Current Graduate Awards

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.

Spring 2015 Graduate Literary Prize Awards: Poetry

Judge: Mark Jarman
Mark Jarman is the author of Bone Fires: New and Selected Poems. He has also published two books of essays about poetry, The Secret of Poetry and Body and Soul: Essays on Poetry. He is Centennial Professor of English at Vanderbilt University

Hobart L. and Mary Kay Peer Poetry Prize, $1000: Paul Beilstein

The author of these poems, while dealing with grief at the loss of a loved one, has in hand a lucid, quasi-formal approach which moves from stark detachment, as in "Rite," to the kind of hardening laughter that Langston Hughes said distinguishes the blues, as in "Dispensation." The style, which is consistent throughout the poems, reminds me of the aphoristic modes of Wallace Stevens and, more recently, William Matthews. This poet, who claims in "Experiences" that he or she has "tried not to have / too many of them," holds experience at that distance which gives rise to epigrammatic statement. There are therefore such memorable final lines as "There is no full system of grace," and "How much more / sustainable sadness // was than joy is / frightens me," and "the excited energy / that is almost always followed / by an overcorrection of rest," and, perhaps my favorite line among all the poems, though it really requires knowing what precedes it: "Rain will fill your soggy paper cup." The beginning of the poem "Schooner" gathers in the detachment so many of these poems critique: "Do not look deeper, / or be discouraged when / your eyes ignore // the brain's advice." I read and re-read these poems, admiring their sense of elegance, proportion, and sanity.

Hobart L. and Mary Kay Peer Memorial Award, $500: Daniel Porder

Every one of these poems exhibits a kind of word-drunkenness, sometimes puzzling, often exhilarating, and always a lot of fun. The prose poem "Really, Everything" really does try to imagine all of cosmic reality, and though at only a paragraph it falls far short of doing so, still it creates an engagement with the reader which a great narrator of the old TV program Nova might have done. I imagine Carl Sagan channeling e. e. cummings in the question, "what else could a big bang have trembling thrown out to us besides its one wooden pole, the flopping flag marked, ‘bang.'" And yet the delicate compression of "The Universe Addresses Its Center" offers a more intimate and private discourse, despite the formality of its title. It's also nice to know that the verse drama is not dead. I was moved both by the subject of "Elegy for Rob: A Verse-Drama Séance" and the fact that the poet tried the form in the first place. I am curious about the rest of the drama, however, since the poem is presented as a fragment. Similarly I would have liked to enjoy the rest of the sonnet crown. Perhaps there's an in-joke here, and both exist only as portions of imaginary wholes. In any event, one of the pleasures of this manuscript was the range of formal experimentation. Each poem tried on its form with as much panache as success.

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.