD: Ohio obviously has influence in both these poems and as I am a native Clevelander myself I am curious as to why Ohio has produced fodder for your writing?

RB: I love Ohio. It really imbues me—the oxygenated-by-inequality rural-Ohio air I have to breathe to live, the killing-me-softly water no one wants to indict for what it accomplishes quietly, daily—and yet I want so much for Ohio to want to be better. I want to be better; I know what it is to need to get to work on parts of your identity, to strive to be a better person. I mean, I write. Which to me means introspection as a discipline. And introspection is, I think, the first step to Awareness. If honestly applied…

KD: You mention Greek mythology in “The United States of America in the Summertime,” would you say the Greek myths have had an influence in most of your writing?

RB: I took a couple of courses in mythology early on as an undergraduate and got hooked. I have a bound version of The Aeneid within reach at all times!

KD: Where do you write most often? Do you like to have a specific writing space

RB: I do. My wife Gloria has a she-shed. I have the smallest bedroom of a three-bedroom house converted to an office. I write most evenings from around 9pm until 2 or 3am. Every evening, as a rule. If not writing, then sending out submissions or answering the occasional acceptance.

KD: What/who inspires you most as a poet?

RB: Bob Dylan leads a list of songwriters who have taught me about Writing—songwriters have taught me as much as academics. On the academic side: Mary Oliver, Philip Levine—big Philip Levine fan! And I definitely worship at the altar of Robert Frost—he won four Pulitzers, for godssakes, and you hear little discussion of his work.

KD: When did you first consider yourself a poet?

RB: The first time I heard Dylan Thomas read his poems, on a record in a high-school English class in Ohio, I knew what I was—and would thereafter strive to become, if that makes any sense. Fifty years later, ten books of poems to my credit, the name poet fits. I’m comfortable with that. Sure. But, oddly, I like writer more.

KD: What is next for your writing? Is there anything you can share about forthcoming projects or poems?

RB: I have two books coming out this year: Hillbilly Guilt won the Hidden River / Willow Run Poetry Book Award and is due out any day—Main Street Rag is bringing out Beautiful Plenty. (Both sets of galleys done and approved!)

Roy Bentley is a finalist for the Miller Williams prize for Walking with Eve in the Loved City, has published eight books; including American Loneliness from Lost Horse Press, who recently issued a new & selected collection entitled My Mother’s Red Ford. Roy is the recipient of a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and fellowships from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs and Ohio Arts Council. Poems have appeared in Evening Street Review, The Southern Review, Crazyhorse, and Shenandoah among others. Hillbilly Guilt, his newest, won the 2019 Hidden River Arts / Willow Run Poetry Book Award.

Issue 42

Spring 2021
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Unclassifiable Contest Winner

Kat Mustatea


Stephanie Gangi
The Rescue

Kent Kosack
Stay Golden

Simone Martel
Afternoon in Nairobi

Noley Reid


Philip Arnold
Pound in Venice, 1963
Valley of the Condor

Roy Bentley
The United States of America in the Summertime
I Can’t Give You Anything But Love

Marianne Boruch
The Pelican Minus a Wing Must Still
So You’re Remembering Sheep Now Too, the Archangel
No Word of the Fires, I Began the Day

Trent Busch
Curt’s Girl
Kick the Tire

Laura Bylenok
Dura Mater

Lila Dlaboha
Tremors of Equinox

Justin Hunt
The Winter of Your Flu
Sundown at Huntington

Abbie Kiefer
My Friend Tells Me About the Last Day at the Bass Shoe Factory
When the Flood Came

Laurie Lamon
Who Love Beauty
If You Believe in God

Clay Matthews
Psalm [maybe the hours spent on the other side]
Slings and Arrows

Manisha Sharma
The Vanishing Girls Speak – An Elegy
Discerning Sex Selection


Dan Kennedy

Matt Greene
Holding the Baby

Laura Newbern
Creative Nonfiction Editor

Peter Selgin
Fiction Editor
Chika Unigwe
Poetry Editors
Kerry James Evans
Managing Editor
William Warren
Assistant Managing Editor
Kelsie Doran
Assistant Editors
Lori Tennant
William Gerdes-McClain
Shannon Yarbrough
Dalton Monk
Courtney Schmidt
Caleb Bouchard

Come See Us at AWP21

Come visit Arts & Letters at the AWP21 Virtual Bookfair! The bookfair is open from 3:30 – 5:00 pm EST on 4-5 March 2021, and open 3:30 – 6:00 pm EST on 6 March 2021.

Say hello to Editor Laura Newbern and Managing Editors Kelsie Doran and William Warren. Ask us about our Prize Competitions, submitting to Arts & Letters, or about purchasing a subscription!

Contributor News: Rose Marie Kinder’s publication of A Common Person and Other Stories

Arts & Letters Contributor Rose Marie Kinder’s publication through Notre Dame Press of A Common Person and Other Stories, winner of the Richard Sullivan Prize in Short Fiction, has been released!

These sixteen stories capture a cross section of American life, complex, colorful, unsettling, and uplifting. Despite the ever-present threat of violence and the fragmentation of cultures and traditions, real heroism of everyday people is manifest throughout the collection.

“Reading a Rose Marie Kinder’s story is like plunging your face into a clear, cold, spring-fed stream. Everything is changed, refreshed, and revelatory. Her beautiful new collection, A Common Person and Other Stories, is a constant, thrilling reminder of magic and power that reside in the people—and the animals—that surround us every day.” —Whitney Terrell, author of The Good Lieutenant

Valerie Sayers, editor of The Richard Sullivan Prize in Short Fiction, interviewed Rose Marie Kinder here.

Here is a print interview with Rose Marie Kinder.

BOOK EVENTS for 2021

February 24 – 7:00 pm, Richard Sullivan Prize Virtual Reading – University of Notre Dame

March 18 – TBA, Participant – Unbound Book Festival, Columbia, Missouri

March 19 – 7:00 pm, Reading – The Writers Place, Kansas City, Missouri

April 1 – 7-8 pm, Book launch/Reading and Discussion, University of Central Missouri School of English and Philosophy and Pleiades.

April 14 – 3:00 – 4:00 pm, Reading and Discussion – Rolla Public Library, Missouri

Purchase the book here:

R. M. Kinder is the author of three prizewinning collections of short fiction, including A Near-Perfect Gift, winner of the University of Michigan Press Literary Fiction Award, and Sweet Angel Band, winner of Helicon Nine Editions’s Willa Cather Fiction Prize. She has also published two novels, An Absolute Gentleman and The Universe Playing Strings. Her prose has appeared in Passages NorthOther VoicesNorth American Review, the New York Times, and elsewhere.

Contributor News: Joanna Pearson Upcoming Short Story Collection

Joanna Pearson

Arts & Letters Contributor Joanna Pearson’s forthcoming short story collection Now You Know It All is set to release in October of 2021 (University of Pittsburgh Press). Her short story “A Lily, a Rose, a Rose”, featured in Arts & Letters Issue 39, will be included in the collection.

Pearson is racking up awards with this collection. She is the 2021 winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize, one of the nation’s most prestigious awards for a collection of short stories. Now You Know It All was selected by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward P. Jones.

Congratulations to Joanna Pearson and all the best of luck from the A&L community!

Pushcart Nominations from Arts & Letters

We once again return to this exciting moment when we announce our annual nominations for the Pushcart Prize Anthology. Perhaps more than years past, we needed and cherished the works of poetry and prose published in Arts & Letters.

For the Pushcart Prize XLVI, we nominated:

Ruth Gila Berger, “Take One, Take Two, This Isn’t Working” (Issue 41, Fall 2020)
Desiree Evans, “Flesh” (Issue 41, Fall 2020)
Wes Civilz, “First Thing,” “Interrupter,” and “The Walk” (Issue 40, Spring 2020)
Francisco Gonzalez, “An Outline of Wellness” (Issue 40, Spring 2020)
Jenni Moody, “The Sound of Her Voice” (Issue 40, Spring 2020)

The Arts & Letters staff thanks all of our contributors and looks forward to reading and discovering the new work to be published in 2021.

Ampersand Interview Series: Desiree Evans interviewed by Kelsie Doran

Checkout our latest interview in our Ampersand Interview Series with Desiree Evans.

In the latest Ampersand Interview, Assistant Managing Editor, Kelsie Doran, spoke with Desiree Evans about quarantine, forgiveness, and her piece, “Flesh” which will be published in the forthcoming Arts & Letters Issue.

Kelsie Doran: “Flesh” is a very raw and rich story that allows space for the reader to ponder their own morals, the definition of what’s wrong and what’s right, and how to forgive the past. Did writing Bootleg’s character help you with any personal moral dilemmas or allow you to forgive more freely in your own life?

Desiree Evans: Writing Bootleg’s character definitely gave me space to ponder how we forgive ourselves and others. It also really allowed me to reflect on the idea that we are more than our greatest mistakes, and to really think hard about what a transformative vision of justice can look like personally and on a larger political level. What does it mean to forgive ourselves? How do we learn and grow from our own mistakes? How do we hold ourselves and others accountable for harm? It’s something I’m still working through, as I learn more and more what it is to try to build accountable communities.

KD: Although this is a work of fiction, part of the reason this piece works so well is because of how real it feels, and the deep well of human emotions this story explores.  Did you have people or events in your own life that helped shape the characters in this story or did you draw more from your imagination?

DE: Bootleg for me represented so many young men I grew up around, who got caught up in something that really didn’t reflect what they wanted to be in their lives. Often times, they were locked away and punished for nonviolent criminal offenses. Being institutionalized changed them. The process of returning “back” to the community was made even more complicated because of the trauma they experienced in those jails and prisons. In many ways I wanted to write a “post-war” story, but the war wasn’t a war being waged in another country. This was more about how I saw an entire generation of people my age behind bars, having grown up in impoverished and in resource-starved communities. When they returned to the world so many of them didn’t know how to be in the world, having spent their youthful years in institutions. The symptoms of trauma were there — shell shock, PTSD, an inability to return to any idea of “normal.” So I wondered: What does it mean to live again? How do you even begin? This was the seed for my story.

KD: The imagery and details within this piece helped bring the reader straight to the story – especially the scene that describes Bootleg’s time in solitary – so heartbreaking.  Did you have to do a lot of outside research on this piece to arrive to those descriptive details?

DE: I definitely researched into the details around solitary confinement, especially in Louisiana. There was an article I read a long time ago that talked about the size of a solitary cell being the size of a twin mattress, and it really stuck with me. I also remember studying the case of Albert Woodfox, who served more than 40 years in solitary confinement in Louisiana’s Angola Prison, and just the idea of that much time in solitary always haunted me. I wanted to explore what it would mean to spend days, weeks, months, years, in a cell like that. What would it do to one’s psyche?

KD: Where do you write most often? Do you like to have a specific writing space?

DE: My ideal working space: my desk in my office surrounded by large stacks of books and notebooks that help to inspire the project I’m working on. I also have a wall of quotes and images that hang above my desk that speak to whatever project I’m working on as well. And I am a morning writer! When I’m working with my most ideal schedule, I love getting up at about 6am, when the world is still quiet/dreamlike, and prepping my desk for a morning writing sprint.

KD: What is your advice for writers who are shy or unsure about dipping their toes into the fiction genre?

DE: It can be terrifying, I know. I was afraid for years to try to write down my own stories, fearing not being good enough. I loved reading, and read voraciously growing up. I would say reading saved me in so many ways, but I couldn’t imagine ever being someone others read. But I realized the characters inside my head, the stories I made up about them to put myself to sleep at night: I realized how much it healed me and invigorated me when I actually wrote their stories down. To see them come to life before my eyes through my own words has been simply transformative. The creative drive is what feeds me to keep going, day in and day out: I love building worlds and crafting relationships between characters and sending them on journeys. For any writer unsure about writing fiction, I say this: there is so much power to seeing your characters come to life in a story of your own making. Step into that power, that wellspring of infinite possibility. It could be the very thing that changes everything you know about yourself and the world.

KD: How has quarantine affected your writing life?

DE: It’s been a hard quarantine. Fear, exhaustion, and constant worry about my family and the world. So many writers are empathic people, taking in a lot of energy from the world, and when there is a crisis, and so much pain around, it can be overwhelming, and sometimes incapacitating. All that to say, I’ve not written much, but I would say that I’ve learned a lot about myself, about what I need to keep going, about what I want for myself and my community and the larger world. And in many ways I’ve learned so much about our society and how it works (the good and the bad); the sort of realizations that will feed my fiction for years to come.

KD: What do you want to do next in writing? Is there anything you can share about forthcoming projects?

DE: I want to do it all, honestly. I just signed with an agent to work on my first novel projects, which I am so excited about. I am working on a children’s book at the moment, and I’m beyond excited to write for kids, teens, and adults. I am also interested in writing both fiction and creative nonfiction, and I love hybrid works that toe the line between nonfiction prose and poetry, so it’s my hope that I get to dabble across genres in the future to tell all the stories I hope to tell. A lot of my writing is regionally-focused, and I’m so excited to take readers into my home communities in the Deep South, into the rural landscapes that inspire so much of my work.

Desiree S. Evans is a writer from South Louisiana. She holds degrees in journalism from Northwestern University and international policy from Columbia University. She most recently was an MFA Fellow at the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin, where she studied fiction and poetry. Her writing has been supported by the Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation (VONA), the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, Kimbilio Fiction, and the Hurston/Wright Foundation. Her short fiction has appeared in journals such as Gulf Coast, The Offing, and Nimrod Journal, among others. Visit Desiree on the web at, and on Instagram and Twitter: @literarydesiree.

Ampersand Interview Series: Karyna McGlynn interviewed by Kelsie Doran

Checkout our latest interview in our Ampersand Interview Series with Karyna McGlynn

In the latest Ampersand Interview, Assistant Managing Editor, Kelsie Doran, spoke with Karyna McGlynn about the 1980s, puberty, and her poems which will be published in the forthcoming Arts & Letters Issue.

Kelsie Doran: We have selected three of your poems to publish, “Upon Being Shot by the Shrink Ray”, “I Stand Outside This Woman’s Work”, and “Love Song to a Wicked Stepsister Who Peaked in the 80s.” Were these poems written around the same time during your writing process or were they scattered?

Karyna McGlynn: “I Stand Outside This Woman’s Work” and “Love Song to a Wicked Stepsister Who Peaked in the 80s” were basically written back to back, and relatively recently. I have a whole series of these late 80s poems that originated from a writing exercise I did with fellow Memphis poet Marcus Wicker. “Upon Being Shot by the Shrink Ray” had a more difficult birth. It’s one of the oldest poems in my new manuscript. It’s been through many incarnations over the last seven years. For the longest time it was called “Pursephone” (Get it? Like Persephone, but in a purse!). I thought this
was very clever but everybody in my poetry workshop hated it–half of them thought I meant “purse phone” (Like a phone that’s in a purse? Like I somehow don’t know the term “cellphone”?) and the other half just thought I didn’t know how to spell “Persephone!”

KD: There is a very raw voice throughout your poems, and you deal with the adolescence a lot. Would you consider your youth to be one of the rawest times of your life?

KM: Absolutely. Isn’t youth one of the rawest times of everyone’s life? We’re like soft-shell crabs, scuttling around all awkward and vulnerable, silently thinking “Please don’t eat me!” And it’s even worse when you’re a sensitive or artsy kid. For me, growing up in Texas in the 80s and 90s was profoundly strange. But nobody I knew ever seemed to acknowledge how strange (even
wrong) everything was. It’s like you weren’t supposed to talk about anything interesting, or question how anything was done. I was always getting in trouble after trying (and finally failing) to stay silent. Sense memories from my youth are particularly charged with that accreted silence, and I do try to convey that charge in my syntax and word choice.

KD: The Miracle of Birth is a movie we all dread when we are being told about childbirth in school, what inspired you to make a poem out of this usually avoided subject?

KM: OMG. Yeah, so this actually relates back to your previous question. My poems are often direct confrontations with my fears, and childbirth has always been one of my greatest fears. I was baffled at the way everyone acted like birth was perfectly normal and natural, and obviously part of every woman’s life plan. The Miracle of Birth horrified me–I wasn’t prepared for how raw and alien it all seemed. Isn’t that awful to admit?! It took years for me to deal with this discomfort in a poem so directly.

KD: Where do you write most often? Do you like to have a specific writing space?

KM: I used to write almost exclusively in coffee shops, but now I write at a canary-yellow table on my sun porch. I have a bunch of plants and candles, so it’s really magical. I have a separate work space inside, but it’s now been completely taken over by my collage supplies.

KD: The verbs and adjectives you use are so crisp and bring the reader straight into an image – do these usually come with the first few drafts of writing or do you spend a lot of time finding them?

KM: Thanks! I’m so pleased you think so. I try to emphasize imagery and diction in my work, and I would probably say that sensory/sonic detail is one of my strengths. It’s something I really value in other poets’ work as well. I’ve always been in love with the music & muscularity of language.
And I love projecting weird little movies into the reader’s mind.

KD: What/who inspires you most as a poet?

KM: Kate Bush, visual art, stand-up comedy, Alice Notley, stop-motion animation, TCM, 80s music videos, dance & Diane Seuss.

KD: When did you first consider yourself a poet?

KM: Embarrassingly early. It was the first thing I ever felt good at. I won a prize for a little chapbook I made in fifth grade and I was like, “Oh my god! This is WHO I AM.” I’ve been doing it in one form or another ever since.

KD: What is next for your writing? Is there anything you can share about forthcoming projects or poems?

KM: Yes, the poems you took are from my new manuscript, 50 Things Kate Bush Taught Me About the Multiverse. I’m also co-editing this excellent anthology with Erika Jo Brown: Clever Girl: Witty Poems by Women.

Karyna McGlynn’s is a writer & collagist living in Memphis, TN. She is the author of four books of poetry, including, most recently, Hothouse, which was a New York Times Editor’s Choice. Her work has appeared in The Kenyon Review, Poet Lore, Missouri Review, Ninth Letter, Georgia Review, New England Review, and The Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day. Karyna is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing & English Literature at Christian Brothers University. She’s currently working on a book about Kate Bush and co-editing the anthology Clever Girl: Witty Poetry by Women.

Ampersand Interview Series: L.I. Henley interviewed by Kelsie Doran

Checkout our latest interview in our Ampersand Interview Series with L.I. Henley

In the latest Ampersand Interview, Assistant Managing Editor, Kelsie Doran, spoke with L.I. Henley about Jim Morrison, pain, her dream car, upcoming projects, and her piece, “Drive! (You’re Lost Little Girl, You’re Lost)” which will be published in the forthcoming Arts & Letters Issue.

Kelsie Doran: First of all, us here at Arts & Letters are big Jim Morrison fans. Having Jim as a figure running throughout the piece was a fun fantasy treat; at what point in the writing process did you decide to bring Jim in? 

L.I. Henley: I’m glad to hear that! The decision to include Jim as a kind of imaginary friend in the essay came early on. At seventeen I was completely enamored with Morrison’s sultry voice, transgressive lyrics (and those black leather pants!), and I really did imagine him as my co-pilot. When I sat down and began writing notes about the experience of driving as a young female on the desolate roads of the Mojave Desert at a time without cell phones, iPods, or helicopter parents, my mind immediately went to the music that kept me company. I thought about albums by the Talking Heads, Frank Zappa, The Dave Brubeck Quartet, David Bowie, Annie Lennox…all of which I raided from my mom and stepdad’s CD collection. But The Door’s self-titled debut and their second album, Strange Days, really captured the tone of my long drives to school and my failed searches for house parties across the impossibly dark mesa. The existential and mythological implications mixed with blues and psychedelic rock that made up The Doors’ early sound (“no safety or surprise/ the end”) captured the volatile desert (and the west at large) and foreshadowed the even stranger days of early adulthood that were coming my way.  

KD: This piece is very vulnerable, was it harder to write the more personal scenes or was it therapeutic in some way?  

