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Announcing the 2020 Blue Light Books Prize Winner

We are thrilled to announce that prize judge Michelle Pretorius has selected The World of Dew and Other Stories by Julian Mortimer Smith as the winner of the 2020 Blue Light Books Prize! We received a record number of submissions this year and are honored to have read so many beautiful books. Thank you all for your submissions and for making this year’s Blue Light Books Prize possible. The World of Dew and Other Stories will be published by Indiana University Press in 2021 as part of the Blue Light Books Series, which includes previous prize-winning collections Fierce Pretty Things by Tom Howard, Girl with Death Mask by Jenn Givhan, and God Had a Body by Jennie Maria Malboeuf.


2020 Blue Light Books Prize Winner


by Julian Mortimer Smith


And congratulations to prize finalists…

Us Girls by Shasta Grant

They Kept Running by Michelle Ross


Interested in more publishing opportunities with IR / IU Press? The Don Belton Fiction Reading Period is open May 1 – May 31. Send fiction manuscripts up to 80,000 words for a chance to win $1,000 and publication.

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Announcing the 2019 Creative Nonfiction Prize Winner

We are excited to announce the winner of the 2019 Creative Nonfiction Prize, judged by Hanif Abdurraqib. Many thanks to everyone who submitted their work and made this year’s prize possible!

2019 Creative Nonfiction Prize Winner:

“Lobster Shy” by Keith Wilson

Hanif Abdurraqib says, “I was — very literally — moved by this work. It is a meditation that refuses a stationary angle, winding and breathless. But, mostly, I’m thankful for such an intimate look at the interior of both the pleasure and anguish of existence.”

Keith S. Wilson is an Affrilachian Poet and Cave Canem fellow. He is a recipient of an NEA fellowship as well as fellowships/grants from Bread Loaf, Kenyon College, Tin House, MacDowell, Vermont Studio Center, UCross, and Millay Colony, among others. Keith serves as Assistant Poetry Editor at Four Way Review and Digital Media Editor at Obsidian Journal. His first book, Fieldnotes on Ordinary Love, was published by Copper Canyon in 2019.


“On Girls & Rabbits & Women” by Amanda Goemmer

“Biscuits” by D. Nolan Jefferson

“Relics, Registries, and Other Bastard Things” by Taylor Kirby

“Enough for a Lifetime of Sundays” by Ashley Mallick

“Rubbish House” by Shaw Patton

“An Incomplete, Personal History of Isolation Through Video Games” by Reyes Ramirez

“Noble Silence” by Robert Julius Schumaker

The prize winner will be published in the Summer 2020 issue of Indiana Review. Happy reading!

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What We’re Listening To: Soundscapes Folio

IR can’t wait to read your sound & place writing for our Summer 2020 Soundscapes Folio! Here’s what we’re listening to right now, with some tasteful book pairings:

Mariah Gese, Editor in Chief

I recently finished Kraken by China Miéville, and I haven’t been able to escape the London he evokes—filled with cults, horror, grime, and fear, ever since a taxidermied giant squid vanished from London’s Natural History Museum. A cult of cephalopod worshipers are the suspected culprits, and since their foretold doomsday approaches, London’s magical underworld fears this apocalypse may be the real thing. A war erupts in an effort to stop—or bring about—the end of the world. Chelsea Wolfe is the perfect haunted accompaniment, and a great seasonal mood. Her voice moves between soft flutters and guttural screams of noise, propelled by a doom metal drum line to…The End.

Alberto Sveum, Associate Editor

Whether withering in the sun, finding solitude in front of the television, or asking garden slugs about how they view sociability, Snail Mail’s 2016 EP Habit is constantly balancing both lethargy and fervor. The opening track “Thinning” exemplifies this quite well. While the lyrics are about sickness and a desire to remain languid, the pop of the snare drum and the recurring guitar riff, somewhat reminiscent of Sonic Youth’s “Incinerate,” punctuates “Thinning” with a driving purpose. Lindsey Jordan’s whirring chord progressions and raw vocals, mellow and atmospheric, are present all throughout the six-song stretch, but nowhere do these tunes turn dull or cliché. “Static Buzz,” for example, dwells in a feeling something like sinking, before the drums pick up and Jordan cries out until the song’s end. Though Habit is largely an exploration of coming-of-age monotony and introversion, Snail Mail deftly proves that this does not mean the music needs to be tedious or alienating.

Prada knockoffs, Niles from Frasier, privilege. All of this and more makes up the absurd cultural and political landscape that Carmen Giménez Smith sets her sights on in her poetry collection Cruel Futures. Giménez Smith wields irony much like we see in Habit; rather than couple ennui with gain-laden guitar riffs and drum fills, however, these poems approach the absurdity of our current epoch with a critical eye, co-opting pop culture references to offer scathing assessment of where we are. She writes in the title poem, “We’re so not-naughty, so tweet-missiles against injustice, but smiling / on the outside, waiting to pay dearly, subject to change.” Cruel Futures forces the reader to stop and think about where they are and to turn the corner, away from comfortable pacification, into the tumultuous world.

