Posts Categorized: Nonfiction

INTERVIEW WITH 2020 CREATIVE NONFICTION PRIZE JUDGE, BASSEY IKPI

Indiana Review is accepting submissions for the Creative Nonfiction Prize until October 31st, 2020! In this interview with 2020 judge Bassey Ikpi, Nonfiction Editor El Williams invites her to talk about literary techniques and influences in her essay collection, I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying, and what excites her about creative nonfiction.

New York Times Best Selling author Bassey Ikpi is a Nigerian-American, ex-poet, current writer, constant mental health advocate, underachieving overachiever and memoir procrastinator. She lives in Maryland and is working on various creative projects.

In your book, I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying, the POV switches from essay to essay, oftentimes changing from first to second person perspective in a single piece: What power do you feel shifting POV has on a reader’s imagination or emotional response?

I think it does a few things depending on the story being told and why: some of the stories needed to feel immersive. I wanted the audience to live in the experience with me. I also wanted them to be able to activate empathy by placing them as close to the experience as I could. There are essays where I’ve been told that the reader was exhausted after a certain point and, yes, I too was exhausted living it. I want you to know what it feels like for people who live lives with this longer than just between the pages of a book.  It also gives me the opportunity to tell a full story based on how I see it. For instance, I needed to tell the story as completely as I could. In the writing, I found myself telling myself the same lies and half-truths I’d always told myself, so giving myself permission to distance helped tell a fuller story. There were times when in the middle of the writing, a part of me would say, “You forgot to mention how…” and rather than editing those out or rewriting them once they were written, I kept them.  I would love to say that it was more deliberate than that but it wasn’t. Many of those essays were born out of free writes in the moment; me needing to find some grounding and centering as I was experiencing anxiety or insomnia or what have you. But once I saw how effective it was, I gave myself permission to write as it came instead of worry about making it standard. The plan was always to go back and change the tense and clean up the pronouns and make it look “normal,” but I tried to do that and it changed everything about what I wanted. It just didn’t work and it would have been a lesser book had I done that. 

Which writers inspire you and what does their work teach you?

A lot of writers inspire me, for this book: 

Lorrie Moore taught me how to tell a short story. 

Melissa Febos taught me that poetry can live in prose. She taught me that the truth can be told both unvarnished and beautifully carved. She taught me to tell the truth but edit with kindness. Melissa taught me about freedom in writing.

Megan Stielstra taught me that the “ending” of a sentence or a paragraph or a book didn’t need to be smooth. That a thought, or an emotion, can hang and sit with the reader while the writing has moved on. It was because of her book that I didn’t feel the need to write the “last essay.” I left when I was done and with the idea that there is more to the story than fits in the pages.

J. California Cooper taught me about beauty in brevity. She taught me that some of the most impactful moments can be contained in just a few short sentences.

Ntozake Shange taught me that my two loves, writing and dance, were lovers and I could have them both.

Toni Morrison taught me to write for myself and for my people. No matter who those people are.

Nana-Ama Danquah taught me about telling the truth despite the fear. Telling your story for the sake of the story and nothing else.

Kiese Laymon taught me to be fearless. He gave me permission to write the story ugly.

Many people taught me many things. I’ve learned a lot from a lot of people but these are what came to my mind when I read this question. I’m sure I’ll think of about 95 other people tomorrow and want to edit this. 

While reading creative nonfiction, what excites you the most and why?

Beautifully crafted sentences and brilliant, or clever, turns of phrases that take a moment I’ve experienced many times and turn it on it’s side, exposing something I’ve never seen. Or when I read something and say, “I didn’t know how to say that. I didn’t know what that was until I read it.” I love feeling like the author is showing me something that I forgot to look at. I love having my breath catch or escape with worry or compassion or anger or frustration. I want to live in it with the writer. I want to read something beautiful and ugly and authentic and lived in. 

I know your collection of essays was published last year and is still fresh, but what’s next for you or what are you most excited for that is happening in the near future?

I’ll be honest, I didn’t enjoy the publishing process or anything that came after it. It made me very tense so I’m not in any rush or hurry to write another book. I think this was the book I was meant to write and I don’t have much else to say. I couldn’t be happier with what I wrote and I think it’s okay to let it live.

I did enjoy recording the audiobook so I’m going to be doing some more around that later.

I can’t say too much about some of the other things but I’m excited to see what other shape this book can take. 

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ANNOUNCING THE 2020 1/2 K PRIZE WINNER

We are excited to announce “Maximum Overdrive” by Connor Yeck as the winner of the 2020 1/2 K Prize, judged by Tiana Clark. Many thanks to everyone who submitted their work and made this year’s prize possible!