LH: Well, anything truly therapeutic is probably going to feel like hard or even painful work at times. Pain is pleasure’s wrestling mate, I think. Physical therapy hurts, lifting weights hurts, accepting and telling the truth hurts—but hopefully we get some sense of relief as well. I believe that by being open in regards to having chronic illness I can make others feel less alone, that I can do my small part to challenge the stigma associated with invisible disabilities. I do think that there is strength in being vulnerable, and that the essay shows how the rugged environment of my childhood made me more resilient and self-reliant.  

KD: Besides Jim Morrison, who else do you like to rock out to? Do you listen to any artists or albums specifically to get you into the writing mood?  

LH: I’m still a big fan of all the performers I listed above, but my heavy rotation now includes Run the Jewels, Scissor Sisters, Puscifer, Die Antwoord, and other contemporary artists. I like to listen to Massive Attack and The Knife when I’m working on my visual art. I listened to Tool and Marilyn Manson when I was writing my desert noir novella, Whole Night Through. I’m currently working on a novel set in my hometown of Landers during the early 80’s, and I listen to what I think my UFO obsessed, up all night, down-and-out characters would listen to: Patti Smith, Shuggie Otis, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed.  

KD: Where do you write most often? Do you like to have a specific writing space?

LH: When I’m working on an eco-poetic piece that is rooted in the experiential, I sit outside where I can observe and have experiences in real time and write about them in real time. I’ve written a few chapbooks sitting in the backyard of whatever desert house or cabin I was renting at the time, just going, “Oh, that jackrabbit is looking at me,” “Oh, that cricket lost a leg,” “Oh, the ants are devouring my toes.” But writing outside is not always practical (wind, sun, heat, fire ants on my feet) and I do find myself at my standing desk quite a lot, surrounded by corkboards covered in ephemera I’ve cut from Life Magazines and bookshelves full of field guides (which is where I am writing this right now).  

KD: What/who inspires you to write the most? 

LH: As an only child living in “the sticks,” I started writing stories and poems when I was old enough to read. I think it was partially because I wanted to feel less alone but also because I was critical of the world I saw and had a lot of opinions about the adult behavior that I couldn’t voice otherwise. I was born a critic, which makes me a true optimist, because I believe we can do better. My partner, JM, doesn’t necessarily inspire me to write but he does something better—he doesn’t get in my way. He is a dedicated percussionist and composer who is always cooking up something new; we both like to be in our work. He’s also a damn fine editor and has no problem giving me unbiased, no B.S. criticism.  

KD: What would you tell someone who has just started their writing career?  

LH: Well, I guess I’d have to ask the person what they mean by “career.” I once visited a graduate poetry class at USC and a student asked me what it was like for me financially now that I had “made it as a writer,” and my response was that I hadn’t gotten the memo that this was or could be true for me. If by “career” we are talking about a calling, a life’s work, an obsession, I’m more suited to give advice, but it’s not very fancy. Read as much contemporary writing in all genres as you can. Read work that is different from yours. Write as much as you can. If you can’t be content in life without writing, then you are a writer.  

KD: We read about your first car – the used, white, Nissan Altima. But we are dying to know, what is your dream car if money wasn’t a factor?  

LH: Great question! I’d love a fully electric car that still has some cargo space in it. A fully electric camper van—does that exist yet? I’d buy one of those. I have to say I’m pretty stoked on our used Dodge van we bought off Craigslist—my partner built a bed and drawers inside of it. There are even two small laptop desks that fold down off the double doors in the back so we can work and write on the road. When I have trouble falling asleep at night (i.e. the world currently being on fire) I just remember that we can live in our van with our dogs if we have to—and we may have to because we are both adjunct English professors who lost our classes for the spring semester due to low enrollment.  

 KD: What is next for your writing? Is there anything you can share about forthcoming projects or pieces?  

LH: I am nothing if not prolific. I have a brand new eco-poetic chapbook out with symbolist painter Zara Kand called From the moon, as I fell, which was written during quarantine. Through our book sales, we are trying to raise money for the California Fire Foundation, which gives aid to families displaced by California wildfires. I am also sending around a collaborative chapbook manuscript I wrote with my best gal Jennifer K. Sweeney called The Book of Questions. I am still hoping to do some readings and interviews for Whole Night Through, which JM has made a soon-to-be released soundtrack for that includes the voices of Marsha de la O, Kristin Bock, James Cushing and other writers. I’m continuing to write personal essays centered on my experiences with autoimmune diseases and have another one forthcoming in the fall issue of Ninth Letter. I’m also working nearly every day on collage, erasure, mixed-media artwork.  

L.I. Henley’s work has most recently appeared in Diagram, WaxwingTupeloDiodeZone 3TinderboxThe American Literary ReviewThrushThe Superstition ReviewNinth Letter, and The Indianapolis Review. “Drive! You’re Lost Little Girl, You’re Lost,” is part of a collection-in-progress documenting her struggles (and epiphanies) living with a triad of autoimmune diseases. She lives and teaches in the Mojave with her partner, musician and poet JM. Visit her at  

Unclassifiable Contest 2020 Winner and Finalists

Our Unclassifiable Contest has ended, and a winner has been chosen by our judge, Michael Martone!

Winner: Kat Mustatea, “Voidoplois”

All of the finalists were terrific.  But I am going to go with ‘Voidopolis.’  It takes to heart and exploits the reality that a writer today is not simply a “writer” who writes, creating a text, but a media artist not using a 19th century typewriter but an extremely powerful typesetting machine now connected to the internet. I also was attracted to the ephemeral nature of the piece, its temporary-ness.  A piece about the virus infects itself with its own digital virus that rewrites then erases the living codes. Huzzah!”
-Michael Martone

Matthew Burnside, “Excerpts from Salutis in Solitudine: a Game of Language and Loneliness”
Kevin Callaway, “Obituary: A Still Life with Islands”
Christine Hamm, “*Gorilla”
Amy Long, “Hash Mark”
Genevieve Monks, “The Rohr Shocke Test for Writers or Readers”

Thank you to all those who submitted, for stretching our minds and engaging our imaginations! We hope to see your work again next year!

Arts & Letters Announces Judges for 2021 Prize Competition

23rd Annual Arts & Letters Prize Competition Judges Announced

2021 Prize Judges

Poetry: Romeo Oriogun

Romeo Oriogun is the author of Sacrament of Bodies (University of Nebraska Press) and The Origin of Butterflies, selected by Kwame Dawes for the APBF New-Generation African Poets Chapbook Series and Burnt Men, an electronic chapbook published by Praxis. His poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Harvard Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and others. He was the 2017 winner of the Brunel International African Poetry Prize. He has received fellowships from the Ebedi International Residency, Harvard University Department of English, The Hutchins Center for African and African American Research. He is currently an MFA candidate for poetry at Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Creative Non-Fiction: Kristi Coulter

Kristi Coulter is the author of the memoir-in-essays Nothing Good Can Come From This, a 2019 finalist for the Washington State Book Award. Her work has appeared in The Paris Review, New York Magazine, Elle, the Believer, Vox, Alaska Quarterly Review, Columbia Journal, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from the University of Michigan and is a former Ragdale Foundation resident and a 2020 Mineral School Fellow. She has taught creative writing at the University of Washington and Hugo House. Kristi’s next memoir, Exit Interview, is forthcoming from MCD x FSG in 2022. She lives in Seattle with her husband and dogs.

Fiction: Novuyo Rosa Tshuma

Novuyo Rosa Tshuma is the author of the novel House of Stone, winner of the 2019 Edward Stanford Travel Writing Award and the 2019 Bulawayo Arts Award for Outstanding Fiction, and listed for the 2019 Orwell Prize, the 2019 Dylan Thomas Prize, the 2019 Rathbones Folio Prize and the 2020 Balcones Fiction Prize. She has been invited to give public lectures about House of Stone at Oxford University, the Nordic Africa Institute and Vassar College. In 2017, she received the Rockefeller Foundation’s prestigious Bellagio Center Literary Arts Residency Award for her work. Her collection, Shadows, was published by Kwela in South Africa to critical acclaim and won the 2014 Herman Charles Bosman Prize. A native of Zimbabwe who has lived in South Africa and the USA, Tshuma’s writing has been featured in numerous anthologies, including McSweeney’s, Ploughshares and Swallowed by a Whale: How to Survive the Writing Life. She serves on the Editorial Advisory Board and is an editor at The Bare Life Review, a journal of refugee and immigrant literature based in San Fransisco. Tshuma teaches fiction at Emerson College, and has previously taught at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Ampersand Interview Series: Wes Civilz interviewed by Kelsie Doran

Checkout our latest interview in our Ampersand Interview Series with Wes Civilz

In the latest Ampersand Interview, Assistant Managing Editor, Kelsie Doran, spoke with Wes Civilz about his writing life behind the scenes, his upcoming projects, and his three poems: “First Thing,” “The Walk,” and “Interrupter” which were published in Arts & Letters Issue 40.

Kelsie Doran: We published three of your poems, “First Thing,” “The Walk,” and “Interrupter” in our 40th issue. Were all these poems written around the same time frame during your writing process?

Wes Civilz: “The Walk” and “Interrupter” were written in the same time frame, two or three years ago, when I was writing poems in six-line stanzas only. The idea was to give myself some limiting restraints for a bunch of short poems that were spilling out pretty spontaneously. For me these poems have a feeling of trying to be GIFs made of words. Like a short, quick video that is interesting to watch on a loop.  

“First Thing” was written more recently, I think in the month before I submitted it to Arts & Letters. I like to write about the moon, because it has been written to death, and it is fun to see if you can wring anything out of it. In the past year or so I have been writing about the moon as a somewhat oppressive, animated thing that keeps tabs on me and judges me. This watchful, judgmental moon cropped up in “First Thing,” and also in a few other pieces of writing. 

KD: The musicality within your poem, “The Walk,” is very soothing.  Do you have any favorite songs or albums you turn to when needing inspiration to write? 

WC: If you mean listening to music while writing, I’m one of those people who can’t have music playing while I write. It feels like trying to make a sand castle in a rainstorm. I do know a fair number of people who can’t write without music, however. 

In terms of music being inspiring in a more general sense, I’ve been listening lately to John Coltrane’s amazing, insane album Ascension, and it has been inspiring my writing to become wilder, to jump the tracks, to unabashedly use commas wrong, to be abrasive and even “ugly.” I’m really inspired by how that album has a surface ugliness beneath which lies a great beauty. 

KD: You mention Haruki Murakami in your poem, “Interrupter.” Do you read a lot of Japanese writers? Are there other cultures you draw inspiration from?  If so, what are they?

WC: I wish I could say I’ve read a lot of Japanese writers! I’ve read a few of the usual suspects (and only in translation): Haruki Murakami, Bashō, Sei Shōnagon. There seems to be some sense of dignified orderliness, of spatial elegance, of what might be called the spiritual life of objects in Japanese writing. And in the visual art too. Whatever that vibe is, it fascinates me.  

I am actively stressed by not being able to read a second language. I’ve always meant to learn to read Spanish and dive into all the Latin-American literature that is waiting out there. I haven’t done it yet. I feel sad about this.

KD: Where do you write most often? Do you like to have a specific writing space?  

WC: Always my living room couch. Desks cause a creative paralysis in me, they seem to be looking at me and waiting for me to write. So I sit on my couch, with my laptop perched on a pillow in my lap. A mess of stuff accretes on the rest of the couch, books, pens, cell phone, charging cords, snail mail, hats, shirts. This mess can stay on the couch for quite a while, unless someone else wants to sit on it.  

KD: A lot of your poems discuss everyday life, yet you make it exotic.  Do you realize in the moment that it will become a poem or does the poem come to you later?

WC: I don’t have moments of “Aha, what’s happening right now will become a poem!” I like that idea, but it doesn’t seem to happen that way for me. That said, my poems do seem to be made mostly of concrete details from real life… but recollected later, sometimes years or decades later. Maybe the process is a little like how our dreams do their world-building from our memories. We can’t predict what will show up in a dream, but we can spot familiar places and props, if we pay attention. 

KD: What/who inspires you most as a poet?

WC: The enigma of why the universe exists at all. The enigma cannot be solved, I am compelled to try to solve it with my tired brain and sleepy eyes, the enigma persists, it sustains me, it allows a life to be made around art. So for me writing is an obsession with wondering why the universe happened. And why we happen to be embedded in it.

KD: When did you first consider yourself a poet?

WC: Frank O’Hara’s writing made me into a poet in high school. I had a phase of reading some of his poems over and over, especially “The Day Lady Died,” and I felt uncomfortably and intoxicatingly emotional about them… then I found myself needing to write poems, and I wrote some, and that was that.

KD: What is next for your writing? Is there anything you can share about forthcoming projects or poems?

WC: The three poems that Arts & Letters kindly published are part of a manuscript I’m currently shopping around, titled Soap & Misunderstanding. I’m always fiddling with the current version, but hopefully a publisher will decide at some point that it has a “finishedness” to it, and hold me to that. Right now, most of my writing time is being spent on a book of nonfiction, a memoir about intoxication. Unlike a lot of writing about this subject, the book will explicitly not be about addiction; it is instead about the role that intoxication plays in the average functioning (or semi-functioning) person’s life.

Wes Civilz’s poetry has recently appeared in The Antioch Review, The Threepenny Review, New Ohio Review, and Quarterly West among others.

Regular Submissions Open

The Arts & Letters Regular Submission Period is open August 1, 2020 through January 31, 2021.

We Accept Unsolicited Submissions of:

  • Poetry: 4-6 poems per submission (suggested)
  • Fiction: manuscripts up to 25 pages
  • Flash Fiction: 1-3 pieces per submission up to 1,000 words each
  • Creative Nonfiction: manuscripts up to 25 pages

General Submission Guidelines:

  • Send only one submission per genre at any one time. (In other words, submitting a short story and an essay at the same time is fine, but please wait to hear from us before submitting another story.)
  • All submissions must be typed and all prose double-spaced.
  • Average notification time for acceptance is 8-12 weeks.
  • Upload each entry as one document. We accept doc, docx, txt, pdf and rtf files.
  • Simultaneous submissions are fine; just please let us know right away if your work is accepted elsewhere.
  • To withdraw only part of your submission (such as a single poem), log into Submittable, go to “My Submissions,” click on your submission to Arts & Letters, and send us a message explaining which part of your submission you are withdrawing.
  • Although you may withdraw your submission at any time, the fee is nonrefundable.

NOTE: We no longer accept print submissions. Print submissions will be recycled without response. 

Why the fee?

Online submissions are quick, easy, and efficient. For the convenience of online submission we charge a $3 fee (about the cost of submitting by post), part of which goes to support the online platform. The rest directly supports the journal’s editorial and production costs (including contributor payment).

Announcing the Winners of the 2020 Arts & Letters Prizes in Fiction, Creative Nonfiction, & Poetry

Arts & Letters Prize for Fiction:

Desiree Evans, “Flesh”

Judge: Devi Laskar

“I found such strong work in the finalists for this prize–each of the authors should be very proud. My choice for the prize is “Flesh,” a compelling story and a page-turner. As a reader I could follow Bootleg for another 200 pages.”

Finalists: Stephanie Gangi, “The Rescue,” Emma Wunsch, “Pick Up,” and Ann Harleman, “The Middle Distance.”

Susan Atefat Prize for Creative Nonfiction:

Lauren Henley, “Drive! (you’re lost little girl, you’re lost)”

Judge: Jason Allen

“Drive!” welcomes us to drive through a cinematic vision of the American desert, the author’s lush language effectively enlivening the dust and gnarled branches and precarious mountain roads that for all her life she’s longed to escape. Not only did I appreciate inhabiting this sunbaked landscape, I was impressed by how the author pulled me in close enough to fully empathize, her psychic and physical pain somehow conveyed without sliding into self-pity as her unspecified illness continues to progress. This is a truly moving essay.”

Finalists: Ruth Gila Berger, “Take one, take two, this isn’t working” and Millie Tullis, “Her Body as Petals: A Lyric Bibliography.”

Rumi Prize for Poetry:

Karyna McGlynn, “I Stand Outside This Woman’s Work,” “Love Song to a Wicked Stepsister Who Peaked in the 80s,” and “Upon Being Shot by the Shrink Ray”

Judge: Cate Marvin

“Any poet who manages to get a VC Andrews book into one poem, and to write another poem from the depths of the bottom of her own handbag, has my respect. Perverse celebrations of self-recognition, these poems are hilarious and exquisitely detailed, reminding us that poetry can be a hell of a lot of fun, when we let it.”

Finalists: Sarah Sousa, Caroline Bock, Lynda Kong, S. Yarberry, and Jessica Dionne

Each winner receives $1000; the winning work will appear in our Fall issue.

Pandemic Operations

We hope you’re staying safe and doing well during these troubling times. Because of the current circumstances, our response times are a bit slowed,
but we will continue to read submissions for our annual prizes.
We have extended the prize submissions period to end on April 15th.
Please take care, physically and mentally.

Contributor News

Congratulations to past contributor Rebecca Foust, whose poems “Collaborator” and “Train Out of Altoona” appeared in Issue 37. Her new poetry collection, The Unexploded Ordnance Bin, came out this past November from Swan Scythe Press!

book cover front_TUOB_9-11-19

Contributor News

Congratulations to past contributor Kathryn Winograd, whose essay “Breviaries of the Ghost” appeared in Issue 30. Her new collection of
essays, Slow Arrow: Unearthing the Frail Children, comes out this
March from Saddle Road Press!sa-cover-2019-09-26-02-solarized-inverted-blurred-2

Announcing our 2019 Pushcart Nominees

Congratulations to our Pushcart nominees!

Our editors have reviewed all the work we published in 2019 to choose work to nominate for the Pushcart Prize. If you’ve missed these poetry and prose selections, we hope you’ll check them out in Issues 38 and 39. Thank you to all the authors who seek out Arts & Letters as a platform to publish your work!

Issue 38

Brian Crawford: “When We Were Liars”
Lee Peterson: “Election Day”

Issue 39

Carol Keeley: “Demon Feeding”
Anushah Jiwani: “No Space”
Elisabeth Murawski: “The Woman Unafraid of Tropical Diseases”
Greg Bowers: “Her Hair Smelled Like Rhododendrons”

Ampersand Interview Series: Wendy Rawlings interviewed by Kerry Neville

Check out the latest interview in our Ampersand Interview Series with Kristin Kostick.

Check out the latest interview in our Ampersand Interview Series with Wendy Rawlings.

In the latest Ampersand Interview, Creative Nonfiction Editor, Kerry Neville, spoke with Wendy Rawlings about her new collection of stories Time for Bed, advice for new writers, and replacing an old mattress that once belonged to Mark Strand. Rawlings’ essay “A Bad Sort of Industry” was published in Arts & Letters Issue 38.

Kerry Neville: Can you talk about your life as a writer? What got you started? Has your approach to craft changed? What keeps you writing?

Wendy Rawlings: This might be macabre, but I had a favorite cousin who lived in Connecticut, a couple of hours from Long Island, where I grew up. This was in the days before the Internet, and we wrote each other long letters in code that only we could decipher. She was stricken by leukemia and died when we were thirteen. Neither my family nor I knew how to process the grief, but my mother gave me a journal and told me to write in it whenever I felt sad or lonely. Thus, a writing life began.

Perhaps because I got started that way, I have always treated writing as intensely personal and have rarely (maybe never?) written anything “just for fun” or as a “formal challenge” (I put these in scare quotes because they’re things I’ve heard writers say). That’s not to say I haven’t had fun or experimented with form, but I’m always animated first by a need to explore a topic or emotion or experience that has troubled or been deeply important to me. That’s what keeps me writing. My approach to craft has changed in that I think I’m more aware, even in the early stages of a piece of writing, of needing to find a connection between form and content that makes intuitive sense to me. I used to see form and content as separate entities that I kind of needed to smash together. I don’t think that way anymore.

KN: You’ve written both a novel, two collections of short stories, as well as essays. Can you talk about the differences in your approaches to writing them (form and genre) and perhaps what remains the same?