Soleil Davíd, Poetry Editor

I’m currently teaching Sarah Gambito’s Loves You in my poetry class, and it’s a sardonic, jubilant collection that utilizes recipes—most of them Filipino food recipes—to complicate, contemplate Filipino/Filipino-American identity, postcoloniality, immigration and family, with the consumption of brown immigrants in this country a definite hum in the background.

The poem “Cento: Don’t Eat Filipinos!” uses a Wikipedia article on Filipinos—a sweet snack food sold in European countries, including Spain, which colonized the Philippines for more than 300 years—to make this hum a shout, metaphor turned literal.

Gambito follows the poem with “My Husband’s Lychee Macarons” a recipe-poem that begins with the missive, “Instead of eating Filipinos, make these and enjoy.” The six-page poem details the gargantuan task of making French macarons from scratch, concluding with instructions to serve the infamously temperamental dessert to a theme song of the reader’s choosing. The speaker has recommendations, including Madonna’s “Get into the Groove,” David Bowie’s “Rebel, Rebel,” and Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” I love those three songs, and can definitely see myself waltzing into the dining room with a tray of macarons in my hands. But I think I’ll choose The National’s “All the Wine,” to pair with Loves You, because they both capture an inflated sense of accomplishment, a touch of mania that barely covers a sense of utter desolation.

Jenna Wengler, Fiction Editor

While Flynn’s other novels (Sharp Objects, Gone Girl) get more attention thanks to their hit screen adaptations, Dark Places is perhaps even harder to put down. As the novel explores rural America and the Satanic panic of the 1980s, protagonist Libby Day must excavate her long-avoided past in order to solve the cold-case behind the murder of her mother and sisters. Not only does Halsey’s “Control” feel like the perfect moody backdrop for Dark Places, the lyrics echo many of its driving questions: Who should we be afraid of? How do we grapple with the darkness inside ourselves? And who is in control of the narratives that shape our lives?

L. Renée, Nonfiction Editor

The first few seconds of Lianne La Havas’ “Lost & Found” opens with a single piano that I imagine is played in a low lit, cavernous room. At second five, a bass drum knocks on the door of this room and a few delicate acoustic guitar strings answer. The strumming blossoms into the kind of woe that only a shattered heart recognizes as its shadow. Everything, in fact, about this song plays with light and dark. The instruments, paired with haunting vocals, swell and contract. They labor in concert, imploring the listener to face that ever-swinging pendulum between shame and need in the absence of an intimate partner. 

Rachel Eliza Griffiths’ Lighting The Shadow does much of the same, breathtaking work in poem after poem. The collection traverses immense landscapes of trauma, grief and desire, as well as the determination to survive one’s physical and spiritual losses. Repeating images of fire, light and ash are juxtaposed with skin, flesh and blood. “Lighting the shadow, a woman/ crawls out beneath her own war” because, after all, she must persist. Otherwise, as the speaker asks in “The Dead Will Lead You,” “Who will embalm our bones?” This was one of the first books of poetry that both astounded and confounded me in the best way — stripped of artifice, I was frighteningly made visible to myself. Lost and found. 

Austin Araujo, Prize Editor

I just finished Saidiya Hartman’s latest, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval, and am still working to gather coherent thoughts about it. Hartman writes beautifully and rigorously, and capably wields both wide and narrow looks at the lives of black women in Philadelphia and New York at the turn of the 20th century, using the scraps and periphery of archives of that time period. What excites me most about the book, and what makes it hard to be in conversation with, is the manner in which Hartman manages to hone in on particular romantic relationships and carefully consider each aspect of their struggles while smoothly transitioning into an exploration of how what some might consider romantic failure is actually a “revolution in a minor key,” as Hartman writes. It’s a book curious about untangling just how much our notions of what tenderness and the erotic can be are tied up in structural white supremacy and patriarchy, and how black women in particular have suffered and thwarted it.

The song that most often soundtracked that reading experience was Stevie Wonder’s “Maybe Your Baby,” from his 1972 record Talking Book. Basically, it concerns the speaker’s worry that their baby has someone else, namely the speaker’s best friend. Melding lament with a funk groove that rides for almost seven minutes, “Maybe Your Baby,” culminates with a guitar solo that articulates a similar sort of sorrow that Hartman gets at in Wayward Lives, one entrenched in a dread that love is doomed but that one can still push up against it, can outlast that fright. Listen, at least, to this song for its funky synthesizers.

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2019 1/2 K Prize Winner

Indiana Review is thrilled to announce that the winner of our 1/2 K Prize is Emily Lawson for “Coal Hollow Fire, UT.”

The prize was open to any piece under 500 words. We want to express our appreciation to everyone who submitted and made this year’s prize a success!

