2014 Writing Contest Winners
BABBITT’S PRIZE FOR SHORT FICTION
Winner: Kaitlin McManus, for her short story, “Those Who Can’t.”
Judge: Joshua Corey
About Kaitlin McManus’s work, Corey writes, “Kaitlin McManus’s story impressed me
with its rendering of a naïve yet knowing narrator, its depiction of the intersections
of intolerance, foreign and domestic, and above all its supple renderings of speech.
It’s a promising beginning for a young fiction writer.”
Honorable Mention: Shane McGowan, for his story, “Gummy Bear.”
About McGowan’s story, Corey writes, “Shane McGowan’s ‘Gummy Bear’ has many lyrical
passages and offers a sometimes penetrating look at a pair of aimless young men whose
bond is based on little more than the shared intoxication of bad choices.”
McManus will receive will receive $50 cash and $50 in store credit from Babbitt’s
Books in Normal, Illinois.
Babbitt’s Prize judge Joshua Corey is the author most recently of Severance Songs (Tupelo Press, 2011), which won the Dorset Prize and was named a Notable Book of
2011 by the Academy of American Poets. His other books are Selah (Barrow Street Press, 2003) and Fourier Series (Spineless Books, 2005). His first novel, Beautiful Soul: An American Elegy, is forthcoming from Spuyten Duyvil Press. He teaches English at Lake Forest College.
THE ACADEMY OF AMERICAN POETS PRIZE
Winner: Colleen O’Connor
Judge: Steve Halle
About O’Connor’s poems, Halle states:
Colleen O’Connor’s poems gripped me immediately with their empathy, ferocity, ability
to take risks by engaging complicated subjects, expertly crafted sound work, and use
of surprising comparisons. In “asking for it,” O’Connor pens a second-person narrative
poem that, evoking the best of Sylvia Plath’s poetry, explores self-mutilation through
cutting and suicidal contemplation, in which a personified knife that “won’t listen
hissing hold / still! cold at your trembling / wrist,” taunts the speaker in the language of a sexual predator.
The poem “after hours” is an ingenious, elliptical list poem, replete with crisis-line
chatter and original similes, such as “a tea bag / dangles in my mug like a cancerous
lung” and “my unwashed bangs split like the fingers of a fine-toothed comb.” In the
last poem of her submission, “salvation,” O’Connor interrogates the interconnectedness
of faith, love, terror, and the blood diamond mines in Sierra Leone, putting a kidnapped
God to work alongside child laborers in order to “mak[e] the world / a holier place”
with nuptial diamonds. It is the grand humanistic scope of O’Connor’s poems and the
way the poems’ chimes and images stick in my ears and eyes that set her poetry apart.
Academy of American Poets Prize judge Steve Halle is the author of the poetry collection
Map of the Hydrogen World (Cracked Slab Books, 2008) and the chapbook Cessation Covers. In 2006, he founded the online journal Seven Corners, which publishes Chicago and Midwestern poets. His creative and critical writing
has been published in numerous journals, including Another Chicago Magazine, Ariel, Cordite Poetry Review, Jacket2, and Moria. Halle holds an MFA in poetry from New England College and a PhD in English studies,
specializing in creative writing, from Illinois State University. Halle is Co-director
of the English department’s Publications Unit at Illinois State University.
THE KAY NELSON MEMORIAL ESSAY PRIZE
Winner: Colleen O’Connor, for her essay, “Darling, It’s Better”
The final judge for the Kay Nelson Prize was Betsy Phillips.
About Colleen O’Connor’s “Darling, It’s Better,” Phillips writes, “O’Connor does a
beautiful job of catching that moment in a girl’s life when everyone around her is
painfully aware of her as a sexual being, though she isn’t quite aware of it herself.
The mother’s imposition of new boundaries around the narrator and her violation of
boundaries the narrator sets around herself are matched by the narrator’s paradoxical
longing both to retreat back into childhood closeness with her mother and to move
forward into autonomy.”
Honorable Mentions: Olivia Anderson, for “Blood Tide,” and Mack Rivkin, for “The Private
About Olivia Anderson’s “Blood Tide,” Phillips writes, “Anderson’s essay is daring,
taking big chances with language. I loved how, in an essay about vampires, she gets
‘hooked’ and her heart is ‘pierced,’ how spottedness—from freckles to spilled coffee—becomes
a recurrent motif. Awesome symbolism and beautiful imagery in essay form. A real treat.”
About Mack Rivkin’s “The Private Collection,” Phillips writes, “Rivkin portray[s]
complex, messy people with real affection. He carefully observes his dad—the way his
knee pain affects his ability to move through spaces, the way his big persona is mostly bluster—and shows how nothing about his dad is really a secret to him—he
knows his dad’s online user name, what’s under his bed, how things are arranged in
his storage locker. So I loved the revelation that he was seeing something new in
his dad, because it turned out a man he thought was an open book wasn’t. “
Betsy Phillips, a 1996 graduate of IWU with an M.A. from Wake Forest University ('99),
is the Marketing Manager for Vanderbilt University Press. She writes for the Nashville
Scene, contributes to their political blog, "Pith in the Wind," and does her part
to save the world from itself on her own blog, "Tiny Cat Pants." Her book, A City of Ghosts, is a collection of the ghost stories Nashville should have. Her short story "Frank"
(Apex Magazine) has been optioned for film. She's currently working on an illustrated novella about
an unambitious devil and the werewolf who annoys him.
Award recipients Kaitlin McManus and Colleen O’Connor will read from their work on
Wednesday, April 2, at 4 p.m. in the Merwin Gallery of the Joyce Eichhorn Ames Art
Building. The event is free and open to the public.