WR: Fundamentally, I think of myself as a writer of sentences. My husband, who is a poet, says that interest in small units of language makes me more like a poet than like a novelist. The only thing that really interested me about writing a novel (and I’ve only written one published novel) is the narrative voice and how to sustain it. I love writing stories and essays because I can achieve what I think of as a kind of Persian Rug Perfection. A Persian rug is only a few feet long, but in it you can keep finding new designs and patterns and elaborations. And maybe the one flaw that makes it the product of human hands. I don’t think I’m really a novelist, but publishing one was on my bucket list, so there you have it. I chased the voice of the novel down until I could hear and follow it.

KN: Can you talk about the process of collecting together the individual stories in Time for Bed? Did you write any or all of the stories with the greater collection in mind? Or, if not, how did you select the individual pieces to include?

WR: Earlier iterations of this book had different titles; at one point it was called something like Varieties of Religious Experience in the Tri-State Area. I wanted the book to be kind of funny and to push up against some taboos that interested me, especially taboos around sex. I was also interested in how blended families navigate relationships. There’s a story in Time for Bed in which a woman and her new stepbrother (who is much younger than she is) end up getting involved with each other sexually. Blended families can be difficult to navigate for adult children.

I did have a few other stories in the collection that were more satirical and over the top. In one, a tampon and a maxi-pad sit on a dock and have a conversation about being roofied. My editor at LSU Press, Michael Griffith, suggested I replace those because they stood out as departing too much from the tone of the book. I think he was probably right about that.

KN: What advice would you give to beginning writers who are thinking of putting together their own collections or starting a novel?

WR: Ooh, that’s a good question!  Based on my own experience, I’d say, first, to try to be as fearless and authentic as possible. I wasted a lot of time trying to sound like someone else, and the results were kind of generic. I was looking to see what I thought a novel should sound like. That was the wrong approach. I think the right approach is to go look at someone who makes art in another discipline and see how fearless she/they/he is/are. One of my idols in this regard is the visual artist Kara Walker. She made this giant sphinx out of white sugar and gave it her own face. I won’t go into the symbolism, but whenever I am afraid to give myself permission to make a piece of writing that is big or transgressive or strange, I think of Walker’s work. Same with a musician like Philip Glass or Jay Z. For some reason, visual artists and musicians inspire me most, because their work is big or loud or both.

KN: What is the best thing (related to writing) that you have ever spent money on?

WR: You mean the best thing I’ve bought with money I made from my writing? In 1998, I think it was, I was awarded second place in the Atlantic’s Student Writing Competition. At that point in my life I was sleeping in a hand me down bed I was told had once belonged to the poet Mark Strand. It was so worn out that it dipped in the center, causing my boyfriend and me to roll toward each other as we slept. With the $500 from the Atlantic, I was able to buy a new Serta mattress. When you’re in graduate school and broke and have no health insurance, a new bed is the best thing in the world.

KN: What’s next for Wendy Rawlings?

WR: I’m working on an essay collection called Crying in Public that takes as its starting point a trip I took to visit my cousins in London that happened to coincide with the days after Princess Diana died. The public mourning was just staggering. Another essay explores the kind of public freakouts so many of us had during and after 9/11. So that’s in the works. Then I think I really would like to try an idiosyncratic inanimate object narrator like James Hannahan does in the novel Delicious Foods. Like narrate from the POV of a tampon. Maybe!

Wendy Rawlings is the author of a novel, The Agnostics, and two collections of stories, Time for Bed and Come Back Irish.  Her work has most recently appeared or is forthcoming in Arts & Letters, Creative NonfictionKenyon Review, and the Pushcart Prize anthology. She’s a professor in the creative writing program at the University of Alabama.
Interview by Kerry Neville

Unclassifiable Contest 2019 Winners & Finalists

Our Unclassifiable Contest has ended, and a winner has been chosen by our judge, Michael Martone!

Unclassifiable2019 Winner











Jenni Moody, “The Sound of Her Voice”

Francisco González, “An Outline of Wellness”
Marya Hornbacher, “Excerpt from a Conversation on Metaphor/A Seduction”
Robert Solomon, “The Fog Is a Snow Leopard Eating Owslowski”

Martone writes of “The Sound of Her Voice,” this year’s winner, “Only now, after over forty years of using a computer (a high-powered typesetting machine) and thirty years since the computer has been attached to the internet, have writers begun to explore fully the expansion of their artistic role into areas we once ascribed to the ‘graphic designer’ or ‘illustrator.’ ‘The Sound of Her Voice’ marks a lovely debut of these new ‘writerly’ skills and, in form and content, explodes the notion that the writer’s task is only to transcribe an oral tale in a transparent way. Instead it is time to embrace and expand on the material nature of the art, its artifice, and create a style that is not the clear window but more the stained glass rosette of a cathedral. Insert your emojis of applause here!”

Thank you to all those who submitted, for stretching our minds and engaging our imaginations! We hope to see your work again next year!

Winter Sale


Buy a copy of any of our issues, past or current, and we’ll send a free copy to whomever you’d like.

Once you’ve bought an issue, email us the name and address you’d like us to send the free copy to.

This sale will run from November 11th to January 31st.


Issue 39 has arrived!

Issue 39 - LargeWe are so excited to announce the release of Issue 39!

Our 21st Issue features the 2019 Arts & Letters Prize Winners, Carol Keeley (Nonfiction), Karen Harryman (Poetry), and Lones Seiber (Fiction). Check out their work and the work of our other fine contributors! You can order your copy online in print or digital formats at the Arts & Letters Exchange.


Contributor News

Congratulations to past Contributor Joyce Hinnefeld has a book of stories, The Beauty of Their Youth, coming out in March 2020!

The Beauty of Their Youth - Hinnefeld

Contributor News

Congratulations are in order for John Sibley Williams, whose work has appeared multiple times in Arts & Letters! He has a collection of poems, Skin Memory, coming out this November from the University of Nebraska Press.9781935218500

Ampersand Interview Series: Esteban Rodriguez

Check out the latest interview in our Ampersand Interview Series with Kristin Kostick.

Check out the latest interview in our Ampersand Interview Series with Esteban Rodriguez.

In the latest Ampersand Interview, we spoke with Esteban Rodriguez about his writing journey, developing habits, and how he writes today. Rodriguez’s poem “Theophany” was published in Arts & Letters Issue 38.

A&L: Do you write with a lot of conscious awareness during your first drafts, or do you just try to get it out without overthinking?

Esteban Rodriguez: Each time I begin a new poem, I do so with the mindset that when the last word is written, the poem will be complete. Revision, however, is inevitable. My obligations to my ideas of what makes a poem intriguing and good compels me to go back to the work, changing whatever will bring the poem closer to where I feel it needs to be.

A&L: What sort of things did you write about when you first started writing?

ER: I wrote about the same things I continue to write today: the complexity of familial relationships, life along the border, the body, language, and the search for meaning in landscapes that aren’t always willing to share what exactly that meaning is. Although the topics and themes have remained relatively consistent, I’ve pushed the boundaries of my approach and style over the past few years, something I would have never conceived of doing when I first began writing.

A&L: How have you evolved as a writer over the years?

ER: As I mentioned previously, I’ve been more open to changing my style when a poem (or poems) calls for it. My first collection Dusk & Dust contains many narrative pieces that are two to three pages in length and that incorporate the landscape of the Rio Grande Valley (where I am from) quite prominently. Since then, my poems have been shorter, almost never going beyond a page, and the descriptive landscape of my youth only occupies a line or two if it’s necessary for the poem. Simultaneously, I’ve been writing poems that have a more surreal quality to them and my collection (Dis)placement explores hazardous journeys across terrains prone to violence, destruction, and the consequences of time and neglect. Recently, I’ve been experimenting with punctuation, or rather the lack of punctuation. I’ve found that writing a poem without commas or periods forces me to approach it differently, and that the lyricism of the poem is much more nuanced precisely because it allows me, as both a writer and a reader, the opportunity to examine the content of the piece with a different lens.

A&L: What is the toughest bad writing habit that you have had to break? Or do you advocate for embracing habits?

ER: A bad habit of mine is using certain lines and techniques that I’ve used in the past. I used to really like starting a poem with a one-word scene and transitioning the piece into the action that will take place. It would read something like “Nightfall, and the moon’s burden . . .” I remember writing about six poems back-to-back exactly like this and I knew, once I reviewed them, that I needed to break that habit. Occasionally, I still lean on this technique, but I’ve become much more aware of my habits and what it ultimately means if I cannot break them. For writers just starting their journey, however, I would recommend forming a habit, at least until they feel confident breaking from it. Writing, like anything, is about practice, and if that means doing the same thing over and over again until you get good at it, then that’s advice I think everyone can benefit from.

A&L: What is your writing space like? Where do you write most often? And what’s your routine?

ER: My writing space is whatever place I find myself in. I used to write in a notebook, but I’ve long abandoned that practice in favor of writing poems in the Notes app on my phone, which is much more convenient for writing on the go. I’m not burdened with having to find blank pages or reading through a labyrinth of messy handwriting. Because of this, my writing schedule is never consistent, but I do write throughout the day. And even if it is only for a few minutes, it’s time well spent.

A&L: Do you prefer to write in solitude or with some bustling around you?

ER: Both. If I am somewhere in public and a word, phrase, or line comes to mind, I try to write it down as quickly as possible, despite the commotion around me. Mornings on the weekends are where I find the most solitude, although I am probably cooking breakfast or playing with my dogs. What matters is being able to ponder the words that form the poem I am working on, and I try as much as possible not to let my voice get drowned out by my environment.

A&L: What is your guilty reading pleasure?

ER: I try not to read anything I feel won’t provide some form of knowledge in return, so I wouldn’t say I have a guilty reading pleasure. The books I choose to read are purposeful and if I don’t like a book, I don’t feel any obligation to continue reading it. Time is everyone’s antagonist, and because we are only here for a brief moment, I try to spend my days with books that will ultimately teach me what it means to be a better human being.

Esteban Rodriguez is the author of the collections Dusk & Dust (Hub City Press 2019), Crash Course (Saddle Road Press 2019), and (Dis)placement (Skull + Wind Press 2020). His poetry has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, New England Review, TriQuarterly, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. He is the Interviews Editor for the EcoTheo Review, a regular reviews contributor for PANK, and a poetry reader for BOAAT. He lives with his family and teaches in Austin, Texas.

Contributor News

Megan Harlan photoCongratulations to last year’s winner of the A&L Susan Atefat Prize, Megan Harlan! Her collection of essays, Mobile Home, comes out in 2020 from the University of Georgia Press.

Announcing the Arts & Letters Drama Prize Winner

Announcing the Winner of the 2019 Arts & Letters Drama Prize!

Tha winner receives $500 and the play will be produced in the spring of 2020.

John Doble, “A Serious Person”

Judge: Iona Holder

This year’s submissions ran the gamut in terms of subject matter and structure. The winning play provides a fast-paced whirlwind of action that is sure to leave the audience spinning. “A Serious Person” is a quick and clever play that reflects the deep desire many of us  have to “connect” with another within the bindings of a blind date. Two people come together to find a way around the quirks and eccentricities we all recognize once a relationship moves beyond small talk.

Finalist: D.L. Siegel, “Like the Last”


Give the gift of an A&L subscription


Looking for something to read on your vacation this summer? Know a friend who would love Arts & Letters? Check out our subscription and back issue sales. Buy a subscription to Arts & Letters for yourself, and receive a free gift subscription for a friend. Each subscription comes with the current issue, featuring the Unclassifiable Contest winner along with the upcoming fall issue when it’s released, which will include the A&L prize winners. When you order online, send us an email (at [email protected]) with your friend’s address and a personalized note to include.

You can find all of these deals on our store website too:

Summer Reading Sale!


downloadGreat reads for the beach, the porch, or anywhere you’ll be relaxing this summer.

50% off all issues!!
Monday, June 10 – Wednesday, July 31.

Check out our current issue (the 20th Anniversary Issue) as well as our back issues here.

Announcing 21st Annual Arts & Letters Prize Winners

Announcing the Winners of the 2019 Arts & Letters Prizes in Fiction, Creative Nonfiction, & Poetry!

Winners receive $1000 and publication in the upcoming Fall 2019 issue of Arts & Letters

Arts & Letters Prize for Fiction:

Lones Seiber, “Flight”

Judge: Peter Nichols

“The narrator Katie’s quiet voice is clear and confiding. Her eye throughout is sharp for the small, almost subliminal details of character and especially landscape that turn a generic American place that might so easily go unnoticed, into Katie’s own sharply etched world. As she journeys back into this world, and into her own past, her deeply buried responses provoke the subtle, but finally overwhelming change that alters her life. It is this profound change that comes at the end of “Flight” that tipped me in its favor.”

Finalist: Kartika Budhwar, “Last Walk in Assam”

Susan Atefat Prize for Creative Nonfiction:

Carol Keeley, “Demon Feeding”

Judge: Pam Houston

“’Demon Feeding’ does at least three things really well at one time.  It raises our consciousness about PTSD among veterans and the personal hell our government’s decisions create in them; it has a compelling understory and a character we care about—the narrator—who is fighting demons of her own; and it braids those two really seamlessly, using plenty of sensory detail to keep us engaged and even giving us a moment of happiness amidst all the sad spoils of a difficult world.  It’s a beautifully made and important essay.”

Finalists: Gwen Ebert, “The Field”; Clinton Peters, “Love in the Valley of Death”; Daniel Rousseau, “Absent Joy”

Rumi Prize for Poetry:

Karen Harryman, “Theory”, “November”, and “Making”

Judge: GennaRose Nethercott

“These poems speak to the terrible banalities of violence, of life’s small, typical tasks that we carry on performing despite great sorrows. “Slicing a banana” at the breakfast table while learning of a night club massacre; selecting lemons at a grocery store before a shooting; combing through the hair of a childhood friend who will later fall prey to the drug epidemic. Brief, tender acts pressed against so many unthinkable sufferings. What is more horrifying than a violence so normalized that we no longer pause our daily motions in shock? And yet, what a strange loveliness, too, that our tenderness can survive alongside it, despite it all.”

Finalists: Samuel Hughes, Anushah Jiwani, Diane Louie, and John Sibley Williams

Many congratulations to all of our winners and finalists. 2020 Prize submissions will open in February. Look out for the announcement of the winner of the Drama Prize soon!

Ampersand Interview Series: George Singleton

Check out the latest interview in our Ampersand Interview Series with Kristin Kostick.

Check out the latest interview in our Ampersand Interview Series with George Singleton.

In the latest Ampersand Interview, we spoke with George Singleton about flea markets, the South, and comedians. Singleton’s “Spastic” was published in Arts & Letters Issue 27.

A&L: Flea markets are a recurring motif in your stories. What is it about this setting that attracts you as a fiction writer? Are flea markets a secret breeding ground for stories?

George Singleton: Flea markets showed up frequently in The Half-Mammals of Dixie, and in a number of stories between about 1998-2002 that didn’t make it into collections. I was more or less unemployed from 1996 until 2000, and I thought about how I wanted to write a story set at a flea market. That meant actually selling behind a table. Then, by weird coincidence, my father’s old shop got hit by a tornado sixty miles away from where I lived—he’d been dead for fifteen years, so this building had been a mini-storage warehouse unit, more or less, filled with tools and machinery. I scavenged what I could, took it to the Pickens County Flea Market, and got hooked. I talked to people from all walks of life—art collectors in Atlanta to down-and-outers from the area. The stories, mostly imagined, hit me fast. And in a way working flea market circuits is a lot like writing—always looking for a certain treasure, usually not finding one, but ecstatic when something decent appears.

By the way, those guys on American Pickers probably owe me some kind of royalty money…

A&L: Do you think you would have become a writer if you weren’t born and raised in the South? If not, what do you think you would have become?

GS: I was actually born in Anaheim, California. My father was in the merchant marines. We moved to South Carolina when I was seven—he’d fallen forty-five feet into the empty hold of a ship, became disabled, and we moved to be nearer his family. My father was a great, and ribald, storyteller, and in California I lived in a trailer, then an apartment. So I might’ve had writer-needs even if I stayed there. Who knows? I might’ve started writing earlier—it wasn’t like I had access to a slew of books in South Carolina, nor anyone to point me in a beneficial direction. And then, even after I started writing, in college, I tried my best to choose locales far from the textile towns I knew best. I wrote about Nice, France, and D.C., and then Memphis. I’d spent ten days in Nice, nine months in D.C., and had only a map of Memphis. It wasn’t until I read Flannery O’Connor that I went, “Oh, now I get it—that’s how to write about small towns, and small town denizens,” and so on.

I’ll take some of those random pieces and pair them up, see where I can strike sparks until I get a dangerous place, a character who’s hurting, an interesting problem to throw their way.

A&L: What is the toughest bad writing habit that you have had to break, or do you advocate for embracing bad habits?

GS: The bad habit of mine is coming up with slap-sticky ideas and not knowing to abandon them, to conjure up jokes that maybe I find funny that no one else finds funny. It’s the whole “kill your darlings” dictum of Faulkner.

A&L: In a recent interview, you mentioned you are a big fan of Rodney Dangerfield. As a writer, are there any tricks, techniques, or philosophies you’ve borrowed from stand-up comedians you admire?

GS: I admire, and borrow from, I hope, the comic timing of people like Bob Newhart, Dangerfield, Steven Wright, and Brian Regan, among others. I like the life-is-absurd notions of those comedians. In a way, they’re summoning Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco—two playwrights I read voraciously in college and later. Back to my favorite comedians: They seem to tell stories wherein they, or a character, is backed into an uncomfortable situation, and the listener/viewer wants to see how they’ll get out of it, or if they will. I’d bet that 90% of my stories are about everyday men and women stuck in an uncomfortable situation with an antagonist, and the reader—I am hopeful—wants to see how they get out of it. I know for a fact that in this last collection, Staff Picks, I started every story with a blank screen or page, and  my saying—usually out loud to myself, like an idiot—“Uncomfortable situation.”

George Singleton has published seven collections of stories, two novels, and a book of writing advice. Over 200 of his stories have appeared in magazines such as the Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Playboy, the Georgia Review, the Southern Review, the Cincinnati Review, and elsewhere. He is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, a Guggenheim fellowship, the Hillsdale Award from the Fellowship of Southern Writers, and the Corrington Award for Literary Excellence. He lives in Spartanburg, SC, where he holds the John C. Cobb Chair in Humanities at Wofford College.
Interview by Caleb Bouchard

Issue 38 has arrived!

We are so excited to announce the release of Issue 38!

This is our 20th Anniversary Issue.  We are featuring three pieces from our very first issue: “Snow Blossoms” by Annie Dawid and “The Candle Flame” and “The Sword-Wound” by Ghalib, both translated from the Urdu by Robert Bly and Sunil Dutta. We are also featuring  the winner the Arts & Letters Unclassifiable Contest “A Villanelle by any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet” by Flint. Come check out their work and the work of our other fine contributors! You can order your copy online in print or digital formats at the Arts & Letters Exchange.

Blast off this spring with the Anniversary Issue of Arts & Letters!

Issue 38 Cover

If you’ve already read Issue 38, and you’re feeling inspired, remember that our Unclassifiable Contest opens May 1st. Send in your submissions here.

Contest Deadline Extended!

In honor of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference this year in Portland, which runs this coming week, we are extending our annual contest deadline until April 7th.

Send us your poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, or drama.

Take advantage of this unusual opportunity and submit something wonderful!

AWP Conference

The AWP conference in Portland is approaching! If you plan on going, come see us at Booth #4064.

A&L Prize Judges Announced

For all of you eagerly anticipating the 21st Annual Arts & Letters Prize competition opening, we have our judges lined up for poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction!

  • Poetry: Gennarose Nethercott
  • Fiction: Peter Nichols
  • Creative Nonfiction: Pam Houston

Our regular submission period is still open through January 31st. The Prize Contest will open February 1st and continue through the end of March.

Issue 37 Has Arrived!

We are so excited to announce the release of Issue 37!