2019 1/2 K Winner

“Coal Hollow Fire, UT” by Emily Lawson

“The writer really impressed me with how much was built–nostalgia, regret, danger, intimacy–into this short piece that utilized sparse, beautiful language. There was such a contrast in the icy, distant language that they used while describing something so hot, so dangerous that it made me read it several times.” — Megan Giddings


“Autopsy,” “Between Hospital Visiting Hours,” and “I Drop a White Pill in My Sink,” by A.D. Lauren-Abunassar

“How to Make Breakfast” by John Paul Martinez

“hymns to the word” by Carrie Jenkins

“Touch” by Eric Burger

Stay tuned for more prize and submission opportunities.

Interview with 2020 Blue Light Books Prize Final Judge: Michelle Pretorius

2020 Blue Light Books Prize judge Michelle Pretorius speaks about home, the power of empathy, and the beauty of the short story.

A writer of many genres, Michelle Pretorius is the author of the debut novel The Monster’s Daughter (Melville House, Audible, 2011) and winner of the FAW literary award. She recieved her B.A in South Africa of the University of Free State in South Africa. She also has a M.F.A in Fiction Writing, and her Ph.D. in Creative Writing from Ohio University. For more information, visit her website.

  • Do you find you have writerly obsessions? What subject matter do you find yourself returning to, in your writing and reading?

I read across genres and a wide array of subject matter. I feel that opening yourself up to a myriad of possibilities allows you to make connections and that is an important part of creativity. Though I primarily write crime narratives, I love how crossing genre boundaries allows us to see the human experience from different angles, so I always try to open myself up to the possibilities a different genre can hold for what I want to say with a story. I do get obsessive – as I think all writers do – when I am working on something. Like all story ideas it usually starts with a thought, a “what if?,” which is usually followed by an excessive amount of research and a lot of living in my head – a lot of the story develops there before I ever put anything on paper. Because of my background, I find myself frequently coming back to themes of inequality and social justice. I also have morbid fascinations, which makes me deeply interested in the antagonist and the “why” of a situation as opposed to the “what” and the “how”, if that makes sense.

  • Your work frequently addresses our relationships to politics and history. Do you think this is a necessary part of writing today? Do you have any advice for navigating this space?

The society we live in, and to a great extent our identity and our experiences within that society, is a product of both history and the politics that shaped that history. I don’t think it’s possible to separate ourselves, and by extension our characters, from it. All writing doesn’t have to be a bold political statement, but having an awareness of the forces that shaped the social situation your characters find themselves in adds depth and nuance to a story. Much has been written about the power of literature to create empathy and understanding, and I want to add education to that. As humans we learn through story and I believe that creating a space in our work for readers to learn about other people’s experiences and struggles that they may not be familiar with, which in itself is political, is necessary. Maud Casey, in her book, The Art of Mystery, talks about how in our current political climate “empathy can feel like a radical act.” I think this is a good place to start. Approaching your characters, even the ones that hold controversial viewpoints, with a willingness to try to understand the forces that shaped their beliefs and motivations, opens the door to discussion. Amid all the shouting that is going on, I think discussion is a worthy goal.

  • Your book The Monster’s Daughter is set in South Africa. Can you talk about what it’s like to write about home, especially when you’re away?

The fact that I left home allowed me to be able to write about it. Sometimes you are too close to a situation to understand the forces at work, to see the bigger picture as it were. I had the experience of growing up in a country that was in the midst of political upheaval and where the cultural group I belonged to was the oppressor of other groups. I was socialized into a mindset that what was being done to others was justified. It’s the fish in water syndrome. It’s hard to understand the truth until you separate yourself from that reality and look at it from a distance. To recognize and acknowledge your role and culpability in the suffering of others is a hard thing to do, and I had to actively engage in my search for the truth through writing and researching The Monster’s Daughter. Writing became my vehicle to a deeper understanding of the forces of history and my place in it. I haven’t lived in South Africa for almost twenty years now, and visits are infrequent, so I find myself increasingly out of touch with the socio-economic forces and cultural nuances within the present-day reality of the country. I just completed a draft of my second book, which is also set in South Africa, but I doubt that I will write another unless I had the opportunity to go back for an extended period of time to immerse myself in the culture.

  • What writing projects are you working on now?

As I mentioned, I just finished a draft of my second book and I’m working on rewrites at the moment, but I have a couple of project brewing in the background and hope to start the research soon. One continues my interest in crime fiction as a vehicle for social commentary, and the other is speculative in nature and will undoubtably push me out of my comfort zone, which I find to be a very exciting prospect. Whichever one shouts loudest when I’m done with my current project will be my next obsession.

  • What do you look for in a short story collection?

Though I primarily write novels, I love reading short stories, and I’m very excited to read the submissions for this competition. Short story writing is an art form that confirms and subverts our expectations and understanding of the human condition in surprising and inventive ways. I gravitate towards work that pushes boundaries, and that challenges my understanding of the world we live in, even in subtle and understated ways.  In a collection, I look for stories that are strung together by a larger theme, or motif in the writer’s work, and how each of the stories work toward illuminating a different aspect or changes our understanding of that central idea and its effect on the characters and world of the story.

The deadline for the 2020 Blue Light Books Prize is October 31st, 2019 at 11:59 p.m. Click here to send in your submission.