Spring 2013 Graduate Literary Prize Awards: Fiction
Amy Hassinger, judge
Amy Hassinger, a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, is the author of two novels. Deemed "superb" by O, the Oprah Magazine and "truly penetrating" by Salon.com, Nina: Adolescence (Putnam 2003) was translated into Dutch and Portuguese, won a Publisher's Weekly Listen Up! Award, and was selected as Audio Book of the Year by ForeWord Magazine. A May 2006 Book Sense Notable pick, The Priest's Madonna (Putnam 2006) was translated into Dutch, Spanish, Russian, and Indonesian. Her third novel, After the Dam, is in revision. Amy has received a 2013 IAS Professional Development Grant and a 2006 Finalist Award in prose, both from the Illinois Arts Council. Her work has appeared in many publications, including The Los Angeles Review of Books, Literary Mama, The Common Online, South Dakota Review, and Fourth Genre. She is a Faculty Mentor with the University of Nebraska's low-residency MFA in Writing Program.
Josephine M. Bresee Memorial Award in Short Fiction, $500: Laura Adamczyk, "Girls"
The best fiction both captivates and moves us: captivates us with its unique voice, its precise and energetic language, its perfect or unusual form; moves us with its deeply felt expression of human yearning. "Girls" so captivated and moved me that, as with all my favorite stories, I wished I had written it. Frannie, the narrator, is full of nostalgia for her own lost innocence, but never sentimental. The story she tells--surviving the trauma of her parents' divorce while entering the strange and disturbing territory of adulthood--is tantalizingly real and simultaneously surreal, much like the dreamworld of memory. The author presents dozens of evocative images--Frannie's father's gold cans of beer disappearing like "the light outside moving from blond dusk to dark;" the mailbox in front of her grandmother's house bearing the name Bullock, "the block letters scrawled angry and childlike;" the man who appears in the upstairs rooms wearing a three-piece suit, who chews (or pretends to chew) a toy car and who lures Frannie and her sisters into a game of "scratch the itch." The threat of betrayal and violence, of permanent damage, lurks beneath each of these actions, but the narrator tells her tale with such restraint that while we feel the virulence of threat, its exact final shape is never spelled out, only suggested. The resulting story is rich and subtle and breathtaking, redolent of the pain and confusion of childhood as remembered from a distance.
Robert J. and Katharin Carr Graduate Fiction Prize, $300: Eric Thomas, "The Book of Tobin"
"The Book of Tobin" is told with an authoritative voice that manages to be both absurd and serious, playful and strikingly wise. The first sentence of the story presents a tight knot of conflict that begs to be loosened: "Tobin woke up earlier than usual because his wife wanted to be close to him, and Tobin did not want to be close to his wife." Next, we see Tobin and his wife curled in bed like "anchovies in a bed of olive oil"--and we're off and running, following Tobin through his disaffected marriage, his physical and psychic mutations. Soon, we meet the story's narrator--a persona of the writer, the creator of Tobin--trapped in his own misfiring relationship. The meta-story has the effect of magnifying the whole, enlarging it and creating a wider sense of possibility, more room to play. "The Book of Tobin" takes risks--occasionally it plays the edge of absurdity a little close to silly, and the characters can seem cartoonish--but their attempts to connect to one another, to conceive (a child, a character, a self) are, in the end, dead serious.
Honorable Mention: Nafissa Thompson-Spires, "Mutatis Mutandis"