In this issue we are featuring the winner of the Rumi Prize for Poetry, Keith Wilson; the winner of the Arts & Letters Prize for Fiction, R. M. Kinder; and the winner of the Susan Atefat Prize for Creative Nonfiction, Megan Harlan. Come check out their work and the work of our other fine contributors! You can order your copy online in print or digital formats at the Arts & Letters Exchange.

As the seasons turn, take a sip of the alphabet soup that is Arts & Letters Issue 37!

Issue 37 is now available

Issue 37 is now available

If you’ve already read Issue 37, and you’re feeling inspired, remember that we are currently open for general submissions!

Black Friday Flash Sale!


Give the gift of literature this year.

Buy one subscription and give two free!
Monday, November 19 – Tuesday, November 27

Subscribe here and email us the two addresses for your gifts along with any note you’d like included.

Unclassifiable Contest 2018 Winner and Finalists!

Our Unclassifiable Contest has ended, and a winner has been chosen by our judge, Michael Martone!


Flint, “A Villanelle By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet”

B. G. Firmani, “Wilmington, Delaware, in Eight Superlatives”
Theo Greenblatt, “La, La, How the Life Goes On”
John Harn, “18-PP”
Joan Michelson, “Chernobyl Reactor”
Christine Waresak, “Whamming”

Martone writes of “A Villanelle By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet,” this year’s winner, “They say the hardest images for computer animators to capture are human hair and ocean waves.  Reading the hypnotically lapping and texture tossed ‘A Villanelle by Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet’ reminded me that I was walking through the uncanny valley of the animated body and the lamentation of the delaminating layers of applied desire. This writing floats like a red tide, stings like an anemone. The language is osmosic, the form sublime, plasmaic. There is everywhere the briny scent of the worried inland sea in red weather, the cracker-jacked smell of saving and savory poetry indeed. Moving, so very moving, by for and about moving.”

Thank you to all those who submitted, for stretching our minds and engaging our imaginations! We hope to see your work again next year!

Ampersand Interview Series: Micah Dean Hicks

Check out the latest interview in our Ampersand Interview Series with Kristin Kostick.

Check out the latest interview in our Ampersand Interview Series with Micah Dean Hicks.

We spoke with Micah Dean Hicks about working in public (with headphones), prewriting, and redrafting novels from scratch in the latest Ampersand Interview. Hicks won the Arts & Letters Prize for fiction in 2016 with his short story “The Deer,” which appeared in Issue 33.


A&L: Do you prefer to write in solitude or with some bustling around you?

Micah Dean Hicks: I usually leave the house and work somewhere public—a coffee shop, a food court, a library. If I’m at home, it’s too easy to get distracted by housework or grading. There’s always something else competing for my time. By leaving home, I’m making a commitment to give a few hours over to just writing.

I carry a big pair of over-the-ear headphones with me everywhere, so the bustle and noise doesn’t distract me. There’s something nice, too, about working in an open, well-lit place that’s full of people. It feels energizing.

A&L: You’ve talked before in interviews about how unusual it is for writers of magical realism to outline their work as extensively as you do before you begin writing. Can you talk about your process of outlining your surrealist pieces? How does this affect the story as compared to finding where the story is going as you write?

MDH: I do a lot of listing, sketching out ideas, making random connections. I’ll think of things I’ve read recently that are exciting. Plot elements, images that have been stuck in my head, a setting I want to dig into. Character usually comes after that and out of it.

I’ll take some of those random pieces and pair them up, see where I can strike sparks until I get a dangerous place, a character who’s hurting, an interesting problem to throw their way.

Then I make several outlines in parallel, testing out the same story five or six different ways. By the time I come up with a list of key scenes that feels cohesive and has some emotional weight, then I’m ready to start writing. All this prewriting feels like my first draft.

There’s always some aspect of finding out where the story is going as I write. Things occur to me and I make connections in the moment. But I almost never just start writing without a plan. When I do, I usually end up with a mess, a story that’s pointing in too many different directions, something that feels more like three or four story fragments than a unified whole.

A&L: How have you evolved as a writer over the years?

MDH: The way I revise has changed the most. Now I come at revision as something creative and imaginative, trying to rethink all my assumptions about the story and conceive of a better version of it. I start and end by making blueprints, I guess. More and more, revision for me is outlining a more imaginative, more emotional version of the story and just writing it all over again, not keeping a single sentence from the previous draft.

I even did this with my forthcoming novel. I wrote and threw away two other complete manuscripts, alternate versions of the novel that didn’t work, before I figured out what the final story should be about.

A few years ago, I would start by revising the sentences and spend a lot of time polishing material that didn’t need to stay to begin with. I still care a lot about my sentences, but I don’t start fine-tuning language until everything else feels right.

Revising involves a lot of redrafting for me. And I’ve always liked drafting best, those moments where you slip into a trance and just fall into the story. I end up revising faster this way and end up with better work.

Micah Dean Hicks is a Calvino Prize-winning author of fantasy, fabulism, and fairy tale retellings. His writing has appeared in The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, The New York Times, Lightspeed, and Kenyon Review, among others. His story collection Electricity and Other Dreams is available from New American Press. Hicks teaches creative writing at the University of Central Florida. His novel Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones is coming February 2019 from John Joseph Adams Books.

Regular Submission Period Opens Today!

Regular submissions for Arts & Letters are open from today until January 31st.

Regular submissions for Arts & Letters are open from today until January 31st.

Thank you to everyone who submitted to the Unclassifiable Contest! We’re excited to start reviewing your work. Watch for finalists to be announced this fall.

As of today, we here at Arts & Letters are open for general submissions; you can read our guidelines and submit your work here. We look forward, as always, to seeing what you’ve got!


Submit to the 2018 Unclassifiable Contest!

The Unclassifiable Contest is now open!

The Unclassifiable Contest deadline is tomorrow!

To all our weird and wonderful writer friends out there… don’t forget that submissions for the Unclassifiable Contest are set to close at the end of the day tomorrow!

This contest exists to give space to work which defies categorization. We look for work that blurs genres and labels, work that intrigues and challenges us. Be sure to submit your best genre-bending work by July 31st. The prize is $500 and publication in our Spring Issue.


Announcing Arts & Letters Drama Prize Winner

Jenny King, “Reconciling

Judge Iona Sun has selected Jenny King as the 2018 Winner of the Arts & Letters Prize for Drama.

Reconciling is an expertly crafted tapestry that weaves three stories together in a manner that exposes the humanity of each one, challenging traditional structure. It will provide an excellent evening of theatre. From the first pages, it is evident that this playwright seeks to broaden the potential of storytelling; she succeeds in rendering an exploration of language that is sure to delight audiences whilst challenging actors.” 

King will receive $500 and her  one-act play will be produced on the Georgia College campus in the spring of 2019.

Finalists: Angela Davis, “Agathe”; Robert Daseler, “Apple Valley”; James Wade, “In Case of Fire”; Marshall Botvinick, “The Hero and the Scholar”; and Neil McGowan, “The Stain”

Ampersand Interview Series: Robert Campbell

Check out the latest interview in our Ampersand Interview Series with Kristin Kostick.

Check out the latest interview in our Ampersand Interview Series with Robert Campbell.

In the latest interview in our series, Ampersand, we spoke with Robert Campbell about literary influences, reading one’s work aloud, and dreaming. Robert Campbell’s poems, “Labor #12” and “Greek Rush,” appeared in Issue 33.


A&L: Who are some of your literary (or non-literary) influences?

Robert Campbell: I love Brigit Pegeen Kelly. Song is probably one of my favorite books. Also John Berryman, Dean Young, and Elizabeth Bishop. My favorite poet is Emily Dickinson, whose work, I believe, is still being taught to young people everywhere in a pitiful, belittling way that is really unworthy of her. Mary Ruefle writes about Dickinson really beautifully. Occasionally, I find myself influenced by folklore, landscapes, and horror films. All kinds of things. I’m drawn to images and topics that feel strange and lonely.

A&L: Describe your writing space. Where do you write most often? What is your routine?

RC: I do have a dedicated home office, which is an incredible privilege, but I can’t say I write there regularly. Honestly, I have written on my phone, on receipts, in the margins of junk-mail, anywhere. I usually begin a poem with an image or a line, and I try to keep a running “pool” of these self-prompts so that I can draw them out when I have sustained time to write. Some folks really benefit from regularly scheduled writing time, but it has never worked for me. In the early stages of a poem, I rarely sit down to write. That probably sounds strange, but I rarely write the first couple of lines of a poem until I’ve rolled them around in my head and in my mouth for a little bit to see how they feel.

A&L: Do you enjoy reading you work aloud? Centuries ago, poems, and stories were most often sung, not read. How’s your singing voice?

RC: Honestly, I usually do not enjoy reading my work aloud. I’m not sure why that is. I often feel as though my presence and voice lessen the impact the work might have without me. It’s unfashionable to admit to a lack of confidence, but there it is. My voice is kind of nasal, and it has a slight Southern drawl, sort of like drunk bees. As a gay man, I do worry about being perceived as having an “effeminate” voice and that affecting how readers hear my work. I don’t hear a lot of folks talking about this, but I think male poets with deep, burly voices are more confident as readers. Is there a service available to poets who want someone else to read their work for them? (Joking.) Seriously, though, there are some fantastic readers out there, and I’m often envious of people who shine in that way and enjoy performing their work. I feel that I have a lot to learn from them.

A&L: You seem to be interested in exploring dreams and the dreamlike in your poetry. What is the role of dreaming in the creative process?

RC: Wallace Stevens would say that the imagination is integral to the experience of phenomena, and I agree. I think we are always dreaming, by which I mean, we perceive the world in an associative, disjointed way. In that sense, to write in what we would call a “dream-like” way is really just expressing our actual, lived modes of perception, which are disruptive and non-linear by nature. By accepting ourselves as creatures who are, in a sense, always dreaming, I think we arrive at work that is not only interesting, but revealing and true, often truer than the “true” stories we tell about ourselves and our world.

Robert Campbell is the author of the chapbook In the Herald of Improbable Misfortunes (Etchings Press, 2018). His poetry and criticism have appeared in Tupelo QuarterlyColumbia Poetry ReviewRiver Styx, and many other journals. Robert holds an MFA in poetry from Murray State University and an MS in library science from the University of Kentucky. He lives with his partner and animals on a winding country road in the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky.

Announcing 20th Annual Arts & Letters Prize Winners

Announcing the Winners of the 2018 Arts & Letters Prizes in Fiction, Creative Nonfiction, & Poetry!

Winners receive $1000 and publication in the upcoming Fall 2018 issue of Arts & Letters

Arts & Letters Prize for Fiction:

R. M. Kinder, “A Common Person”

Judge: Melissa Pritchard

“I found much to admire in ‘A Common Person.’ The story’s clever premise, the crosscurrents of humor and suspense in a well-paced narrative, the quiet, sophisticated use of language, and above all, the author’s compassionate but fierce portrayal of a woman who finds her life turned upside down because of a flippant online comment rescinded seconds too late. What ensues…brilliantly depicts the vague, ominous sense of surveillance under which we all live today.”

Finalist: Antonia Angress, “Pilgrim”


Susan Atefat Prize for Creative Nonfiction:

Megan Harlan, “Mobile Home”

Judge: Joni Tevis

“I appreciated the writer’s skillful weaving of personal narrative, architectural history, place detail, and Wizard of Oz material, and I found the narrator’s voice to be clear and compelling throughout.”

Finalists: Bettye Kearse, “Visiting”; Jill Logan, “The People’s Exhibit”; and Keith S. Wilson, “Parable of the Lobster”


Rumi Prize for Poetry:

Keith S. Wilson, “letter begun to my future niece” and “Long Tail”

Judge: Alfred Corn

“Invention, passion, subtlety, thought, melody: these are the qualities I look for in poetry, and they are all found in Keith Wilson’s poems. Congratulations to him.”

Finalists: Jennifer Elmore, Justin Hunt, Mariana Lin, and Brandon Rushton


Many congratulations to all of our winners and finalists. 2019 Prize submissions will open in February. Look out for the announcement of the winner of the Drama Prize soon!

Ampersand Interview Series: Shawndra Miller

Check out the latest interview in our Ampersand Interview Series with Kristin Kostick.

Check out the latest interview in our Ampersand Interview Series with Shawndra Miller.

In the latest in our Ampersand Interview Series, we spoke with Shawndra Miller about writing to women, creative spaces, and “madness.” Miller was the winner of the 2017 Unclassifiable Contest for the piece “Bleeding the Butterfly,” which appeared in Issue 36.


A&L: Describe your writing space. Where do you write most often? What is your routine?

Shawndra Miller: I write in a corner of our guest room, which is ground level with a nice view of our small back yard. I have my research books and notebooks right there for easy access. My desk faces the window so I can see my little garden and watch neighborhood cats traipse through the yard. Usually my big poodle Opal sprawls on the floor and my cat Edgar either provides entertaining distraction or curls up behind me on my chair.

As far as routine, I tend to work on my writing projects in a very nonlinear fashion, but in a framework of committed time. Mornings seem to be best for focused output in my case. So I will tell myself: This week I’m working on the manuscript 90 minutes a day, right after breakfast. Then my goal is to stay in the chair and keep at it—without distracting myself through email or social media. (I use a blocking program that keeps me from wandering too far into Internetville if I need to check a historical detail or word choice.) What I do during that 90 minutes can vary widely, from generating new scenes to smoothing structural problems to polishing and editing. But it all adds up to consistent work that, over time, yields a book-length work.

I also keep a small notebook handy when I’m out and about, for jotting ideas as they come to me, and a pad of paper for those nocturnal surprises (which are sometimes indecipherable in the morning!).

A&L: In blurring the boundaries of genre and form, how are you able to excavate your subject in ways that a single genre would restrict?

SM: I’m intrigued by the intersection of what we would consider known reality and the felt realities that are harder to quantify. So much truth lies buried, even in what we think we know for a fact. For example, how does a chronic illness arise, what are the reasons for it, and what role might the mind’s unseen workings play in sustaining or ameliorating illness? My book project, of which “Bleeding the Butterfly” is a part, imagines the lives of late 19th-century women who were largely hidden away in the mental institution, in a building that was buried under ground after its demolition. To develop the fictionalized portrayals of “inmates” (yes, they were called that back then), I reviewed intake records from the state archives. From the sketchiest information, I let my imagination roam, informed by contextual research. This gave me the freedom to explore themes that connected to my personal history. The interplay between their fictionalized stories and my own true one created a different kind of tension and a broader window on women and “madness.”

A&L: Do you write with a lot of conscious audience awareness during your first drafts?

SM: Generally, I write to figure things out for myself. If there’s an audience in mind, it’s “women like me”—encompassing all the women I have been so far: the sick women, the impassioned women, the ones who feel “different” in some way, the geeks and lesbians and seekers, and women in midlife coming into their own.

Shawndra Miller is an energy worker and writer drawn to stories of redemption and renewal. A two-time recipient of the Indiana Arts Commission’s Individual Artist Grant, she has published in Confrontation Magazine, Topology Magazine, Lavender Review, and elsewhere. Her work also appeared in the anthology Goddess: When She Rules from Golden Dragonfly Press. “Bleeding the Butterfly” is excerpted from her current book project, a hybrid work linking her own healing journey to fictionalized stories from a nineteenth century women’s mental institution in her hometown.

The Unclassifiable Contest is Open for Submissions!

Here at Arts & Letters, we are keeping busy! We’ve been eagerly combing through your submissions to our annual Prize Competition, and we’ll soon be posting the latest in our Ampersand Interview Series with Shawndra Miller, winner of last year’s Unclassifiable Contest for her piece, “Bleeding the Butterfly.”

Speaking of the Unclassifiable Contest… as of this morning, it is open for submissions!

This contest is for unclassifiable works: works that blur, bend, blend, erase, or obliterate genre and other labels. Works of up to 5000 words considered. Judged by Michael Martone. The entry fee is $8, and the winner will receive $500.



Ampersand Interview Series: Kristin Kostick

Check out the latest interview in our Ampersand Interview Series with Kristin Kostick.

Check out the latest interview in our Ampersand Interview Series with Kristin Kostick.

In the latest interview in our new series, Ampersand, we spoke with Kristin Kostick about anthropology, artificial intelligence, and re-reading one’s own work. Kostick was the winner of the 2015 Susan Atefat Prize for Creative Nonfiction for her essay “Hostage Situation,” which appeared in Issue 31.

If you are interested in submitting to the 2018 Susan Atefat Prize for Creative Nonfiction, or to either of our other Arts & Letters Prizes, submissions are open until March 31st.


A&L: So, you’re a writer and an anthropologist. Do you find that there is much overlap? Both disciplines attempt to understand humanity, each in its own way.

Kristin Kostick: This seems like a straightforward question, because the similarities seem so evident. Anthropologists observe human behavior, customs, cultures, and attempt to document everything objectively, but from an “insider’s” point of view. More recent forms of anthropology since the ‘60s reject objectivity and attempt to write “thick descriptions” of cultural phenomena through the lens of their own subjective perspectives, because it is assumed that it’s impossible to escape subjectivity. Writers, of course, do all of these things too. We take what we see around us and, consciously or unconsciously, put some mélange of our surrounding influences as well as ourselves (our histories, our imaginations, our personalities, our desires) into our writing. That’s what makes it good. That’s what makes people want to read it. The stories we tell (or the poems we write) show the reader something that can’t be seen objectively—something that literally doesn’t exist in the objective world, as it is so intertwined with what the writer sees, is able to see, wants you to see.

But I think that the same impulse that encourages good anthropologists to be “true” to their observations (rather than, say, staging scenes of quotidian life among the “natives,” as the famous anthropologist Franz Boas did, to show to his colleagues and to the Western world back home), so does the writer feel the need to question the sincerity of every sentence. At least I do. I mean, I try to. Because it’s so easy to get wrapped up in your own flow of writing that you really have to go back through with a fine-toothed comb and extract the artifice—the parts where you got carried away with an idea, or with your own voice or style, or with your own presumed wit. There’s a censor there, a wiser you who, like a parent, lovingly removes the ticks from her kid’s hair. It’s arguably the most humbling part of writing. But it’s also the most essential feature of a good anthropologist, this honesty. There are so many unconscious agendas operating at once. Some anthropologists want to paint their study communities (or themselves) in a certain light, while writers likewise want to guide your understandings of a story through the tools of plot, character development, or language. There’s an element of control there that needs to be dropped in order to be true to a story or an idea.

A&L: What have you been up to since winning the A&L Prize? Are you working on anything at the moment that particularly excites you?

KK: They say that the perception of time passing is relative to how much you fill that time. If that’s true, then I can understand why it feels so long ago that I won the A&L prize! I had just moved to Greece, was pregnant with my first son, and was finishing up my third and final year of an MFA at the University of Houston. I was also working remotely from Baylor College of Medicine and splitting my days into “academic” versus “creative” hours, a crude distinction that didn’t give enough credit to the creativity involved in academic writing, nor the strategy and scholarship often involved in creative writing. These days, the two are joined in almost all of my current projects. Over the past three years, I’ve been publishing papers on decision-making related to accepting live-or-die medical solutions to heart failure that involve highly invasive surgery and some serious lifestyle changes for people who accept the treatment technology—basically a big hunk of metal that attaches to your heart. This research led me to becoming the analyst for a study about longevity technologies and what has been called the “longevity movement,” where science and technology come together in an attempt to extend the human life span by radical measures, often accompanied by transhumanist ambitions to merge man with machine. What was not long ago considered to be science fiction now seems an emerging reality. You can imagine the giddiness with which I write about these things. Technically, it’s my job. But to me, it’s as fun as any creative writing—because, in essence, it is creative writing, imagining what our world, our bodies, our societies will look like over the next 100 years.

Since getting the news from A&L, I moved to Rio de Janeiro for two a half years, and just recently moved back to Greece with my husband and son, pregnant again with another boy. I’m now trying to focus on reworking some older nonfiction essays from my MFA manuscript to send out. They’re mostly about how self-deception can be adaptive—variants on the theme explored in “Hostage Situation.”

