Recipients of 2017 IWU Creative Writing Awards announced
ILLINOIS WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH PRIZE FOR SHORT FICTION
Recipient: Eva Kossmann, for “Dixie Aphrodite”
Honorable Mention: Ross Hettinger, for “Stonetrees”
Judge: Diego Baez
About Kossmann’s “Dixie Aphrodite” Baez writes,
"Dixie Aphrodite" is the coincidence-rich story of an enchanting, indigent misfit, Magnolia, who we meet through a series of chance encounters across the South: Mississippi, New Orleans, Florida. Kossmann's attention to small, memorable details -Magnolia's "frenzy of curls," honey-colored language, wigs of fuchsia and flame- captures this tragic, funny, sorry character when she is perhaps least expecting to make an impression. With a subtle narrative touch and abundant gift for snappy language, Kossmann has written more into Magnolia's tumultuous life than even we're allowed to witness in the glancing, happenstance run-ins the narrator shares. We are left with the portrait of a muse who could surely inspire further barroom tales, scandalous rumors, even legends or myths.
Kossmann will receive will receive $100 from the IWU English department.
Prize judge Diego Báez is a CantoMundo fellow. Poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared at Granta, The Acentos Review, and The Los Angeles Review of Books, among other venues. He is an IWU alumni who lives in Chicago and teaches at the City Colleges.
THE ACADEMY OF AMERICAN POETS PRIZE
Recipient: John McHugh
Honorable Mention: Kate Halford
Judge: Korey Williams
About McHugh’s poems Williams writes,
“Some day I’ll love John McHugh. / I think I’ll be alone for a little while.” This final couplet from McHugh’s poem entitled “Self Portrait After a Homecoming Dance, October 1st, 2010, 11:16 p.m.” comes directly from Frank O’Hara’s “Katy,” signaling a chosen artistic lineage that includes, of course, O’Hara as well as Roger Reeves and, quite recently, Ocean Vuong. Even as the speaker of “Self Portrait” envisions someday emerging from the closet, returning home as an authentic self, free of lies and secrets, he understands that the price of authenticity is more than individuation: it’s aloneness, maybe even loneliness. This loneliness, however, is tempered by the aforementioned artistic lineage, one that also includes Mark Doty and Muriel Rukeyser, the masters behind McHugh’s “Cold,” and visual artist James Turrell, whose attention to light and space inform McHugh’s “Stuck Red/Stuck Blue.” While this is a poet for whom cultural inheritance obviously matters, I’m struck most by McHugh’s surges of imagination, particularly his treatment of scenes of erotic attachment. In “Ghazal For My Lover,” the speaker describes “how your laughter makes me feel like candle light,” the way the reception of a lover’s instinct can be so pleasingly destabilizing that “I could write you down until I forget my own name.” In his most striking poem of all, “A Lake, September 22nd, 2013, 3:13 a.m.,” McHugh weaves memory, legend, and promises with the “asylum of dark woods” to explore the way in which the guiding touch of someone’s hands can open onto the body, onto the imagination, “an entire field of daffodils”—perennial blooms belonging to the genus Narcissus—making of the flesh fertile ground for myth, beauty, and disaster… May this not be the last we read of John McHugh.
McHugh will receive $100 and a certificate from the Academy of American Poets, and will be announced in the Academy of American Poets' publications and news releases, with a chance for publication in a future anthology.
Academy of American Poets Prize judge Korey Williams grew up in suburban Chicago and studied at Illinois Wesleyan University, the University of Oxford, the University of Chicago, and Cornell University. His work appears in Assaracus, Winter Tangerine, Fogged Clarity, The Offing, Narrative Magazine, and elsewhere. He is currently a Lecturer at Cornell University.
THE KAY NELSON MEMORIAL ESSAY PRIZE
Recipient: Mayra Gonzalez for her essay “Assests-Liabilities=Equ[ality]”
Honorable Mention: Vandhana Rajarathnam, for “The Garage”
Judge: Jacqueline Connelly
About Gonzalez’s essay Connelly writes,
This essay is a masterful braid with a strong, original voice and rich, specific details that hook the reader in right away. Each section of the essay is grounded in a specific memory, with the recurring Spanish phrases adding a lovely cultural touchstone.
The tension mounts throughout the essay as the writer begins to find her own voice, rather than simply reflecting her father’s. Overall an excellent, engaging essay that tackles some big, timely themes and that somehow manages to do it without villainizing the father—no small feat any time we write about our relationships with our parents.
Gonzalez will receive $100 from Prof. Alison Sainsbury, the sponsor of the Kay Nelson Prize.
Kay Nelson Prize final judge Jacquelyn Connelly is senior editor of Independent Agent magazine, a trade publication for the independent financial community. She's a 2012 IWU English writing alum who still doesn't know how to cook rice or fold a fitted sheet. In her free time, she workshops creative nonfiction and discusses contemporary feminist lit in queer spaces around Washington, D.C.
Award recipients Eva Kossmann, John McHugh, and Mayra Gonzalez will read from their work on Wednesday, April 19th, at 4 pm, in the Gallery of the Joyce G. Eichhorn Ames School of Art. The event is free and open to the public.