Current Graduate Awards

Spring 2017 Graduate Literary Prize Awards: Fiction

Kiese Laymon, judge
Kiese Laymon is the author of Long Division, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, the forthcoming memoir Heavy, and the forthcoming novel And So On. He is Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Mississippi. The following comments are his.


Hobart L. and Mary Kay Peer Fiction Prize, $1000: Amelia Hawkins, "Shortcake"
These pieces were absolutely incredible. I've had to judge a ton of contests this year, including PEN and LA Times, but these were easily the best pieces I've read. Incredible. I have "Shortcake" as the first place story. I haven't read a short story in years that is as ambitious and phenomenally executed. The story really pivots on a teasing out of this incredibly human "we" who is at once an "I" and most telling a "you." The piece asks the reader over and over again to make decisions with our head and body. It does this partially by describing with pitch perfect description emotional and physical states of safety and terror. "Shortcake" is unafraid of the speakable and supposedly unspeakable slithers of gender, sexuality, violence and intimacy that line all of our memories and imaginations. It is an amazing short story.


Josephine M. Bresee Memorial Award, $500: Liz Howey, "The Boy"
This wonderfully paced story creates a robust mystery in the first paragraph and propels the reader through a series of revelations. I was most impressed with the secondary characterization and the role consumption plays in ways both massive and tiny. The final paragraph of the piece was one of the best final paragraphs I've read all year.

Spring 2017 Graduate Literary Prize Awards: Poetry

Judge: Ladan Osman
Ladan Osman is the author of the chapbook Ordinary Heaven, which appears in Seven New Generation African Poets (Slapering Hol Press, 2014), and the full-length collection The Kitchen-Dweller's Testimony (University of Nebraska Press, 2015), which won the Sillerman First Book Prize. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center, Cave Canem, and the Michener Center. Her comments follow.


Hobart L. and Mary Kay Peer Poetry Prize, $1000: Eman Ghanayem, "Solis"
This poem moves in the wry declarative, with what seems like a contemporary nonchalance. Really, it's the only way to approach vastness, ambiguity. Its work is in absolutes, in revealing the foolishness of bounds (in thinking, between nations and individuals). "They don't have the memory of the earth that birth," the poet writes, recalling Toni Morrison's image in A Mercy, where some humans remain tethered to nature, while others sever it. This is a play of "we" and "them," with no assurance of justice, or soundness. It is all ridiculous, and painful. "They called...our care, an unhealthy obsession / and scorned our bodies..." The limits of the body, of the nation, of distinction give no relief.


Hobart L. and Mary Kay Peer Memorial Award, $500: Michael Hurley, "Green Plastic Army Men"
Instead of references to current conflicts, here are imaginary wars (through sound, slant allusions to early American wars). This play creates hyper-real reminders that trauma and imperial philosophies aren't dated even if the methods are. "In Falliah," not Fallujah. "Floating men," who were "made ribbons," bobbing, and "stormed in upon," a relentless list of actions that highlight their use: to receive violence while outfitted to enact it. "We lacked report," could read as: We lacked rapport. They may have lacked report from their weapons, and their voices. "We may have been ghosts by then." We may consider who can afford to play with war, with recollection and invention

Honorable Mention: Skyler Lalone, "Loch Lomond"