Tag Archives: Arts&Letters

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.

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: https://baobabpress.com/books/the-amateur-scientists-notebook/

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.