Posts Categorized: Prizes

Interview with 2020 Fiction Prize Judge Angela Flournoy

The 2020 Fiction Prize is open until March 31! In this interview, our fiction editor Jenna Wengler sits down with prize judge Angela Flournoy to talk about her writing influences, ghosts, and what makes a great short story.


Angela Flournoy is the author of The Turner House, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and a New York Times notable book of the year. The novel was also a finalist for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction and an NAACP Image Award. She is a National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” Honoree for 2015. Her fiction has appeared in The Paris Review, and she has written for The New York Times, The Nation, The Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere.

A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Flournoy received her undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California. She has taught at the University of Iowa, The New School, Columbia University, Princeton University and the University of California at Los Angeles.

Flournoy was the 2016-17 Rona Jaffe Foundation Fellow at the New York Public Library’s Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. She was awarded a 2018 National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and is currently a Mary Ellen von der Heyden fellow in fiction at the American Academy in Berlin. 


The Turner House is in some ways deeply rooted in realism, as it explores the traumatic effects of the 2008 Subprime Mortgage Crisis on an African American family in Detroit. And yet, the novel opens with a chaotic encounter with a “haint,” and Cha-Cha’s struggle with the haint becomes one of the most memorable storylines in the novel. How did you negotiate the relationship between the characters’ brutal financial reality and the ghost story? Do you think about genre as you write, or does blending genre come naturally?

I think that for many writers genre is a concept you learn or are taught to take into account long after you develop your love of stories and storytelling. I don’t think about genre when writing, I think about the best way to tell the story I’d like to tell, as well as what elements feel real to the world I’m creating for my characters. In The Turner House, many, but not all characters believe in the possibility of a haint being real. My portrayal of the haint is rooted in exploring these characters’ relationships to their own beliefs. I never gave much thought to the conventions of incorporating this “magical” element into the story; I simply considered how it might impact my characters.

This introduction of the haint in the opening chapter of the novel feels like a reference to Toni Morrison’s Beloved. However, in a departure from Beloved, your ghost scene is injected with a sense of humor that continues to crop up throughout the story. How does humor function in a novel that also deals quite seriously with such topics as race, intergenerational trauma, and financial ruin?

The epigraph of The Turner House includes a quotes from Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men: “The negro offers a feather-bed resistance. That is, we let the probe enter but it never comes out. It gets smothered under a lot of laughter and pleasantries.” This, in part, encapsulates my tonal approach to the novel. 

If a short story were a house, what would be its foundation? In other words, what elements do you see as most essential to crafting a great short story?

When I think about what differentiates an acceptable short story from a truly great one, it is skin in the game. Where is that kernel of true feeling or insight that elevates all other parts of the narrative?

What are your literary obsessions? What images or ideas do you find yourself returning to again and again?

There are way too many images to name, but I will say that compellingly-rendered human interactions trump abstract ideas for me in most cases.

And finally, what are you reading right now?

I am reaching Romance in Marseille, a newly-released novel by Claude McKay which was written in the 1930s but never published.

Interview with 2020 Poetry Prize Judge Javier Zamora

The 2020 Poetry Prize is open until March 31! In this interview, our poetry editor Soleil David sits down with prize judge Javier Zamora to talk about his influences, the voices in his family, and his forthcoming memoir.


Javier Zamora was born in El Salvador and migrated to the US when he was nine. He was a 2018-2019 Radcliffe Institute Fellow at Harvard and has been granted fellowships from CantoMundo, Colgate University, the Lannan Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Poetry Foundation, and Stanford University. Unaccompanied is his first collection. He lives in Harlem where he’s working on a memoir. Visit his website to learn more about his work.


Your full-length debut, Unaccompanied, includes a number of poems in which you speak in the voice of a family member as a young person, from ages 11-19. What did writing in the voices of children and young adults teach you?

The voices are of my family members. The content came from interviews or stories they’d told me about their lives during the war. I was trying to understand how/why we had fled to this country. Attempting to write through their perspectives, their point-of-view, gave me just a glimmer of what they must’ve felt then. But essentially, it taught me to listen more.

I was listening to your NPR radio documentary “The Return” and I was especially struck by what you said about your grandma, her being the “physical embodiment of what immigration does to a person, and to a family.” I also migrated and left my own family at a young age, and I continue to grapple with the effects of immigration on my own family, so I was particularly moved by your declaration. Can you tell us more about what you meant when you said that about your grandma?

For my family, immigration is the ultimate manifestation of many factors engrained in 1980s-90s Salvadoran culture: domestic abuse, war-trauma, hatred toward women, all stemming from toxic patriarchy. Most of us left. Grandma hasn’t been able to leave. She has not only absorbed all of these daily abuses (my Grandpa no longer drinks but is still verbally abusive), but Grandma has also had to endure us—her loved ones—leaving her side. My cousin has stayed, yet she’s a young woman who has had to grow up in a very toxic environment. They’ve both absorbed it—the environment—and our migrations/abandonment. The mind and the body manifest these traumas in different ways. In Grandma’s case, she has not been able to leave the house in years. I do not mean that as a metaphor. In a very literal way, she has absorbed our traumas and they are manifesting themselves on her body. I take it as her protest. We have left and walked out of that front door and that front gate and never returned. She will not do that. She can’t.

How has the work you want a poem to do changed since you published Unaccompanied?

I had to write the sadness that is so prevalent in Unaccompanied, my immigration status was such that poetry gave me an element of control, of healing. Sadness and trauma as a stepping-stone for other possibilities. In many ways, my first book is narrow-minded. There isn’t much joy. Now, I hope to write a poem/book that touches many emotional notes because, on a personal level, I am not only my trauma and why should my art only be my trauma?

What are you working on right now?

I’m working my way through a memoir about the eight weeks it took me to get to this country. Since I’m tired of exploring my trauma in poetry, I thought prose could allow me to better understand my time through Mexico and Guatemala. A time that was very difficult, more so than my time in the desert, and perhaps the reason it was very hard for me to remember it in Unaccompanied. I don’t really talk about my weeks in Guatemala or Mexico. Prose has granted me that chance.

I’m also working on a second book of poems that are not about my personal life, but still try to critique the way the press (even the liberal press) approaches the “immigration crisis.”

What poetry and prose books have you been reading lately? What strikes you about these works?

I’ve recently accepted that I’m into poetry books that are not your “traditional” books of three sections, strict stanzas, most poems look the same, etc. Look by Solmaz Sharif, The World Doesn’t End by Charles Simic, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely by Claudia Rankine, and Clandestine Poems by Roque Dalton. These are some of my favorite books of all time, but I never really understood why I liked them so much. For right now, I think it’s their direct rejection of what a poetry book must be or look like. Or more precisely, what is allowed to be called poetry and what is not, the answer: anything. 

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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.

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2020 Blue Light Books Prize Winner

THE WORLD OF DEW AND OTHER STORIES

by Julian Mortimer Smith

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And congratulations to prize finalists…

Us Girls by Shasta Grant

They Kept Running by Michelle Ross

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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.

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!

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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

Finalists

“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.