Tag Archives: Fiction
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.
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.
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 desiree-evans.com, and on Instagram and Twitter: @literarydesiree.