A&L: What is usually your predominant emotion just after having completed a piece of writing? 

KK: I’d like to say it is one of humility, aware of the struggle involved in that journey from the blank page. But if I’m honest, what I feel after finishing a piece is usually one of great pride and shameless interest in reading and re-reading the piece over and over until the words themselves start to lose meaning, like when you say “bellyache” or “grasshopper” too many times as a kid and the words became an empty scaffolding for meaning. Part of this ritual of re-reading is surely a matter of self-indulgence; but I’m a strong believer that our proximate motivations (to self-congratulate, in this case) mask deeper, more adaptive agendas, and that this re-reading is actually a self-critical process to search for errors, sentences to rewrite, words to modify, conceptual blunders to fix.

A&L: What are you reading right now?

KK: I’m ashamed to say that I’ve nearly abandoned all poetry and fiction, and now seem to read only non-fiction, as a habit rather than a strict rule. Right now I’m reading Merchants of Immortality: Chasing the Dream of Human Life Extension, by Stephen Hall, which offers an action-packed history of how life-extension technologies developed from discoveries with lowly lab worms and are now steeped in the labyrinthine world of political controversy and capitalistic ambition. I’m also reading Sam Harris’s The Moral Landscape, not only for his admirable steady-keel approach to persuasion, but for a paper I’m writing about alternatives (like technology and science) to religion for pursuing things once only associated with religion—morality, salvation, and eternal life.


Kristin Kostick writes poetry and nonfiction, and is an anthropologist based in Athens, Greece. She received her MFA in nonfiction in 2015 from the University of Houston’s creative writing program. Her poetry and essays have appeared in The Washington Post, The Riveter, Blackbird, Forklift, Ohio, H_NGM_N, Drunken Boat and other journals.

A&L Prize Judges Announced

For all of you eagerly anticipating the 20th Annual Arts & Letters Prize competition opening, we have our judges lined up for poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction!

  • Poetry: Alfred Corn
  • Fiction: Melissa Pritchard
  • Creative Nonfiction: Joni Tevis

Our regular submission period is still open through January 31st. The Prize Contest will open February 1st and continue through the end of March.

Ampersand Interview Series: Dawn Davies

Ampersand Logo

In the latest interview in our new series, Ampersand, we spoke to Dawn Davies about writing spaces, writing habits, and guilty pleasures! Davies was the winner of the 2016 Susan Atefat Prize for Creative Nonfiction for her essay “Mothers of Sparta,” which appeared in Issue 33.


A&L: What is the toughest bad writing habit that you have had to break, or do you advocate for embracing bad habits?

Dawn Davies: I could give you an alarming and deeply revealing list of my bad habits, but let’s not go there. I’m constantly playing Whack-a-Mole, beating them down to where I hope they give up and go away. Sometimes it works. Maybe some people have bad habits they can work around, or work with, but if I let a bad habit linger, it turns into a monster and derails my productivity/health/sleep cycle/insert-your-own-life-function-here. #OCD.

My bad writing habits tend to collect around lack of confidence. I have caught myself, while in the middle of writing, saying things like “This is bunk. This is too grubby. This is just no good. This idea is too much. Who will this matter to besides myself?” The insecure side of my inner voice tries to pull my creativity back, and it has gotten in the way, especially when making stylistic decisions that make my work identifiable as mine, and especially when I am at the beginning of shaping something new. My initial inclination is to take an idea just a little too far…the metaphor will be a little hostile, or an image will be a little violent or visceral, or a theme will be just a tad “out there.” That’s not bad, but my worry-wort inner voice likes to tell me it is. I used to be afraid of the raw stuff, but now I believe people respond to this when they read my work. If I do what the worry-wort wants, which is to question the “grubbiness,” I run the risk of beating the ideas themselves down, and not the bad habit of second-guessing them. I don’t want to tame my work to where it feels beaten down, or tepid, or over palatable to readers. I want my work to be a wild thing. Now I work on not questioning my “in the moment” decisions, and I am getting better at getting the ideas down as fast as they come, without questioning them. They are just ideas. Not tattoos on my face. 

A&L: What is the best thing (related to writing) that you ever spent money on?

DD: The best writing-related tool I ever spent money on was a tote bag, though it was my parents who spent the money on my first one. When I was three or four, we filled the tote bag with books from the public library and took the books home. I devoured them, then we went back to the library the next week and did it again. I read as many books per week as they would let me check out, and I did this for years. As soon as I got old enough to ride my bike to the library, I could go whenever I wanted, so I read even more. It was true freedom. I read all the time—in the shower, when cooking, in the car, on vacations, in the middle of the night when I should have been asleep, at school when I should have been studying. I did this long before I knew I wanted to be a writer. I think my exposure to so many books helped me when it was time to write. I still struggled when learning, but I may have struggled a bit less than others who had not been exposed to four thousand books. A committed reading habit makes writing easier, though honestly, I’m always learning. It’s not like you learn to write and then you’ve learned it. You must keep learning to evolve.

A&L: What sort of thing did you write about when you began?

DD: I was about nineteen when I first started “seriously” writing, though really, writing is always so entertaining that I enjoy doing it, so it doesn’t feel serious. When I’m working, I’m still playing. Before nineteen, in high school, I wrote parodies of writers I was reading (Brautigan, Poe, Vonnegut, Fussell, Irving), and before that, in middle school, I wrote radio show scripts that I produced alone on my cassette player, and before that, in elementary school, I wrote little jokes I tried to get published in Reader’s Digest. I now think the writing I did as a child was important, and it was all serious work, especially the parody writing, because it was good practice. I didn’t recognize it as work, though, because I had fun doing it and I had no expectations to fulfill. I try to remember that feeling when I write today. I try to keep my writing life like a playground, where I can mess around and try new things.

At nineteen, I would ride my bike to the library and hand-write stacks of pages that vaguely resembled novels. I threw most of them away, but recently found one, and it was full of ideas that college students might find interesting while drunk at a party. Young women with vague identity and life-purpose problems, or young women with unrequited, somewhat shallow love issues. Or quirky, dysfunctional families that represented interesting character studies, but had no identifiable problems.

I recently found some old poetry I wrote around that age, and realized two things: first, my past and my present have not much changed as I still should not write poetry, and second – that my poetry at the time was similar in content to the novels. A lot of unrequited love and “coupling” problems, the kind that a nineteen-year-old might suffer through. Not to demean anything that nineteen-year-olds experience, but I don’t think the angles I chose to write about were deep enough to be interesting to anyone other than me at the time. I hadn’t yet figured out how to write about universal things while writing about specific things. I did notice similarities, though. My tone is still the same, and my characters—both fiction and my nonfiction persona—are still often wrapped up in their own interior monologues. The inner voice (See Question #1) rears its head again.

A&L: What is your guilty reading pleasure? What is your non-guilty reading pleasure?

DD: The first thing you should know is I am a re-reader. For fiction, my guilty reading pleasure is plot-heavy genre novels. I love a good plot. I read legal thrillers, detective and spy stories, and police procedurals. I don’t feel guilty about reading genre fiction, though I suspect this is the type of secret plot porn about which others might feel guilty. I love commercial fiction. I think page-turners that whisk you away are fun, and fun is important.

My more lit-worthy reading is variable, though I am currently in a weird sort of masculine phase, which should imply nothing about my love for women writers. I read and support them. I’m just in a phase. I have recently been on a Colson Whitehead binge. I have a long-time obsession with The Intuitionist and Sag Harbor.

I read a lot of war books. I don’t know why. When I want to be blown away by tone, I read Paul Fussell, who is my go-to essayist, and who also happens to write very deeply about war. He is wry, and funny, and sad, and informative all at the same time, and he can sustain these feelings even within more academic essays. I have read most of Fussell’s work and he never fails to disappoint technically and tonally. His essay structures are masterful from the seed to the skin and all the flesh in between.

Lately, when I want to write sweetly, I read E.B. White. He can write beautiful observational essays that have very subtle conflict. I can’t do that yet. When I want to get out of an essay funk I read John D’Agata’s The Next American Essay anthology. It helps to remind me of all the ways in which the craft can be stretched, the risks mid- and late twentieth century essayists took with their work, and the ways these risks have changed the craft.

When I want to read essays that are like music, and I need to think about the art of weaving in an essay, I read James Baldwin. This is a constant for me; Baldwin is one of my go-to writers.

When I want to see how far I can bend something I am working on, in both fiction and nonfiction, I have lately been turning to Italo Calvino, usually Cosmicomics, or Fabio Morabito’s Toolbox, which is a lovely, weird book. For fiction, I have spent some time lately with Shirley Jackson, Carol Shields, Charles Portis, and Toni Morrison, though I have read and re-read Morrison and Shields for years. I feel a great comfort re-reading books I love, and I learn from the re-reads.

A&L: Describe your writing space. Where do you write most often? What is your routine?

DD: I try to write every day, but sometimes I don’t. I use non-writing days to think about what I’m working on. I roll ideas over in my mind, try things on for size, consider options. I play with my options so much in my head that when I finally do write, I think it is easier because I don’t have as much to try out on paper.

My writing space is dull. At home it is a small, plain wood desk that faces a wall. It’s not fancy It’s not decorated. There is nothing special on it. It’s in a common room. I sit on a wood chair with a blanket on the seat. I can block out sounds of the house if I don’t hear any actual words aimed at me. I learned to do this when my kids were little, because I didn’t have an office and I wrote either in the laundry room standing up with my laptop on top of the dryer, or in the bathroom, sitting on top of the toilet. Those were the only places I could go where no one would bother me, unless I wrote in the middle of the night, which I also did. After scraping out that kind of writing existence, a plain, wood desk that faces a wall feels like a luxury.

Now, in the mornings, I make breakfast, my husband and I take the dogs for a walk, then he drives to work, and I work out. Once I exercise, I can sit down and concentrate. I turn off my phone and try to get in two to three hours before lunch. Then my husband comes home, and we eat salad and walk the dogs again. Then I ride my bike to the public library and work there for another three hours, or for as long as I can stand to sit still. I wrote a terrible book there when I was nineteen. I wrote my most recent book there, and it turned out better. Even with progress, some things never change. I still like the public library.

A&L: Bonus question: Describe your writing life in 140 characters or less (the length of a Tweet).

DD: Writing is a #playground. An essay is #anotherplanet. Fiction is a #realworld. Art (yours and mine) is a #wildthing to be protected.


Dawn Davies is the author of the essay collection Mothers of Sparta: A Memoir in Pieces (Flatiron Books, 2018). Her fiction and nonfiction have been published in numerous journals, including Fourth Genre, The Missouri Review, Ninth Letter, Narrative, and others. She is proud to have been the 2016 recipient of the A&L Susan Atefat Prize in Creative Nonfiction. Davies lives in Florida.

Announcing the A&L Pushcart Nominations



Our editors have reviewed all the work we published in 2017 to choose work to nominate for the Pushcart Prize. If you’ve missed these poetry and prose selections, we hope you’ll check them out in Issues 34 and 35. Thank you to all the authors who seek out Arts & Letters as a platform to publish your work!

Issue 34

Peter Schireson: “Immigration Policy”
Emily Wolahan: “The Direct Account of Frank Thomas”

Issue 35

Sophia Galifianakis: “In My Mother’s Kitchen”
Leslie Pietrzyk: “People Love a View”
Ivan Himanen: “The Architect Gets Grandfathered”

Winter Subscription Sale


For the readers on your gift list this year (or for yourself!), check out our subscription and back issue sales. Buy a subscription to Arts & Letters for yourself, and receive a free gift subscription for a friend. Each subscription comes with the current issue, featuring the A&L Prize winners along with the upcoming spring issue when it’s released, which will include the Unclassifiable Contest winner. When you order online, send us an email (at [email protected]) with your friend’s address and a personalized note to include.

You can find all of these deals on our store website too:


Unclassifiable Contest 2017 Winner and Finalists!

Our Unclassifiable Contest has ended, and a winner has been chosen by our judge, Michael Martone!


Shawndra Miller, “Bleeding the Butterfly”

Jolene McIlwain, “In All This Rain”
Julie Fisher, “Family Portrait with Trees”
Ted Mathys, “Ring Cycle”
Christina Olson, “The Pain Museum”
Brian Whalen, “Living Archive”

Martone writes of “Bleeding the Butterfly,” this year’s winner, “I always like when a piece of writing organically connects its content with form. Here, we have not so much a collage but more a delicate dancing decoupage of compositional bursts, mapping the bifurcated branches of consciousness and the unconscious, madness and sanity. The prose, dare I say, flits. It moves and darts, and its bleeding is arterial with its syncopated beats and repeats. I was impressed by the mess of it, the ordered disorder that replicates the subject at hand. That is to say: how does the mind think about itself? Answer: with such mirrors of reflection, with such surprising metamorphosis, with such delicate but startling beats of papillae, of Lepidoptera, of cocoon, of nymph—all the same old same old and yet remarkably different.”

Thank you to all those who submitted, for stretching our minds and engaging our imaginations! We hope to see your work again next year!

Issue 35 Has Arrived!

Issue 35 is out and we are eager to share it with you!

In this autumnal issue we are featuring the winner of the Rumi Prize for Poetry, George Looney; the winner of the Arts & Letters Prize for Fiction, Leslie Kirk Campbell; and the winner of the Susan Atefat Prize for Creative Nonfiction, Courtney Zoffness. Come check out their work and the work of our other fine contributors! You can order your copy online in print or digital formats at the Arts & Letters Exchange.

This fall, Arts & Letters is all about triangles!


If you’ve already read Issue 35, and you’re feeling inspired, remember that we are currently open for general submissions!

Remembering Naira Kuzmich

The Arts & Letters staff was saddened by news of contributor Naira Kuzmich’s death two weeks ago. Naira’s short story, “Beginning Armenian,” from Issue 27 can be found here, and is also excerpted below.


Adjectives are steadfast; while the noun it’s describing may change in number, the adjective remains the same.

Illness in a family can either break or strengthen it and there was never a time that I thought we’d fall apart. My parents were, in their own ways, people of action. I kept them busy. Dad put in more hours to pay my bills, my mother worried. The summer I came home from school, after my failed dalliances in poetry and sex, I began my treatment.

Young women with breast cancer are treated aggressively. Doctors try to leave no chance for the human spirit to weaken, for it to play a part. They think that young patients aren’t as resilient, that they generally have not been tested. He recommended that I have my left breast removed. A mastectomy. The tumor clocked in at 1.96 centimeters, small enough to have a lumpectomy, a procedure that could’ve saved most of my breast tissue, but he didn’t want to risk it. Do you want to risk it, he asked. And what could I tell him—that a man had yet to touch that left breast with love, yet to stand quiet, in awe, of my body, at the foot of my bed? Of course not, I told him. Get rid of the whole thing.

Before the surgery, I told my father to buy a lot of plastic chairs, just in case, for all the mourners. Our apartment was too small and they’d have to remember me outside in the backyard, where I had first jumped rope without a bra. Months later, drunk and in the dark, I’d jump again, staring at the expanse where my left breast used to be, my vision blurring until I saw what I wanted. My mother had watched from the living room window.

The surgery went as planned, and as hoped. After a course of chemo, we can talk about reconstructive surgery, the doctor said. So I did that too, lost my hair at twenty, bought my first wig, then my second, wore chest expanders, got the implant. I was back in school two years later, finished with my treatment at twenty-two, college at twenty-four.

Looking back, I don’t want to say it was easy, but that it was merely easier than my mother thought it would be. It was easier than my mother’s long dying.

All that energy in our bodies, those magical neurons, the little synapses and nerves that shine and sparkle in recognition and memory, all of that is for the young, but for what? There wasn’t much I needed to remember.


The second person singular is used only among the common people.

It’s not easy to take care of someone who doesn’t know why she needs to be taken care of. At first, I only came home a weekend a month, sitting with my mother and telling her about my students, my new friends, describing the paintings I purchased in extraordinary detail. I called more often than I used to. I gave my father addresses for respectable homes that would take both of them in. He refused, as did my mother, in the beginning, when she still had choices, could still make them. She was only sixty when diagnosed. One time she left the house and came back seven hours later from God knows where. She certainly didn’t. I began coming home twice a month. My tickets were round-trips. I’d brush her graying hair­—though she still had plenty of black—and I’d tell her about my cat, Lola, the time she vomited on my shoes, my favorite restaurant on Mission Street, the bum on the bus beside me who hollered, “You think your shit doesn’t smell like shit?” when I asked him to stop touching my knee. Another time, my mother knocked over a vase and walked over the glass, feet bleeding, to get to the ringing phone. It was me on the other end. More than once she attacked my father with whatever she could get her hands on—a pen, a spatula, tweezers—thinking him a stranger. I started coming home every weekend.

And it’s not like it is in the movies. There are no happy endings, because there’s no real story, because you forget to ask for one. Because you forget, too, sitting there in front of your disappearing mother, that you’re not talking just to fill the silence. You forget that you should be listening, trying to piece together everything she says, every delusion and nonsense memory. Every strange thing, you should’ve written down, you should’ve recorded every scary laugh. You should’ve tried to keep her talking even as she started crying when she lost her train of thought. You should’ve asked more questions. But sitting there in front of your disappearing mother, you were thinking this is the hardest thing I have ever done and you were thinking, dear God, haven’t I been through enough?

The only one who believed in you was your mother. The doctor was right to take your breast.


The colon is not a colon, but a period. It is two fistfuls of dirt, one on top of the other. It is not a permission to speak or to sing.

If there is a God, then we deserve to be in sorrow only three times in our lives: at birth, at the weddings of our children, and then the minute before our passing. While I was undergoing treatment, my mother was trying to make deals with the devil. Ten years off mine for every extra year you give her. A wrinkle around my eyes for every month you keep her alive. My breast for her breast. Mind for her body.

My mother died a million deaths.

I want to say that I died right there along with her, but that would be a lie. Soot as we say in Armenian, like dirt, absolute shit. I’m back in LA, alive and well. I’m standing in front of a classroom, teaching middle-aged women how to read and write in a language they already know. My students claim to be from the village, all twenty-eight of them. Yes, Professor Chopuryan, we speak Hayeren, but mother and father never taught us how to spell our names or read letters. Cows to milk, floors to wash, wet clothes to hang, lots to do, so much. And I want to believe them, every single one. Nazik Chatinyan with her outlandish highlights and purple eyebrows, imitation Gucci blouses. Anahit Hagopyan, beautiful and quiet, graying hair and a purse-full of tissues and pictures. Gayane Poghosyan, mother of four, chipped nails and cheap mascara. Perhaps they are all from the village, maybe not the same one, but did I not pass many while in Armenia?

I listen to these women’s stories and nod in the right places. I smile and sympathize and take them for their word. I look at their faces and tell them, Go on, I’m listening.

Tell me everything. Soots or truths.

Talk. Say anything, anything at all. *

Ampersand Interview Series: Elisabeth Murawski

Ampersand Logo

Kicking off the first interview in our new series, Ampersand, in which we ask former contributors about their writing lives, we spoke with Elisabeth Murawski earlier this week about juggling work and writing, amongst other things. A long time contributor, Murawski’s poems have appeared in Issue 27 and Issue 31, and we are excited to publish new poems from her in an upcoming issue.


A&L: What sort of thing did you write about when you first started writing?

Elisabeth Murawski: One of my first poems, written in college, dealt with rebellion and injustice. A forgettable line (which I haven’t forgotten!): “Convention, I defy you!” Another was based on one of my mother’s stories about someone who liked to set fires. The final line, verbatim from my mother, was “he grows pines.” The rest of the story hadn’t prepared me for that conclusion, but it made for a fine ending, quirky and blunt. Later, there were love poems when I met the man I married. And spiritual sonnets. I wrote fairly accessible stuff at first, but then I discovered Neruda and Vallejo and began to tap into the unconscious and dreams. I wanted that richness of language and imagery, but the results sometimes verged on the opaque and obscure. Eventually I balanced that tendency when I discovered the T’ang dynasty poets. Such clarity and simplicity! And then there was Plath. I resonated to those clipped, edgy lines. I saw her as a sort of oracle telling me you can do this, too.

