Spring 2015 Graduate Literary Prize Awards: Fiction
David Jauss, judge David Jauss, the author of Glossolalia: New & Selected Stories, Black Maps, and Crimes of Passion, has a fourth collection of stories forthcoming this fall. He is also the author of On Writing Fiction, a collection of craft essays, and two poetry collections, You Are Not Here and Improvising Rivers, and he has edited three anthologies, most recently Words Overflown by Stars, essays on the craft of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. His stories have been published in numerous magazines and reprinted in Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Book of Short Stories: The Best of the Pushcart Prize, and other anthologies. His awards include the AWP Award for Short Fiction, an NEA Fellowship, a Michener/Copernicus Society of America Fellowship, the O. Henry Prize, and two Pushcarts. An emeritus professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, he teaches in the low-residency MFA Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Hobart L. and Mary Kay Peer Fiction Prize, $1000: Katherine Scott Nelson, "What the Devil Said"
If this story were a movie, the Screen Actors Guild would definitely give it the award for Best Ensemble Cast. In just twenty pages, the author miraculously manages to bring no fewer than six characters vividly and movingly to life: an extraordinary trio of sisters, their parents, and, yes, the devil. Set in the 1930s, the story recounts the family's attempts to exorcise schizophrenia from one of the sisters through such means as ice water shock treatments and the application of a boiling hot St. Christopher medal to her skin. The author weaves together the perspectives of each of the family members, presenting them and their lives with a painter's eye for sensory detail, a musician's ear for sound and rhythm, and a psychologist's understanding of the varieties and complexities of human nature. It's extremely rare to encounter a story as ambitious as "What the Devil Said," and it's even rarer to encounter one that lives up to its ambitions so splendidly. This is a stunning story by a stunningly talented writer.
Josephine M. Bresee Memorial Award, $500: Katherine Kendig, "Three"
"Three" is a marvelously inventive and moving story, one that is perhaps best described as a metafictional fairy tale. It tells the story of three sisters, each of whom is defined, in standard fairy tale fashion, by one essential quality or attribute—Lily has a voice like spun gold, Margot has scars on her face, and Celia is mute—that somehow resonates with a mysterious archetypal significance. Structurally, however, the story departs significantly from standard fairy tales: it weaves variant versions of each sister's story, and each sister's perspective, into the present version, giving the story considerable formal and thematic complexity. If this were a traditional fairy tale, for example, only the last of the three sisters to seek her fortune would find it—as Celia, the mute narrator, notes—but this tale ends with all three finding their fortune, and they find it in sisterhood itself. And speaking of Celia's inability to speak: at one point in the story, she says, "Because I have no speech I have no way to tell people who I am, so they decide for me." Well, I'll tell you who I've decided Celia—and her author—is: one brilliant storyteller. And "Three" is three brilliant stories artfully woven into one.