Posts Categorized: Prizes

Interview With 2020 Don Belton Prize Judge Charles Yu

The Don Belton Prize is open until June 30th! In this interview, IR talks with prize judge Charles Yu about his writing influences, humor, and what makes a great novel.

CHARLES YU is the author of four books, including the novel How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, which was a New York Times Notable Book and named one of the best books of the year by Time magazine. He received the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Award and was nominated for two WGA awards for his work on the HBO series, Westworld. He has also written for upcoming shows on AMC and HBO. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in a number of publications including The New Yorker, The New York Times, Slate, and Wired. His latest book, Interior Chinatown, will be published by Pantheon in January 2020. Check it out here.

Lots of us have “writerly obsessions.” How do you think about returning to subjects & themes in your work?

My thinking on this has changed over time. At first, I didn’t even know I had obsessions. Then after I’d written a couple dozen things, I started to see patterns. It was: hmm, what’s going on here? A little bit like every morning I would set off on a walk, and then realize I always ended up at the same park. The obsessions didn’t go away. I started to worry. For a while, I tried to get away from my usual topics, thinking they were limitations or that I would burn out my readers and myself if I kept navigating the same territory. Then, more recently, I hit a new phase. I became comfortable with my obsessions. It’s not that I don’t want to continue to break new ground or try things. I definitely do. But my obsessions have been with me for so long now. I’ve invested in them, and they’ve invested in me. Writing is hard enough, and I think most writers are very lucky to get even a little bit of territory to which they can lay any kind of claim. My topics are my topics; they define me, and I’m grateful for them. And as I age, maybe I’ll even gain a new obsession or two, or a new perspective on the ones I have.

You’ve written short stories, TV episodes, novels, and more. Can you tell us how you think about genre & medium when you write?

The thing all of those genres and media have in common is they depend on character and story. So that comes first. Viable ideas don’t present themselves that often. So when one does peek its little head out of the dirt, I try not to scare it away with the tagging gun. I’ve got to coax it out of the ground, get it to emerge fully and show itself. Once I’ve got the idea firmly in grasp (although sometimes they still get away), I can try to think about what kind of story is this? What genre or form feels right to cage it? Have I taken this analogy too far? Maybe. 

As for TV vs. prose, I was and am a fiction writer first, so words are the material I am most comfortable with. Television is a visual medium, so I have to think in images. 

Many of us are struggling to do creative work right now. What’s been helping you think creatively lately, even if it doesn’t manifest as writing?

Walks. Reading. Finding ways to have less noise and more perspective. Not easy, though—at the time I’m writing these responses, I’m 94 days into lockdown. Somewhere around day 70, I started to feel a bit foggy. It’s been a struggle. I’m thankful to have had assignments in this time—nothing like the pressure of a deadline to focus the mind.

What do you look for in a good novel?

Voice. Which for me can come from one or many places: choices with diction or grammar or syntax that perturb and excite. A liminal space—feeling like I’m in an envelope of consciousness, a permeable barrier between my thoughts and the text. That might sound a bit obscure or elliptical. What I mean is I love novels where my mind melts into the minds of the characters, and vice versa. 

Any advice for aspiring satire writers out there?

Ha! No.

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Announcing the 2020 Fiction Prize Winner

We are excited to announce the winner and finalists of the 2020 Fiction Prize, judged by Angela Flournoy. Many thanks to everyone who submitted their work and made this year’s prize possible!

2020 Fiction Prize Winner

“Air Hunger” by María José Candela

Angela Flournoy says, “What makes “Air Hunger” impressive is the writer’s ability to evoke two modes of being at once. There are the two settings–the winter streets of Rome, with its young clergy and indifferent taxi drivers; and the shopping malls, apartments and swimming pools of Medellín. The story also examines two postures, both façades, that the narrator adopts at different points in her life. The result of this duality is a main character who feels complicated and real, one who is capable of accessing her regret as well as agency. This narrator and the story she tells will undoubtedly linger in readers’ minds.”

Finalists

“We All Live Here Forever” by Marguerite Alley

“My Wish for You in the Land of the Dead: a Cuban Sandwich” by Leslie Blanco

“We” by Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry

“Wolf Tale” by Anne Guidry

“Compound Fractures” by Alice Hatcher

“Hotel Indigo” by Elie Piha

The winner will be published in the Winter 2020 issue of Indiana Review.

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Announcing the 2020 Poetry Prize Winner

We are excited to announce the winner and runners-up of the 2020 Poetry Prize, judged by Javier Zamora. Many thanks to everyone who submitted their work and made this year’s prizes possible!

2020 Poetry Prize Winner

“I Looked At You and I Said Yes” by Wo Chan

Javier Zamora says, “What draws me into a poem is tension, the very first opportunity for such tension being the space between title and first line, and then, first line to second line, moving all the way down the page. Sometimes I call this speed, force, duende. When you couple this tension/speed with surprise (be it in language, content, form, etc.), then, you have achieved something that the best works of art do: spark multiple emotions we didn’t know we had, or we weren’t aware we had, or, we weren’t aware we hid them.

‘I Looked At You and I Said Yes’ sparked so many emotions in me that I didn’t know what to do with their juxtaposition. Part Elegy, part Ode, part just shooting the shit, and throughout it, a confession of love, humanity, friendship. I smiled, I nodded, I frowned, shook my head, almost cried. The deeper I dug into the poem, the more it revealed the hardships, the fucked-upness of the world we live under. Let this poem be the beginning of some sort of change. Change we all know we need, especially now. Change some of us have known we needed for years.”

Runners-Up

“Corpse Pose” by Rachel Galvin

“HORS_” by Day Heisinger-Nixon

Finalists

Marissa Davis

Karstin Hale

Ae Hee Lee

Parker O’Connor

Clare Paniccia

Daniel Schonning

Stella Yin-Yin Wong

The winner will be published in the Winter 2020 issue of Indiana Review.

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.