A&L: What is the toughest bad writing habit that you have had to break, or do you advocate for embracing bad habits?

EM: For years I earned a living writing government training materials, which emphasize plain language and a logical “how to” style. The goal is to help the trainee learn a job; careful and clear explanation is prized. No place for ambiguity, for intuitive leaps. Still, years into retirement, I may find myself slipping into that flat, declarative mode. I’m not sure why it happens; maybe my brain defaults to a blow by blow approach when I’m tired or stressed. Maybe I’m afraid of being called obscure and inaccessible. In my efforts to be understood, I can and do get wordy, include too much, forgetting to give the poem space, the reader space to think and absorb. This even though I realize what is not said can be as important as what is. I admit that in my efforts to “make it better,” I may tinker too much and lose a poem’s magic. One of the ways I’ve handled this tendency is to let the draft sit a while. A few weeks away from what I thought to be complete can be illuminating.

A&L: Do you enjoy reading you work aloud? Centuries ago, poems, and stories were most often sung, not read. How’s your singing voice?

EM: I do enjoy reading my poems aloud. Not only at readings but while I’m working on them in the draft stage. In a way it’s writing for the ear, the equivalent of printing out the poem for the eye—I’ll often see that something isn’t working when I can hold the printed page in my hand. Reading aloud helps me catch the awkward places, the dead spaces, the clunky language not always evident on the page or screen. Hearing the words and their juxtaposition, I ask myself is there music, does it flow? Often I may associate to some other, better, image or word that improves the poem’s cumulative, overall effect. In workshops I’ve stressed to students the importance of this reading-aloud exercise. When I’m lazy, and don’t practice what I preach, I may end up with a poem that needs to be hospitalized. *


Elisabeth Murawski is the author of Zorba’s Daughter (Utah State University Press, 2010), which received the May Swenson Poetry Award, Moon and Mercury (Washington Writers Publishing House, 1990), and two chapbooks. Heiress will be published in the fall of 2018 by Texas Review Press. She is also a Hawthornden fellow. Publications include: The Yale Review, FIELD, The Hudson Review, et al. A native of Chicago, she currently resides in Virginia, in another Alexandria.

Our Reading Period Opens Today!

Thank you to everyone who submitted to the Unclassifiables Contest! We’re excited to start reviewing your work. Watch for finalists announced this fall. In the meantime, we’re reading fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and flash fiction starting today for our regular reading period. You can read our guidelines here and read digital back issues for only $3 for the rest of the month to acquaint yourself with the journal. Get to know us by reading authors we’ve published. For a limited time, a subscription includes a full year and a half (three issues) of Arts & Letters issues to peruse.

Announcing 19th Annual Arts & Letters Prize Winners

A&L Prize Winners 2017

Congratulations to the winners of our 19th Annual Arts & Letters Prizes. Winners in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction receive $1000 and publication in the upcoming Fall issue of Arts & Letters. The Drama Prize winner receives $500 and a travel stipend to see his one-act play performed at Georgia College and State University.

Rumi Prize for Poetry
Judge: Richard Garcia
WINNER: George Looney, for poems after photographs by Walker Evans

“’It Isn’t Always Classical’—the first line is a great opening for a poem, I can imagining a story or even a novel starting with those lines—‘Waiting it out is what those who live here/would say they’re up to, if asked.’ These are poems with complicated, nostalgic narratives, with many characters, some alive at the time of the photo, some absent or deceased. There is mention of music in the poems, and they seem to have a ghostly soundtrack. These poems are of a high achievement, complicated, intelligent, and lyrical.”

—Richard Garcia


Keith Wilson
Jennie Malboeuf
Lucas Jacob
Richard Widerkehr
Kateri Kosek
Samuel Piccone
Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley
Patricia Colleen Murphy


Fiction Prize
Judge: Amy Hassinger
WINNER: Leslie Campbell, for “The Tasmanians”

“I found this story rich with the heavy content of its characters’ lives, particularly Mariam’s, as she tries—and fails—to escape from a past that haunts her mercilessly. The narrative is as full of well-chosen objects as her own closet, and they seem to spill out into the story and take it over in a way that supports her drastic decision at the end…. I love how the story is weighted with a larger sense of history—the world pressing itself into the lives of these very specific characters in their very specific universe. Beautifully done.”

—Amy Hassinger


Wes Civilz, for “First World Problem”
Stephen Hundley, for “Dog”
Sarah Earle Záhořík, for “The Present Unreal”


Susan Atefat Prize for Creative Nonfiction
Judge: Sonja Livingston
WINNER: Courtney Zoffness, for “It May All End in Aleppo”

“’It May All End in Aleppo’ is worthy of a prize for the language alone. A gorgeous meditation on place, the writing is lush and descriptive and brings together images of 1960’s Aleppo with the haunting images of modern Syria we’ve all seen. But it’s the added twist of the writer’s perspective as a ghostwriter—and her palpable association to her subject and his beautiful war-torn birthplace—that makes this piece so unique. The writer conveys not only the minarets and pomegranates and rug stalls of old Aleppo, but the ugliness, too, the history of intolerance, the fleeing families, the child washed ashore. More than anything, the essay illustrates the life-changing and tender connection that comes when we open ourselves so fully to another’s story.” 

—Sonja Livingston


Margaret MacInnis, for “Being Dorothy in Kuwait”
David Rompf, for “False Vertigo”
Elizabeth Mosier, for “From Scratch”
Kelly Bowen, for “Mystic Trinities”
Barbara Tran, for “The Living Room”


Drama Prize
Judge: Iona Sun
WINNER: Marc Aronoff, for “The Lantern Bearers”

“I chose ‘The Lantern Bearers’ because it has a simple elegance that unfolds the complex tale of a man and woman. The dialogue has a unique style that undulates and will be a great challenge to direct next spring.”

—Iona Sun


Cary Pepper, for “Death Does Larry”
Robert Daseler, for “Obelists at Sea”
Rachel Joseph, for “Stripped”
Joseph Eastburn, for “The Godhead”
Mark Fink, for “The Happy Place”
Kristin Hanratty, for “Wine”


Many congratulations to all of our finalists! 2018 Prize submissions will open in February.

The Unclassifiables Contest is Now Open

The Unclassifiables Contest is officially open. This is our third year of reading manuscripts that don’t quite fit the rigid labels of prose or poetry. Send us work that blurs, bends, blends, erases, or obliterates genre and other labels. Holding onto a manuscript that vaguely resembles this beast?

The Unclassifiables Contest opens May 1st.

Send it our way!

Michael Martone will judge the contest and select a winner to receive $500. The Unclassifiable work will be published in an upcoming issue, and finalists will also be considered for publication. Issue 34 includes last year’s winner and work from a couple of finalists if you want to see what we have published in the past.

Submit online between now and the end of July!

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @ArtsLettersGC and use #Unclassifiable to tell us what genre-bending works you’re enjoying this summer!

Get your Copy of Issue 34!

Issue 34 just arrived, and we’re excited to show it to you! This issue features the Unclassifiable winner, Emily Wolahan, as well as a couple of finalists from the contest. If you’re interested in submitting to the Unclassifiable Contest next month, this would be a great issue to check out for some inspiration. It also arrived just in time for National Poetry Month. Our standard issue size wasn’t big enough to fit all the great poetry that landed on our desk, so it’s a little longer than our past issues! You can order it online in print or digital formats at the Arts & Letters Exchange.

We’re not the only ones who think it’s great, either–and we can assure you our managing editor’s cat has great taste in books.


Last Day to Submit to the A&L Prize Competition

The 19th Annual Arts & Letters Prize Competition will come to a close tonight at midnight. We are excited to review all of the great work you have sent us and to select finalists to send to our judges, Richard Garcia, Amy Hassinger, Sonja Livingston, and Iona Sun. There’s still time to send us your work today, but if you miss this deadline, the Unclassifiable Contest is coming up in May for work that isn’t defined by a single genre. And of course, keep checking back to hear the finalists announced!

Interview with Micah Dean Hicks, Past Fiction Prize Winner

Our managing editor, Abbie Lahmers, interviewed Micah Dean Hicks, last year’s winner of the Arts & Letters Fiction Prize. His winning story, “The Deer,” can be read in Issue 33.

Abbie Lahmers: It seems like you write a lot of magical realism/fabulism, or stories that take place in similar but slightly different universes than our own. How do you navigate world-building and coming up with, for instance, the idea of a deer boy?

Micah Dean Hicks: For this story, I’d been reading a lot of fairy tales. People being transformed into animals was a common theme. I started thinking about how sad it would be for the opposite to happen, for a wild animal to become trapped in a human body.

A similar thing happened when I read the Brothers Grimm tale “The Six Swans.” In that story, six brothers are transformed into swans for six years. It struck me that the youngest boy would have been very young when he was turned into a bird. How would it feel to live half your life as one thing and half as another? Would you even know what you were after that? Would you want to be human again? That grew into my story “Church of Birds,” which was recently published in Kenyon Review Online.

I usually start with a weird image or a magical conceit. That’s what gets me interested in the story to begin with. Recent images have included an old woman baking the dead back to life in her oven, a child clacking shed antlers together, a taxidermist making a wedding dress out of fur and fang, a place where seashells rain from the sky, and a boy with the swan wing. From there, I start asking questions. Why are these shed antlers important to the child? What is his life like? What is painful for him?

As far as the rest of the world-building, I draw pretty heavily from where I grew up in rural Arkansas. That palette of images and colors makes its way into everything I write. In a place like that, it isn’t hard to imagine fairy tales and fables crawling out of the woods.

AL: Tell me a little about your book, Electricity and Other Dreams—I recently ordered it and am looking forward to reading it! What should I expect?

MDH: That’s very kind of you! The stories are about things like plumbers who exorcise ghosts, jugglers who become criminals, and electricians who can bring light with a touch.

At the time I wrote them, I was reading a lot of Aimee Bender and Hans Christian Andersen. The stories have a flat, fairy tale quality. A lot of characters are unnamed—the plumber, the electrician, the old woman, etc. They’re very interested in mythmaking and archetype.

AL: What are you working on now that you’re most excited about?

MDH: I recently finished a new collection of fabulist and fairy-tale-inspired stories. The working title is Chant. With this new collection, I’m trying to dive much deeper into character psychology than I have before. I’m also playing more with voice, trying to make the language muscular and musical.

And I’m currently working on a novel about a poor Kansas town plagued by ghosts. The town is slowly collapsing, the only employer left a pork processing plant that maims and mistreats its workers. Generations of ghosts who have watched everything they care about wither, so they possess the living and try to reclaim what they lost. I’ve been working on it for a few years now. Each time I think it’s done, I realize something foundational isn’t working, and I end up rewriting it from scratch. It’s been a pretty humbling experience. I’m hoping to have a final version of it ready by late summer, though.

AL: What advice do you have for writers considering submitting to the A&L Prize contest or other contests and journals?

MDH: I just took up this question with my Editing and Publishing students. I had them look at contest-winning poems and stories from several journals and asked, “Why did these win? What’s special about them?” Aside from the fact that everything we read was so incredibly good—Mikayla Ávila Vilá’s “Trumpeteers” in Boston Review, Katie Knoll’s “Red” in The Masters Review, and Rochelle Hurt’s poem “Kaleidoscope” in Phoebe Journal, to name three—I think a lot of it comes down to voice. If you can tell your story in a way that hums and crackles electric, if you can make it sound like nothing else, readers will pay attention.

A good voice seems to make its own slang. The first line of Hurt’s poem reads, “We blow our paper on toe rings & studded spandex, then go all-pennies-in on who’s first to leave the / water undressed.” When I first read that poem, I was stunned by the phrase “go all-pennies-in.” What a great way to say that.

Voice was a major concern for me with “The Deer.” I kept rewriting the first page, over and over, until I liked the sound of the sentences. Using good verbs and images was important. I wanted the speaker’s world to feel like a very tactile, physical place, sticky and sharp.

The hard thing about writing an aggressive, pop-the-reader-in-the-eye voice is that you still have to be as clear as possible. If reading the story is a chore, we’ll put it down.

AL: What are you reading right now? And, the unavoidable question—who are some of your literary (or non-literary) influences?

MDH: Right now, I’m working through Lauren Groff’s Delicate Edible Birds and Ken Liu’s The Paper Menagerie. Liu is so inventive and a great storyteller. With Groff, I’m amazed at how layered and rich her stories are. She’s so masterful at character, too. I think about characterization a lot, because it doesn’t come naturally to me. In the last few years, I’ve worked really hard on character from the standpoint of the reader: How do you make the reader fall in love with your character? Groff is great at that, but what’s more impressive is how she manages character vs. character relationships. Any two people she puts on the page have so much history, so much conflict, so much messy and strange love between them. I’m in awe of that.

As far as influences, there have been so many. They stack up like geologic strata. If I had to pick one moment that was formative for me as a writer it would be reading the stories of Gabriel García Márquez. He had this perfect way of marrying the supernatural—winged men, women who pass through walls, alchemy, ghost ships—with rural poverty. Because of where I grew up, that resonated so strongly with me. His stories felt like home, even though he and I come from very different places. I’d never seen anyone do that before, and it showed me how to blend my interest in magical narratives with my own experience. Before reading him, I never really wrote about where I came from. He showed me how to do that. *


The 19th Annual Arts & Letters Prize Competition is still open for submissions through March 31st!

Micah Dean Hicks is a Calvino Prize-winning author of fabulist fiction. His work has appeared in The New York Times MagazineKenyon Review OnlineEPOCH, and Arts & Letters, among others. His story collection, Electricity and Other Dreams, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. He teaches in the BFA program in creative writing at Arkansas Tech University.

Interview with Kirun Kapur, Past Poetry Prize Winner

One of our editors, Alexandra McLaughlin, interviewed Kirun Kapur, winner of the 2013 Arts & Letters Rumi Poetry Prize. Her poem, “From the Afterlife,” can be found here and in Issue 27.

Alexandra McLaughlin: I see that you’ve lived and traveled all over the world—growing up in Hawaii, living and working in North America and South Asia. How has this influenced your poetry?

Kirun Kapur: When I began assembling poems for my first book, I showed one of the earliest manuscript drafts to a poet I trust and admire. He said, “I love the poems individually, but when I read them all together they give me whiplash.” He meant that the book was constantly shifting—without warning—across the world, across time, and he found it jarring. One minute the reader is in America, the next in India or Pakistan, then back again; it’s 1947, then the present day, then in some mythical time, then, suddenly, 1947 again. Looking back, it makes perfect sense that he would notice that motion and I would not. Like many people who grow up between countries, languages and cultures, I’ve spent my entire life crossing back forth. It’s so instinctive I hardly notice it. “Whiplash” has been a way of life for me, and rather than jarring, I find it a marvelous source of energy and inspiration. I realized then that I wanted to preserve the qualities of motion and plurality. But I also understood the criticism. I needed to work more to make the experience fruitful for the reader. I wanted the “whiplash” to add to the poems and the book. Some of the hardest work I did on the manuscript was figuring out how to move the reader meaningfully through history, culture and geography. So, I think it’s fair to say that my wanderings have been at the center of my poems, even when I couldn’t see it.

AM: Can you describe the time when you first realized that being creative and writing poetry was what you wanted to do?

KK: I’ve wanted to make poems for as long as I can remember—even before I was entirely sure what a poem might be. My father was (and is) a wonderful storyteller. When I was little, he would tell stories to put us to sleep. We’d all pile into my parents’ bed with the lights turned off and listen. For me, a beloved voice in the dark is still a moving and profound experience. So, perhaps the impulse and interest came from there. I’m not sure. In any case, wanting to make poems didn’t seem like the sort of thing you could admit out loud. On a school trip to the Big Island, we’d watched a volcanologist walk on crust of cooled lava, step over a stream of molten rock, and use special instruments to draw liquid fire from inside the earth. This seemed just as exciting and far more practical than poetry! For a long time after I told everyone I wanted to be a volcanologist.

AM: Do you have any creative patterns or rituals?

KK: I love the idea of rituals. I’ve always wanted to have creative rituals, but, these days, it’s not feasible. I fit my writing around other obligations (work, family etc.). Every day is different. Once in a while I have whole, beautiful, blank hours in which to read and write and think, uninterrupted. Other days I work on two lines in the parking lot before a meeting or edit a stanza while I’m waiting for water to boil on the stove. Someday, though, I’ll have special (admirable!) rituals involving long walks and tea.

AM: Tell me about your debut collection, Visiting Indira Gandhi’s Palmist. What was the process of putting that together like? What inspired it?

KK: Visiting Indira Gandhi’s Palmist is a collection of poems that ricochets from 1940s India to Biblical pastorals, from American bars to the battlefield of the Bhagavad-Gita. The book explores history, family ties, personal identity and the harrowing collisions of love and violence that force us to reinvent our culture and ourselves. The poems are populated by an array of characters—mothers and fathers, princes and soldiers, daughters and lovers—who struggle to understand our most fundamental stories and our most enduring human bonds.

Part of Visiting Indira Gandhi’s Palmist is inspired by Partition, the 1947 division of British India into the modern nations of Indian and Pakistan. Partition led to the largest human migration in modern history. Close to 20 million people lost their homes and livelihoods; almost 2 million lost their lives. The story of Partition was something I really wanted to address in this book. It was a story that was always present in my house (my father lived through it), though it was rarely talked about out loud. In part, I wanted these poems to respond to those silences, to be the voices I sensed but didn’t hear.

I began publishing poems in journals immediately after I finished grad school, but it took me some time to publish my first book. I edited the poems relentlessly, cutting out large sections, writing and rewriting. Convinced the poems weren’t good enough—or maybe that I wasn’t good enough—I gave up a number of times. Finding a structure that could accommodate multiple cultures, landscapes, historical events and mythological worlds was daunting. But, somehow, I just couldn’t stop. I kept working on it. Eventually, I did send the manuscript out. In 2013, it won the Antivenom Poetry Prize and was published by Elixir Press in 2015.

AM: What have you been working on recently?

KK: At present, I’m procrastinating! I’m getting myself ready to begin assembling a new manuscript. I’ve printed everything out. The pile of pages is sitting on my desk, reproachfully, held together with a massive binder clip. Somehow, I’m not up to facing them quite yet. So, I’ve been writing a series of ghazals. Procrastination ghazals. I love the ghazal form. They are difficult to do well in English, so it’s the perfect mind-absorbing project.

AM: Any advice for writers?

KK: Don’t give up. Read more and write more. Then revise again, even when you think you can’t.

Follow your interests and your instincts, especially the weird ones.

Try to remember that nothing is wrong with you if you are plagued by self-doubt. You can learn to write with it (or from under it).

Find a true friend or two. Your friends will tell you (gently) when your work isn’t what it should be and will have faith in you when you doubt yourself. Your friends will prop you up and cheer you on, talk you off the ledge and read your thousandth draft. Their miraculous work will inspire you.

AM: What are you reading right now?

KK: I just finished The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch and A Pillow Book by Suzanne Buffam. They’re very different books, but both are lyrical, economical and beautiful. I’m now knee deep in a fine biography of photographer Dorothea Lange and I’m re-reading the excellent Pakistani poet Kishwar Naheed.*


The 19th Annual Arts & Letters Prize Competition is still open for submissions through March 31st!

Kirun Kapur is the winner of the Arts & Letters Rumi Prize in Poetry and the Antivenom Poetry Award for her first book, Visiting Indira Gandhi’s Palmist (Elixir Press, 2015). Her work has appeared in AGNI, Poetry International, FIELD, Prairie Schooner, The Christian Science Monitor and many other journals. She has taught creative writing at Boston University and at Brandeis University and is currently a visiting writer at Amherst College. Kapur has been awarded fellowships from The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Vermont Studio Center and MacDowell Colony. She is the director of the New England arts program, The Tannery Series, and serves as Poetry Editor at The Drum Literary Magazine. She was recently named an “Asian-American poet to watch” by NBC news. Kapur grew up in Honolulu and now lives north of Boston.

