Graduate Awards

Spring 2014 Graduate Literary Prize Awards: Fiction


Jennine Capó Crucet is the author of the novel Magic City RelicHow to Leave Hialeah, which won the Iowa Short Fiction Award, the John Gardner Book Prize, and the Devil's Kitchen Reading Award. A winner of an O. Henry Prize and a former Bread Loaf Fellow, she recently held the Picador Guest Professorship for Literature at the University of Leipzig, Germany. Her writing has appeared in Guernica, Ploughshares, Epoch, Virginia Quarterly Review, and other magazines. She's currently an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Florida State University. Originally from Miami, she lived in Champaign-Urbana for almost three years in the late 2000s and misses Radio Maria, the Douglass Branch Library, the Blind Pig, and the Harvest Moon Drive-In in nearby Gibson City.

Josephine M. Bresee Memorial Award in Short Fiction, $500: Nafissa Thompson-Spires, "This Todd"

Hemingway's old adage from A Movable Feast about writing "one true sentence" sometimes baffles me in practice (what exactly constitutes a true sentence anyway?), but as a reader, I know the shock and pleasure of a true sentence when I encounter one, and true sentences--in the form of confessions--abound in "This Todd." This story is bold in its presentation of a narrator obsessed with seeking out and controlling disabled lovers; the writer proves to us that it's not likability but complexity that counts, and I haven't encountered a character as interesting and complex--as brutally honest from sentence to sentence--as Kim in quite some time. I was impressed by the writer's ability to present Kim as simultaneously sympathetic and cruel via the use of the conversational tone of this first-person narration. Kim's voice is so realistically and compelling crafted that we forget we're even reading a story; we're instead listening to a woman reach out to us, and as listeners, we're implicated in what she's trying to admit. There's an undeniable urgency to her narrative, and the prose is never decorative or imagistic for its own sake, but instead, as is the case in the strongest, most memorable stories, each image is vital, pointing always to the subtext. Layer into all this the story's unconventional and remarkable structure, its willingness to show us how close it is to breaking apart with sentences like "I'm trying to put this together the best way I can." The structure itself mirrors Kim's own turmoil and confusion about the nature of her desires. And desire and power and agency are at the heart of this sophisticated story, which never flinches from the sometimes-ugly nature of the human heart and its struggle to understand itself.

Robert J. and Katharin Carr Graduate Fiction Prize, $300: Roya Khatiblou, " The Two Blancas"

It takes a special kind of budding cruelty to name a potentially precancerous mole on your mother's boyfriend's face "Hope," but that's exactly what we get in "The Two Blancas." This story is deft in its subtlety, in the way it inhabits the consciousness of Manda and points to its subtext using precise, vivid, and disturbing details: from the moment Lonny--who has lately become Manda's main caretaker--enters this story, the reader is uncomfortable without really knowing why (though he is literally lurking in the shadows when we meet him). But the subtext of the gestures pointing to the sexual attraction between Manda and her pseudo-step father--gestures like "Lonny sauntered down to the pool and sat on the edge...his legs open toward her"--tells us all we need to know about the disastrous potential between these two characters. That potential gets diverted, as it must, onto another target, but the end of the story leaves the reader chilled by what Manda, with Jacqueline's help, has just unleashed within herself.

Honorable Mention: Avery Irons, "Wading"

Spring 2013 Graduate Literary Prize Awards: Poetry

Judge: Roger Reeves
Roger Reeves's poems have appeared in journals such as Poetry, Ploughshares, American Poetry Review, Boston Review, and Tin House, among others. Kim Addonizio selected "Kletic of Walt Whitman" for the Best New Poets 2009 anthology. He was awarded a 2013 NEA Fellowship, Ruth Lilly Fellowship by the Poetry Foundation in 2008, two Bread Loaf Scholarships, an Alberta H. Walker Scholarship from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and two Cave Canem Fellowships. He earned his PhD the University of Texas-Austin and is currently an assistant professor of poetry at the University of Illinois Chicago. His first book is King Me (Copper Canyon Press, 2013)..

Carol Kyle Award in Poetry, $400: Zachary McVicker

The poems in this packet achieve two very lofty aims of poetry--to chronicle the mechanics of the mind (the Imagination) and, simultaneously, journey toward insight. However, the poems do not beat the reader down with didactic sentences that mimic the sages and poets of the past. Instead, with ease, with careful attention to image and metaphor, the poems develop an image system that at once beckons back to the classic or traditional imagery of poetry--black birds, night, stars--while yet calling the reader forward, calling the reader to witness the imperceptibility of something as light as drizzle. These poems are carefully out of joint, defamiliarizing the familiarity of the everyday, the received, which signifies their timelessness. These are poems to be read over and over again and quoted to others at length.

Robert J. and Katharin Carr Graduate Poetry Prize, $300: John Dudek

"One predator ought to understand another" appears toward the end of "Israel Putnam's Wolf Skin Speaks:." It is these surprises that captivated and kept me reading the work. These poems encounter history, war, wolves, swords, and even trains. However, what drives the engine these poems are the poet's keen ear--"So he slunk my gutted coat upon / the still-born bud of his bedpost..."--and the desire to make the secret archives of our lives into singing, speaking vessels. Bravo.

Honorable Mention: Rachel Samanie

About the Graduate Literary Prize Awards in Fiction and Poetry

The English Department office (208 English) is in charge of accepting and processing entries. Only graduate students are eligible to compete. The name, address, phone number, e-mail address, net id, grad or undergrad, and UIN number of the writer are to appear on a title sheet that will be separate from the entry. The writer's name is not to appear on the entry itself. Entries will not be returned.