On “Maximum Overdrive,” Tiana Clark said: “From the title, I didn’t know right away that this poem would soon reference one of my favorite guilty pleasure ‘80’s movies! I was delighted to read a modern ekphrastic poem in three brilliant movements, braiding a personal memory with pop culture and the German language. I selected this poem for the risks it took on the page by unexpected associative leaping, which allowed for strangeness, delight, and depth. The similes were vivid and sonically plush. There is a controlled too-muchness here that I celebrate, because it vibrates with cohesion in its sustained image systems with a savvy sense of play and wonder. This is a poet who trusted and chased their imagination. It paid off, and I applaud you.”

FINALISTS

“Good Work and Goodbye!” by Clancy Tripp

“Fire” by Mary Ardery

“He Who Finds a Wife Finds a Good Thing” by Alysse McCanna

“Hoarder” and “Exhaustion” by Joshua Nguyen

“Groundwork” by Cate Lycurgus

“Long Ago, an Owl” by Nancy Quinn

“Count-Down” by Alan Sincic

“Hold for Release till End of the World Confirmed” by Connor Yeck

The winner will be published in the in the Summer 2021 issue of the Indiana Review.

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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.

Finalists:

“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!

Nonfiction Feature: “kafir 1 & 2” By Tarfia Faizullah

 

kafir 1

 

It’s been twenty years since my sister died in the car accident. For twenty years I’ve been telling slightly different versions of her death and the aftermath. None of them are true. All of them are true.

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Kufrul-‘Inaad is disbelief out of stubbornness. This applies to someone who knows the truth and admits to knowing the truth, and knows it with his or her tongue, but refuses to accept it and refrains from making a declaration.

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One night during college at a party in someone’s dark dorm room, someone decided it would be fun to make a drinking game out of how many things in common we had with our siblings. The lava lamp in the corner made our faces seem like the topographies of far- away planets. “What about you, Tarfia?” he asked.

*

“Throw into hell every obstinate disbeliever,” Allah says a few verses later. “Why are you so stubborn?” everyone in my life who has ever loved me has asked. “Why is it so hard for you to back down?”

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“I don’t have any siblings,” I said, thrumming the amber neck of the beer bottle with my fingers.

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In verse 50:19 of the Qur’an, Allah says to the disbeliever, “And the intoxication of death will bring the truth; that is what you were trying to avoid.”

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“She’s not dead,” I said when my parents came to visit me in the hospital a few days after my sister had gone into cardiac arrest. My arm was in a sling, freshly plastered hours after surgery that was meant to correct the damage done to my shoulder during the car accident. My mother’s face was a map of bruises. I couldn’t look directly at any of the new countries of her ruptured skin. “She can’t be.”

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How can death simultaneously intoxicate and bring truth? If the very cells that allow us to experience intoxication stop functioning, how do our brains process, allow, or deny truth? That is to say, truth is like memory in that it is not so much a set of discrete memories as much as it is a set of processes by which we encode, store, and retrieve information.

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“It’s just me and my sister,” I say to the lipsticked and rouged woman ringing up the bottle of perfume I’m buying for my mother at the makeup counter at Dillard’s. It is strange how easy it is to not continue with “…but she hasn’t been alive for twenty years.” “I’m about five years older,” I say, and she lights up. “That’s the age difference between me and my sister!” she says, and I smile and sign my name on the credit card slip with a flourish.

*

In many ways, kufr is synonymous with atheism, which is the rejection of a belief in the existence of deity. But is it still disbelief if you are rejecting belief in someone or something that no longer exists?

 

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Nonfiction Feature: Cartesian Anxiety in a Bleeding I By Camellia Freeman

 

Cartesian Anxiety in a Bleeding I

 
Preface:

Rene Descartes works best in his pajamas. I watch him while wrapped in a blanket, and in my imagination he resurrects easily enough, coughs, walks around. It’s January, so he’s chosen the fuzzy ones with feet—mid- night blue—displaying galaxies caught mid-spin with nickel-sized buttons that run up the front.

            Alone in his apartment, a five-story walk-up, he feels his greatest intellectual freedom while wearing these footsy pajamas, assured no one will ever know. He’s disconnected the Internet and isn’t taking any calls. Even the small television set is unplugged. See how the cords dangle? He bought the yellow swivel chair at his desk because he admires its neat diamond stitches and the way it creaks without squeaking, which reminds him of his mother rocking in her wooden chair when he was still small enough to climb up to her face, rocking in such a way that made her seem playful and lighthearted, as though she would stay that way if for no other reason than because she would always be his mother.

            Resurrected, he writes in Latin because it is the language of thinking and because it is expected. He stares, often between pen strokes. His hand never cramps. Arranging his candles and his stained glass lamp, against which he’s leaned a framed daguerreotype of a girl, his mind chews on one hypothesis only to discard it for the next. The girl is wide-eyed and pale and looks off to the side while clutching the dark lace at her neck. Her left ear tilts toward him, expectant.
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