Dinner with Amy Hassinger: Some Advice and Inspiration


Left to right: Ernestine Montoya, Amy Hassinger, Teri Grimm, Julia Wagner

Ernestine Montoya, one of our assistant fiction editors, spoke with our A&L Fiction Prize judge, Amy Hassinger:

On Tuesday, March 7th, Amy Hassinger visited Georgia College to read from her latest novel, After the Dam. The book tells the story of Rachel, a new mother who travels back to her grandmother’s farm in Maine, where she spent her childhood summers and met her first love. Though she initially returns to care for the ailing Grand, Rachel also hopes her time there can be spent reclaiming herself. I had the opportunity to meet Amy and her friend and colleague, the poet Terry Grimm, who also read from her latest poetry collection, during their time in Milledgeville. In the flesh, Amy is bright-eyed, insightful, and well-spoken. Perhaps most notably, she is wise in the ways of the writer, both as a career and an art. Don’t worry. I took some notes.


  1. Fictional females are easy fodder for criticism. Consumers of any genre, be it prose, television, film, or celebrity gossip, are quick to judge the actions of women, especially when those women are mothers. After spending time with book groups that read the novel, Amy realized a similar theme: they were most infuriated by Rachel’s decisions when those decisions affected her newborn, Deirdre. This is understandable, of course, but it does lead to a recurrent conundrum: expecting women in fiction, mothers or not, to be above reproach. Luckily for us, Amy’s novels, which all feature a female protagonist as the central character, are not concerned with painting a portrait of the perfect woman, but rather, a sometimes wise, foolish, relatable, infuriating, lovely, complicated, and yes, at times unlikable, human.


  1. The P-word is alive and well— but not unbeatable. For any female professional, there is one word that, if we allow it, can wield immense power: pushy. The P-word can be innocuous and deadly. The P-word can keep us from asking for job opportunities or favors. But the P-word is largely gendered. Men do not often experience such anxiety when they are simply asking for what they want. After discussing this odd phenomenon with Amy and Terry, I was reminded of a simple fact: it is okay to ask for things.


  1. Be nice. To a young writer, the writing world can at times feel impenetrable and daunting, but it is a small one, after all. Make connections, be genuine, and do what you can to help other writers succeed. Ask magazines if they’d like to publish book reviews that you’ve written about up-and-coming writers’ novels. Be honest about your experience with the book, but your goal is not to be the Renata Adler of small press book reviews. (Though if there were such a person, I confess I would be curious.) You are, rather, sharing with other readers what can be gained from the work, making a connection with the author of the book, and adding to your own professional experience. No nastiness required.


Though I am happy to share what I learned, I must express regret that you did not hear the words directly from Amy. Her presence in person is difficult to describe, but I will say this: she has that rare quality, quickly vanishing from modern times—when Amy listens to you, it is impossible not to feel interesting. And considering the kind, intelligent source, that is saying quite a lot.


It’s not too late to submit to the Arts & Letters Fiction Prize, judged by Amy Hassinger – the contest closes March 31st!


A&L Prize Submissions Open Through March

The 19th Annual Arts & Letters Prize Competition opens just in time for AWP. Our staff of readers and editors will be at booth 311 all day Thursday through Saturday to talk about the contest and recommend some of our personal favorite stories, essays, and poems from the last few issues. Issue 33, our most recent, will be available for a discounted price to browse through past winners of the A&L Prize: work by Micah Dean Hicks, Jude Nutter, and Dawn Davies. The best way to know what we’re looking for is to read what we’re publishing. We’ll be reading contest entries through the end of March.

If you’re at the conference, say hi to us at booth 311. If you’ve contributed to A&L, stop by for a picture with our editors and a pin!


A&L Prize Judges Announced

We’re excited to have Richard Garcia, Amy Hassinger, and Sonja Livingston as judges for the 19th Annual Arts & Letters Prize Contest. Submissions open in February!

Last Month to Submit…

Our New Year’s resolution is to read more of your great work—help us out by submitting to Arts & Letters while you still can! Our reading period will only be open until the end of January, and we’ll be busy reading through the end of the month. If you’re feeling really ambitious, wait until February when the Arts & Letters Prize contest opens in all genres, including drama! The new judges will be announced soon, so keep checking back. Guidelines can be found here:

Gift Subscriptions are Back!

If you’re looking for holiday gifts for your literary friends, look no further! From now until the end of December, when you order a subscription of Arts & Letters, we’ll send one to a friend too. After you order through the Arts & Letters Exchange, send us an email ([email protected]) with your friend’s address and a message to send to them with the journal. A subscription includes our most recent issue, Issue 33, and will be followed by Issue 34 when it comes out in the spring. It only costs $20 to receive two subscriptions—one for yourself, and one for your friend!

All our other products are on sale too. Digital issues are only $4 and our most recent issue, featuring Arts & Letters Prize winners in all genres, is going for $8!

Pushcart Prize Nominations Announced!

Our assistant editors and interim editor, Peter Selgin, reviewed all the work we published in 2016 to decide on the six pieces to nominate for the Pushcart Prize. If you’ve missed these poetry and prose selections, we hope you’ll check them out in Issues 32 and 33. Thank you to all the authors who seek out Arts & Letters as a platform to publish your work!

Issue 32

Christopher McIlroy: “Camouflage”

Issue 33

Jude Nutter: “Iuana: Day Zero Plus Twenty-One”
Dawn Davies: “Mothers of Sparta”
Laurie Baker: “Love Them All, Trust No One”
Kerry Neville: “Remember to Forget Me”
Micah Dean Hicks: “The Deer”

Arts & Letters 33 is here!

The fall issue arrived this week, and we’re excited to show it to you! Issue 33 features winning fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry from Micah Dean Hicks, Dawn Davies, and Jude Nutter. This is a great issue for poetry and flash fiction lovers too. You can order it online at the Arts & Letters Exchange, where the digital edition will be available soon as well.

Check out our back issues at the store too if you want to know what we’re publishing! Our reading period will be open through January.

Give yourself something to be excited about later—pre-order Issue 33 today!

Issue 33 hit the press last month, and we’re looking forward to having the new issues in our hands soon! If you’re excited too, head on over to our store, The Arts & Letters Exchange, to pre-order print copies at a discounted rate. They’re available for only $8 if you order now before it comes out! The issue will feature the Arts & Letters Prize winners: Micah Dean Hicks, Jude Nutter, and Dawn Davies along with great work from the rest of our contributors. We can’t spoil everything, but the cover is perfect for lovers of old linoleum flooring…

Congratulations to Our Past Contributor!

Congratulations to Lina María Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas on receiving a 2016 Writer’s Award from the Rona Jaffe Foundation! Her essay, “BOG-MIA-CID,” appears in Issue 30 of Arts & Letters from Spring 2015. Her nonfiction book, Don’t Come Back, which will include the essay, comes out in January 2017 from Mad River Books, an imprint of the Ohio State Press. The Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Awards program was established to support women writers who have shown exceptional talent at early stages in their writing careers. We are thrilled to hear they have chosen Lina for the award and encourage you to check out her book and read her essay from Issue 30!

Unclassifiable Contest Winner and Finalists Announced!

We are excited to announce the winner of the second annual Unclassifiable Contest, judged by Michael Martone! Congratulations to Emily Wolahan with her winning Unclassifiable piece, “The Direct Account of Frank Thomas.” Her work will appear in the Spring 2017 issue of Arts & Letters.


Jessie van Eerden, “The Whole Painting”
Erik Hoel, “Higher Education”
Kirsten Imani Kasai, “A Snail Without its Shell is a Snail”
Tom Sheehan, “Letter Across Open Waters to Lost Comrades”
Penny Perkins, “My NPR Interview with Terry Gross”
Elizabeth Robinson, “Vulnerability Index”

Michael Martone writes of the winning piece: “What struck me about this solid and solidly articulated collage was the stuffness of all the stuff deployed here. This is the nominative on steroids. Nouns away! Subjected to subject. I like that the material nature of the piece, its artifice, was not just so much material but that it was also, part and parcel, connected to the content. This collage was cantilevered, a through truss bridge I could trust to carry me across the current of genre. It wears its brutalist architecture on its sly sleeve. It is engineered to move and is itself quite moving.”

Of the first finalist, Jessie van Eerden’s “The Whole Painting,” Martone also writes: “…painters have it easy. That wall of paint can be taken in all at once. This piece wants that all-at-onceness, goes all aerosol, creating an atmosphere more than a mean meaning, installs an instillation of words, does not simply re-create on a two dimensional space the illusion of a three dimensional world but throws in one or two more dimensions just for fun.”

Thank you to all who sent us their Unclassifiable work, and we hope you will consider us again for next year’s contest!

Regular Submissions Open Today!

We are now reading for regular submissions in fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and flash fiction! Check out our guidelines here and send us your best work through Submittable. If you’re looking for some examples of what we publish, all our issues are still on sale for half off through the end of the month, but only through the Arts & Letters Exchange. Flip through a print journal or download the digital version to see what we’re all about.

We can’t wait to read your work!

Summer Journal Sale

Here at the A&L office, we’re taking part in spring cleaning a little bit late. We want to get journals off our dusty shelves and into your hands…and also clear out some space for us to work on the upcoming fall issue! From now through August, everything in the Arts & Letters Exchange is going for half-price. That includes digital and print issues as well as subscriptions. Back issues are only $3, so stock up! Our regular reading period opens in August, so now is a great time to read up on what we’re publishing and get ready to submit your own work.

Follow the link above to get to our new store, and feel free to browse the issues for names you know or upcoming writers you’ve been wanting to read. The full indexes are included for each available issue.

Happy reading!

Drama Prize Winner Announced!

Congratulations to Matthew Minnicino, winner of the 2016 Arts & Letters Prize for Drama for “Funny Voices, or a Thing I Cannot Name.”

Judge Iona Holder Sun noted that the quality of play entrants this year was remarkable.

Minnicino will receive a prize of $500, as well as travel expenses to the Georgia College campus, where his winning one-act will be produced in the spring.


James Hutchison
Bara Swain
Rikki Schwartz
Scott Sickles
James Brown
Lynn-Steven Johanson

Digital Subscriptions on Marketplace

If Arts & Letters isn’t already on your summer reading list, now we’re making it easy to have the most recent issue sent to your email right away! From now until the end of July, you can order a digital subscription for only $6—that’s the same cost as a single digital back issue. We recently opened up the Arts & Letters Marketplace, a convenient way for you to order digital and print issues online.

If you order a digital subscription this summer, it will include a PDF of Issue 32, which features the 2015 Unclassifiable winner’s work in color, sent immediately. Issue 33, which will include the 18th Annual Arts & Letters Prize winners, will also be emailed to you when it comes out this fall.

Regular submissions open in August, and reading our most recent issue would be a great way to see what we’re looking for!

Get your digital subscription here!

18th Annual Arts & Letters Prize Winners Announced!

2016 Prize Announcement

Watch for Drama Prize winners to be announced July 1st!

Congratulations to the winners of our 2016 Prize contests, each of whom will receive $1000 and publication in the upcoming Fall issue of Arts & Letters:

Rumi Prize for Poetry
Judge: Carol Frost
WINNER: Jude Nutter, for “Ianua: Day Zero Plus Three” and “Ianua: Day Zero Plus Twenty-One”

“The poems in every [finalist] group show evidence of a poet’s passion for the sounds of words and for the art and imagination in varying mixtures that may result in that prickling feeling on the back of the neck that a reader feels when the poem is that good; but in [this] entry, the achievement is most through and through. I like the poems very much, not only for the elements I described but also for their heart. Congratulations to the poet.”

—Carol Frost


Jessica Guzman Alderman
Leeya Mehta
Laura Sobbott Ross
Emily Cole
Gayle Kaune
Sally Derringer
Roy Mash


Fiction Prize
Judge: Kate Christensen
WINNER: Micah Hicks, for “The Deer”

 “‘The Deer’… is breathtaking and original and gorgeous. Striking, unerring, weird. I was so glad the writer didn’t tip his or her hand, ever: the reality of the story is unbroken. ‘The Deer’ is a riveting fable in its own right, but it also leaves me with a larger sense of a profound human struggle, something universal and shared having to do with our lost connection to our animal natures, our need to dominate and domesticate, because we can’t go back, we can’t regain what we gave up to be human.”

—Kate Christensen


Anne Holbrook, for “Tink’s Town”
Adrienne Bernhard, for “A Fable in Two Parts”
Laine Cunningham, for “The Butterfly Tree”


Susan Atefat Prize for Creative Nonfiction
Judge: Faith Adiele
WINNER: Dawn Davies, for “Mothers of Sparta”

“‘Mothers of Sparta’…is sprawling, tackling topics that seem impossible to write or even contemplate. The author searches medicine, social policy, psychology, ethics, history, mythology and literature for answers. Demonstrating fearlessness and narrative control through repetition, questions and dry wit, she starts humorously and light, then ramps up the horror and dread.” 

—Faith Adiele


Cate Hennessey, for “Chasing Rabbits”
Clinton Peters, for “Giving Fire”
Kelly Allen, for “Some of Us Are Dogs on the Verge of Speaking”

Congratulations to all of our finalists! Prize submissions will reopen February 2017.

Unclassifiables Contest: May 1st

Unclassifiable Contest

The Unclassifiables Contest opens next week on May 1st! It will be open until July 31st, so you have all summer to polish up those genre-bending drafts that you don’t quite know what to do with. We’re looking for work that crosses genres, blurs boundaries, and plays with form. The contest is judged by Michael Martone, and the winner receives $500. More information on guidelines can be found here: Guidelines

Still not quite sure what we’re looking for? Check out last year’s winning piece by Melvin Adams in our archives: “Stoning the Porcupine”

Last Chance to Submit!

The 18th Annual Arts & Letters Prize Contest closes March 31st. That means you still have nine days to send us your best, polished work! We can’t wait to read your poetry, prose, and plays! Our judges this year are:

Poetry: Carol Frost
Creative Nonfiction: Faith Adiele
Fiction: Kate Christensen
Drama: Iona Sun

All contest entries will also be considered for regular publication, and winners receive up to $1,000 and publication. Don’t miss your chance!

A Note on Issue 32

ERRATUM: In our current issue (Spring 2016; Issue 32), María Isabel Alvarez’s “War” is incorrectly listed as Creative Nonfiction in the table of contents. “War” is a work of fiction. We sincerely regret the error. An updated table of contents can be found online as well as in the digital issue, once available.

2016 Poetry Prize Judge, Carol Frost

Carol Frost’s latest collection was published in 2014 by Tupelo Press (Entwined – Three Lyric Sequences). In 2010, The Florida Book Awards gave her their gold medal for Honeycomb. She has new work in Poetry, Kenyon Review, The New Republic and Shenandoah. Frost teaches at Rollins College, where she is the Theodore Bruce and Barbara Lawrence Professor of English, and where she directs Winter With the Writers, a Literary Festival. We’re very pleased to welcome her to the Georgia College campus on March 15th to read from her most recent collection. Frost is also our poetry judge for this year’s Arts & Letters PrizesRead “Lucifer in Florida” and “Man-of-War” from her new collection on our Featured Archives page.

The 18th Annual Arts & Letters Prizes

On February 1st, the 18th annual Arts & Letters Prizes will be open to submissions. This year’s judges are Carol Frost (poetry), Faith Adiele (nonfiction), and Kate Christensen (fiction). Prize winners will receive $1000 and publication in the upcoming fall or spring issue. We look forward to reading your work!

For more information, visit Arts & Letters Prizes.

The New Year’s Digital Deals

From now until the end of February, the Arts & Letters digital issues are available for purchase at discounted prices. Our digital back issues are only $4, and our current digital issue is available for just $5! And remember, our Arts & Letters Prizes Competition begins on February 1st. What better way to prepare than reading up on what we’ve been publishing? Purchase the current issue here and our back issues here.

Holiday Subscription Special

It’s a great time to order an Arts & Letters subscription. From now until the New Year, you can receive upcoming Issues 31 and 32 in the mail and have them sent to a friend for free! Purchase two subscriptions for the price of one: only $20. Don’t forget to leave a message and a second address in your order. Or, if you’re interested in reading up on our back issues, pick one up for only $6!


Unclassifiables Contest 2015 Winner and Finalists!

The Unclassifiables Contest is now open for submissions until July 31st!

Our Unclassifiables Contest has ended, and a winner has been chosen by our judge, Michael Martone!

Melvin Adams, “Stoning the Porcupine”

Reg Darling, “Life in Wartime”
Diane Glancy, “qwertyuiopasdfghjklzxcvbnm”
Anders Howerton, “Cross Over, Boy, Cross Over”
Kendall Klym, “The Dance Quiz”
Andrea Witzke Slot, “The Wall”
Rebecca van Laer, “Do you Fear Palindromes, Too?”

Of this year’s winner, “Stoning the Porcupine”, Martone writes – “I liked very much the true all-out, all-in commitment to collage…the piece is an archipelago of intriguing island word chains. It uses the synaptic white space fully, inviting the reader to improvise and revise the associative leaps. And there are pictures! Sure we are used to now the blending and bending of genres – fiction, nonfiction, poetry – and yet, we are less ready to confuse the categories of “writer”, “editor”, “publisher”, “designer”. “Stoning the Porcupine” is already ready to use the incredibly powerful typesetting tool most of us still use like a hobbled 19th century typewriter, the computer, to mash-up the old assemblage line. This then is an unclassifiable indeed, transgressing genre, sure, and in its deconstruction constructing a whole new classification of author itself.”

Thank you to all who submitted their most creative, thought-provoking, genre-bending work! We hope to read from you again very soon.

A Look Into Our Upcoming Issue: Poet, Todd Davis

Todd Davis’ poems “Burn Barrel” and “By the Rivers of Babylon” hold images that heavily contrast with each other to create a stimulating tension. Davis builds the environments in his poems with great purpose. Of his poetry, Davis writes: “Much of my poetry grows out of my lived experience in central Pennsylvania. This is an area of the country that has been abused: clear-cut several times; mined for coal; polluted with the growth of industrialization; and then left to try to heal itself. Sadly, it now finds itself being injured once again with the radical shift to fracking for natural gas. There is poverty here, both in the flesh and in the spirit. There is also great beauty and resilience. I hope that my poems, when taken together, offer glimpses of the people I love and live among the places that sustain our lives.” We are grateful that Davis chose to share his work with us again—two of his earlier poems appear in Issue 14 of Arts & Letters.

Davis is the author of five full-length collections of poetry—Winterkill, In the Kingdom of the Ditch, The Least of These, Some Heaven, and Ripe—as well as of a limited edition chapbook, Household of Water, Moon, and Snow: The Thoreau Poems. “Burn Barrel” and “By the Rivers of Babylon” are from of his fifth book, Winterkill, which Michigan State University Press will publish in January 2016. He edited the nonfiction collection, Fast Break to Line Break: Poets on the Art of Basketball, and co-edited Making Poems: Forty Poems with Commentary by the Poets. His poetry has been featured on the radio by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac and by Ted Kooser in his syndicated newspaper column, American Life in Poetry. He is the winner of the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize and the Chautauqua Editors Prize. He is a fellow of the Black Earth Institute and teaches creative writing, American literature, and environmental studies at Pennsylvania State University’s Altoona College.

Winterkill Front Cover



A Look Into Our Upcoming Issue: Poet, Kate Partridge

Reading Kate Partridge’s poem “Ends of the Earth”,  we were struck by its travels through legend and geography as we weave through each section. The voice is real and humble. We were intrigued. We are grateful for her work, as we are grateful to all our contributors, and we’re excited to share this poem with you in our upcoming fall issue.

Kate Partridge’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Colorado ReviewBlackbirdPleiades, and Verse Daily. She received her MFA from George Mason University, and she now lives in Anchorage, where she teaches at the University of Alaska, coordinates the Crosscurrents Reading Series, and co-edits for Gazing Grain Press.

Send Your Flash Fiction!

We recently added a flash fiction category on our submittable page. We are excited to discover the surprising and moving pieces that arise from this new addition to our magazine. Send us your work!

Flannery O’Connor and Southern Women Writers Conference 2015

Join us to celebrate the best in contemporary writing! Georgia College’s Flannery O’Connor and Southern Women Writers Conference 2015 will take place September 17-19. The conference will include presentations on Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Caroline Gordon, Carson McCullers, Katherine Anne Porter, Lillian Smith, and Eudora Welty. For a look at the full schedule, accommodation details, and other important information, visit Georgia College’s O’Connor Conference 2015 webpage.


Unclassifiables Judge Michael Martone to Read at Georgia College

We are pleased to welcome Michael Martone to Georgia College on September 15, 2015. Martone recently published a collection of essays, Racing in Place. He has been awarded two fellowships from the NEA and a grant from the Ingram Merrill Foundation. His works have earned him numerous awards from magazines like The Florida Review and Story. More information on Michael Martone and the Georgia College visiting writers schedule can be found on the Georgia College webpage here.

The Spring Issue is Now Available for Purchase!

Spring 2015 Issue 30Regular Submissions Now Open!

Exciting News! The Spring 2015 Issue of Arts & Letters (Issue 30) is now available for purchase! This is the second of our redesigned issues: new style of cover art, improved paper stock, different dimensions, etc. This is also our first issue featuring Flash Fiction, and it includes poetry by writers like Sarah Gordon and James Allen Hall.

Be one of the first to get Issue 30! You can purchase it online through our secure Submittable store here, or you can Subscribe to Arts & Letters online here! Give it a read and let us know what you think.

Last Chance to Submit to the Arts & Letters Prizes!

Arts & Letters PrizesSubmissions for the 18th Annual Arts & Letters Prizes are Now Closed.

The Arts & Letters Prize Contests are almost over, and today and tomorrow (March 31st) are your last chances to submit your work to win one of our $1,000 prizes. Just a reminder that our Poetry contest is being judged by Stephen Dunn, our Creative Nonfiction contest is being judged by Barbara Hurd, our Drama Contest is being judged by Iona Holder, and our Fiction contest is being judged by the exciting young writer, Kyle Minor.

Send us your best work, and remember, that even if you do not win one of our contests, all submissions will be considered for publication in Arts & Letters.

Arts & Letters Drama Prize Judges

The Arts & Letters Drama Prize (for a one-act play) is for $1,000, a production at Georgia College, and domestic travel expenses to attend the production (usually mid-late March). The preliminary judge will be Eddie Zipperer, an award-winning playwright whose most recent full-length published play is Beware the Licorice Vines (Dramatic Publishing Co, 2014). His play Nicolas the Worm was part of the 2012 Nuestras Voces Reading Series at Repertorio Espanol (Off-Broadway).

The final Judge will be Iona Holder, the Arts & Letters Prize play director since 2009. So get your One Act Play polished up and send it in to our contest!

This Year’s Arts & Letters Fiction Prize Judge

The Arts & Letters Prizes are now underway, and submissions are being accepted until March 31st! This year’s Fiction judge is Kyle Minor, author of the story collections Praying Drunk and In the Devil’s Territory. His books can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other major retailers.

We’re delighted and honored to have this exciting new fiction author judging the fiction submissions that come into our prize contest! So, pick out your best fiction piece, clean it up, and let Kyle read your work! Remember, the winner of the fiction contest gets a $1,000 prize, and all submissions will be considered for publication for Arts & Letters!

Arts & Letters Prize Submissions Are Now Open!

Arts & Letters PrizesSubmissions for the 18th Annual Arts & Letters Prizes are Now Closed.

Arts & Letters Prize Submissions for Creative Nonfiction, Drama, Fiction, and Poetry are open as of February 1st and will be open until March 31st. The winner of the contest for each genre will receive a prize of $1,000, so send us your best work!

Our judges this year are phenomenal. Stephen Dunn is judging our Poetry contest, while Kyle Minor is judging for Fiction, and Barbara Hurd is the judge for Creative Nonfiction. And even if you don’t end up winning the contest, we will consider your work for regular submissions, so send us your work early and often! Click here to submit through Submittable!

Arts & Letters Issue 29 Digital Version

Arts & Letters has undergone a full restyling, and Issue 29 also marks our triumphant return to color (as opposed to our black and white tuxedo designs). The journal has been updated all the way down to the paper stock and typography. A physical copy of our new issue can be purchased through our secure Submittable store for only $12.

Arts & Letters works hard to stay relevant and accessible to computer, tablet, and even phone readers. To make our journal convenient and easy to read for our digital users, we have made Issue 29 available as a digital copy that can be purchased through our Submittable store for the discounted price of $8.

35 Debut Authors Over 35

This gallery contains 1 photo.

Before you sing “Auld Lang Syne” we’ve got one more 2014 book list for you! Our co-managing editor has put together a list of 35 debut authors aged 35 and over. … read more

More Galleries | Comments Off on 35 Debut Authors Over 35

We Have an Exciting New Issue

Now entering the second half of its second decade, Arts & Letters has been a staple in the literary community, but for those familiar with the print journal, it will look totally different. The journal has gone through a complete redesign, including the cover, typography, page stock, and layout, and we’re excited about our first restyled issue now available for Fall 2014 (Issue 29).

To match the dazzling new design, this issue features fantastic work, including new fiction by Amy Hassinger, poetry by James Doyle and Charity Gingerich, a collaborative essay by Denise Duhamel and Julie Marie Wade, and the winners of the Arts & Letters Prizes in all genres. Be sure to get your hands on the new issue. You can buy a copy online or get a yearly subscription.

Meet Visiting Writer, Poet Jericho Brown

We are so thrilled to have Jericho Brown join us on campus this Monday, November 3, at 7:30 pm, as part of GCSU’s creative writing program’s Visiting Writers series. Jericho Brown is the recipient of the Whiting Writers’ Award and fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and the National Endowment for the Arts. His poems have appeared in The Nation, The New Republic, The New Yorker, and The Best American Poetry, and Nikki Giovanni’s 100 Best African American Poems.

Brown holds a PhD from the University of Houston, an MFA from the University of New Orleans, and a BA from Dillard University. His first book, Please, won the American Book Award, and his second book, The New Testament, was published by Copper Canyon Press. He is an assistant professor in the creative writing program at Emory University in Atlanta. You can read more about Jericho and his works at his website.

A Poem by Galway Kinnell


On the tidal mud, just before sunset,
dozens of starfishes
were creeping. It was
as though the mud were a sky
and enormous, imperfect stars
moved across it as slowly
as the actual stars cross heaven.
All at once they stopped,
and, as if they had simply
increased their receptivity
to gravity, they sank down
into the mud; they faded down
into it and lay still; and by the time
pink of sunset broke across them
they were as invisible
as the true stars at daybreak.

Meet the 2015 A&L Prizes Nonfiction Judge

It is a privilege to have Barbara Hurd as the judge for the Arts & Letters Journal nonfiction prize this year.

Barbara is the recipient of a 2002 NEA Fellowship for Creative Nonfiction, winner of the Sierra Club’s National Nature Writing Award and Pushcart Prizes in 2004 and 2007. She teaches creative writing in the Stonecoast MFA program at the University of Southern Maine.

Ms. Hurd has published several award-winning books, including: Walking the Wrack Line: On Tidal Shifts and What Remains, Entering the Stone: On Caves and Feeling Through the Dark, a Library Journal Best Natural History Book of the Year, Stirring the Mud: On Swamps, Bogs, and Human Imagination, a Los Angeles Times Best Book of 2001, and The Singer’s Temple, winner of the Bright Hill Press Poetry Award.

We are honored to have an author as esteemed as Ms. Hurd serve as this year’s nonfiction judge. Read more about Barbara and her work on her website.

Meet the 2015 A&L Prizes Poetry Judge

Get to know this year’s Arts & Letters Prizes Poetry judge: Stephen Dunn.

It’s a great honor to have Stephen Dunn as this year’s poetry judge. His work has appeared in countless journals, including The Atlantic, The Nation, the New Republic, the New Yorker, The Georgia Review, the American Poetry Review, and so many more.

Mr. Dunn has been recognized for his work with many prestigious awards including the Pulitzer Prize in poetry for his book Different Hours in 2001, the Academy Award in Literature from The American Academy of Arts & Letters, Fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations, three NEA Creative Writing Fellowships, a Distinguished Artist Fellowship from the NJ State Council on the Arts, and too many more to fit into this post.

We are extremely excited to have such a prestigious poet as Mr. Dunn serving as this year’s poetry judge. To learn more about Mr. Dunn or his publications, please visit his website:

Meet 2015’s A&L Prizes Fiction Judge

Get to know this year’s Arts & Letters Prizes Fiction judge: Kyle Minor

We’re honored and excited to have Kyle Minor as this year’s fiction judge. He is an accomplished writer whose credentials and publications speak for themselves, having been published in prestigious journals like Best American Nonrequired Reading 2013, Gulf Coast, and The Iowa Review.

Kyle has just published his second novel, Praying Drunk, in February through Sarabande Books. It received rave reviews from The New York Times Book Review, The Atlantic, The Los Angeles Times and many others. Time Out New York said Minor’s writing “Ranges from cheeky observational comedy to frightening surrealism.” See his interviews in The Believer, Tin House, and Pen/American.

Announcing 2014’s Arts & Letters PRIME Poetry Prize Winners!

Arts & Letters PRIME Winners 2014Arts & Letters PRIME Winners 2014

The results are in for our PRIME Poetry Prize Contest. We had the most submissions we’ve ever had for this contest, but after long hours and many difficult decisions, we were able to choose this year’s winner and honorable mention!

The winner of the PRIME Poetry Prize contest is Melissa King Rogers for her poems “Grief: Topography,” “Passage,” and “Happy Hour.”

2014’s honorable mention is Rebecca McKanna for her poems “When I Watch the TV Show of the Man Who Took My Virginity” and “Epithalamium for a Bride on Vicodin.”

Congratulations to these poets for their excellent work! Look forward to their work in the upcoming issues of Arts & Letters!

We Now Accept Flash Fiction

Flash Fiction SubmissionsFlash Fiction Submissions

As the old adage goes, it’s not about quantity, but quality. Arts & Letters is, for the first time, accepting Flash Fiction submissions for publication. We want punchy, tight, and innovative Flash Fiction, work that intrigues and mystifies in its brevity.

To submit Flash Fiction to the journal, you simply need to go to our Submit page and continue to our Submittable portal. There, you will find submission guidelines for fiction, and you’re able to submit up to three shorts of about 500 words each. We look forward to seeing your best work!

We’re on the Hunt for Creative Nonfiction

Since Montaigne popularized the essay in the 16th century, a line of great essayists has led to today’s explosion of Creative Nonfiction, with the word “creative” adding its timely energy to the form.

From Ashley Butler’s dense fragmentation to Lacy Johnson’s defiant vulnerability to Lia Purpura’s analytic lyricism, the genre has been cracked wide open. We’re looking for your best-crafted work to fall in line with these greats.

For an example, in our upcoming Fall issue you’ll find an excellent essay written collaboratively by Julie Marie Wade and Denise Duhamel.

Whether your Nonfiction is a highly-researched journey into the color red or a sprawling personal narrative, or some combination of research, fact, and fancy, we want to see it. And remember that we also nominate for Best American Essays.

So show us what you’re working on! Submit now!

Follow Us

Follow Us on Facebook & Twitter!Follow Us on Facebook & Twitter!

The best way to stay up-to-date with Arts & Letters news is to follow us on our Facebook page or on Twitter. There, you’ll be kept up to date on new issues, upcoming submission times, updates to the website, contests, and much more.

It’s also a great way to create a dialogue between you and the Arts & Letters staff. Get to know us. Share exciting literary information with us. Post on our wall or tag us on your interesting posts. We’re very personable. Really.

Our social media feeds are more than just news and updates about Arts & Letters. We are a literary thoroughfare of information, including other writing contests, compelling articles, author interviews, and news from our friends. So, follow us on Facebook and Twitter and don’t miss out!

Regular Submissions Now Open

We welcome you back after a long summer which had you checking and checking and checking our website, and the moment has finally come where we open the doors, roll out the red carpet, shake your hand and cordially, happily, and spiritedly invite you to submit to our regular submissions.

But don’t be fooled. Just because they’re called “Regular Submissions” doesn’t mean we want regular work. What we should do is call them “Extraordinary Submissions” No matter what you call them, submitting to Arts & Letters is now something you can do.

It’s time to brush off your laptops and desktops, polish up your poems, stories, and essays and submit them to us. We are reading submissions daily, and our turnaround rate is very quick! We try to be as speedy as possible because we know how maddening it can be to have your writing locked up for most of the year.

Also, simultaneous submissions are fine with us. Just add a note on Submittable if you need to withdraw anything.

So just click the big blue button on our submit page, and I’ll see you in Submittable!

Arts & Letters is Moving to All Online Submissions

As of January 1, 2015, Arts & Letters will no longer be accepting print submissions. While we have had great luck with print submissions in the past and value all of our print submitters, we are simply getting too many submissions to keep up with the legwork print submissions requires. Happily, this move will allow us to keep better track of our submissions and move toward a quicker response time.

All submissions as of 2015 will be done through our online submissions managers through Submittable. We chose to go this route because we and a majority of our users have found our online manager to be quick, convenient, and easy to track.

We appreciate all of our submitters who prefer print submissions, and we hope that they will continue to submit their work to us online. We’re confident the the time we save from ending print submissions will allow us to improve all aspects of the journal for our readers.

Thanks and we look forward to seeing your submissions framed in Submittable orange!

Announcing the 2014 Arts & Letters Prize Winners

Congratulations to the winners of our 2014 Prize contests, each of whom will receive $1000 and publication in upcoming issues of Arts & Letters:

Poetry/Rumi Prize (Final Judge: Beth Gylys)
WINNER: Emma Hine, “Distortion for Afterwards”
Finalists: Carolyne Wright, Amy Woolard, Kim Garcia, Jennie Malboeuf, Ashley Lumpkin, Jenny Molberg

Fiction Prize (Final Judge: Jayne Anne Phillips)
WINNER: Holloway McCandless, “Motu Tapu”
Finalists: Morgan Harlow, Sophie Monatte

Creative Nonfiction/Susan Atefat Prize (Final Judge: Bret Lott)
WINNER: Leonora Smith, “Blood Sick”
Finalists: Jeffrey Schneider, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, Alexandra Newton Rios

Drama Prize (Final Judge: David Muschell)
WINNER: Drew Katzman, “A Rare and Fleeting Thing”
Finalists: Ariadne Blayde, Wendy Dann, Bruce Hoogendoorn, Arnold Johnston, Dan Morra, Cary Pepper, Bridgette Portman, Carolyn Nur Wistrand

Congratulations to all finalists as well. We begin reading for next year’s prizes in February, 2015.

Now Nominating for The Best American Nonrequired Reading

The Best American Nonrequired ReadingThe Best American Nonrequired Reading

In our mad dash to promote our contributors, Arts & Letters nominates for The Best American Nonrequired Reading: a home for the strange, the funny, and the lovely.

The Best American Nonrequired Reading publishes an exciting array of essay, fiction, journalism, comics, and humor. As opposed to most literary anthologies, this one uses a reading committee made up of high school students who function under the watchful eye of the illustrious Dave Eggers (of McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern and the best-selling memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius).

“This offbeat but vital anthology” features work firmly on the line between literary and entertainment, between wisdom and humor. Give students a chance to replace Julius Caesar and The Scarlet Letter and this anthology is what they come up with.

We Want The Best American Essays

Best American EssaysBest American Essays

We’re very excited to announce that we’re now nominating for The Best American EssaysArts & Letters wants to contribute to the pioneering work of this anthology in the ever-innovating genre of Creative Nonfiction. By submitting to Arts & Letters, you open yourself up to the possibility of nomination after publication!

If the American short story really came into its recognizable form around a hundred years ago, then the American essay has just started taking form the last 30 years. The Best American Essays has been at the helm of this development since the beginning (1986). The contemporary essay is carefully crafted, illuminating, and often uses natural language that appeals to a general audience.

The Best American Essays prefers fully-developed works which use form flexibly and intuitively—to the extent the content demands. Since today’s essay, as a genre, is still in its infancy, we see a high variety of form and voice and perspective. It’s an exciting time to be writing essays and The Best American Essays is consistently promoting a definition and creating a standard for what the essay is, what it accomplishes, and how it looks.

PRIME Poetry Prize Now Closed

Arts & Letters PRIME Winners 2014Arts & Letters PRIME Winners 2014

The submission period for our summer poetry contest ended on July 31st. We expect to announce a winner by the end of September.

The PRIME Poetry Prize winner will receive $401 and publication in Arts & Letters as well as the Fall issue of PRIME. There may be Honorable Mentions as well. These would be offered publication in both Arts & Letters and the Fall issue of PRIME (paid at normal contributor rates: $50.00 for poetry).

Alice Friman is our final judge. She’s the ongoing Poet-in-Residence of Georgia College and she has a new book (her fifth!), The View from Saturn, coming out with LSU Press later this year. Her poems have been published in Poetry, The Georgia Review, The Gettysburg Review, Boulevard, New Letters, and The Southern Review.

We Love The Best American Short Stories

Best American Short StoriesBest American Short Stories

Want to be nominated for next year’s issue of The Best American Short Stories? Submit to Arts & Letters. We nominate!

The Best American Short Stories has been an institution since 1915 (98 years!). It has helped usher in the establishment of the short story as a “particularly American genre.”

Edward J. O’Brien, at the ripe age of 23, began the anthology, publishing the likes of Willa Cather, William Faulkner, Dorothy Parker, Erskine Caldwell, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, William Saroyan, John Steinbeck, and Richard Wright.

Think of the successful American short story writers, and you’ll be sure to find them all in The Best American Short Stories.

Arts & Letters nominates for Best New Poets

Best New PoetsBest New Poets

Best New Poets is an annual anthology out of University of Virginia in conjunction with their literary magazine Meridian. They pick 50 poems a year from poets who haven’t published a full length work, but had their work published in a journal the same year.

It’s a fierce competition, but we want to push the poets we publish into the spotlight!

Instead of just publishing work and then putting it to bed in Past Issues and Archives, Arts & Letters tries to keep the work of contributors alive by nominating deserving work for outside prizes and anthologies such as Best New Poets.

Arts & Letters Nominates for the Pushcart Prize

Pushcart Prize XXXVIIIPushcart Prize XXXVIII

Did you know Arts & Letters nominates for the Pushcart Prize?

The Pushcart Prize and Anthology has been running for decades (est. 1976) thanks to nominations from hundreds of unpaid volunteers across the country. This prize is a loud voice for the small press! It has become a venue of critical praise untouched by “big bucks and bluster.”

We’re so proud to support Pushcart Press in their vision to award the most deserving writing of the small presses—and at the same time honor the writers we publish who deserve this special recognition.

We’ve had Robert Gibb, Laurie Lamon, and Dana Fitz Gale nominated for works we published.

If you’re not familiar with Pushcart, check them out and see who they awarded this year!

Ask Alice

Ask Alice is a video program where Alice Friman, Georgia College Poet-in-Residence, addresses your questions about the writing life. Submit a question through Submittable and she’ll choose the best questions to answer in future Arts & Letters PRIME Ask Alice videos. Previously, Alice has answered questions on publication, revision, overcoming your inner critic, and writing good love poetry. Past programs are available on the Ask Alice page.

Check it out and then submit your question through our free Submittable category; if your question is selected, you will receive a free subscription to PRIME! Submit here.

We’re excited to announce that Alice Friman has a new book of poems, The View From Saturn, forthcoming this year from LSU Press. Also, a new version of “Ask Alice” will be in the forthcoming Prime 3.2.

Submission Status Update

Open soon: PRIME Poetry Prize submission period is May 1 to July 31. 

Closed: Regular submissions. Reading period: August 1st to January 31st.

Closed: Arts & Letters Prize submissions. We are now in the blind review of submissions; finalists will be submitted to our final judges late April/early May, and we will announce winners in June.