The Department of Literary Arts is pleased to announce the selected writings for the Spring 2014 Prizes in Literary Arts. Comments from the judges follow each selection. Thank you to all who entered their work, and congratulations to the selected writers.
To download a full listing of selected writings, see Selected Writings.
Selected Writings & Judges' Comments
Academy of American Poets Prize
“Pontchartrain ... or What Have I Done” by Ben Luton
In rhythmically attuned blocks of poetic prose, with sentences sometimes broken precisely in order to link segments of wandering thought together, images and narrative fragments emerge: of personal and interpersonal struggles with family, with lovers, with strangers, and especially with language, with "How it is that I assume language." This work, surely part of something larger, is sited, intensely localized, but its idiolectic desire "to be scared" risks poetic reflection and achieves a language that its readers may share.
Kim Ann Arstark Memorial Awards
“The Production of Miracles,” by Erica Mena-Landry shows a marvelous fluidity of language; its deftly manipulated sound-scape negotiates between light and dark in a way that continually opens new nuances within familiar words. The whole creates a rich atmosphere of realized potential.
“Extrications of Place” and “Extrications of Living Proof”, by Isabel Balée blend precise language with imaginative flights, resulting in a dynamic of registers and a play of energies. The address is direct; we feel the strong voice of lived experience, punctuated with slight surprises—tap dancers, ghosts, pirouettes. The whole is alive and wonderfully polished.
“Birdbath” by Zoila Bergeron
Birdbath is as musical as birdsong itself, or rather nature writ larger. The sureness of line -- the break of line -- and the clarity of image -- gives the reader a sense of propulsive energy. There's a vividness in what's described -- but the line between the descriptive and the aural value of language itself is where the joy of this poem resides. The economy gives real tension on the line breaks -- the torque within the enjambment (and occasional situational enjambment) keeps the poem on edge, a bit off-kilter. The poem will "redress wounds" within itself, and "dream a whisper" indeed.
“Various Poems” by Andrew Smyth
This group of poems engages the reader on both the intellectual level but even more so on the visceral plane. These sensual poems make the act of living one of true celebration -- each turn by another is made visible through the care and intensity of the viewer/spectator. The point of engagement is always just on the verge of transpiring. These poems are coiled tight, ready to bask in the glory of human connection. They appeal to the visceral, but do so with a reserve that places the mind at the center of all yearnings. "I am awake to gesture," and then "inhale energetically" -- the act of thinking is akin to action itself. Life is a series of incidents, some random, all tied to desire.
Feldman Prizes in Fiction
“Water Instead of Land” by Meredith Luby
In prose that is as sure-footed as Kafka's, the author of "Water Instead of Land" has given us a beautifully written and organic, innovative evolution of storyline and metaphor that is dark, psychologically profound, haunting, and complete. A magnificent story worthy of praise from beginning to end.
“Pontchartrain ... or What Have I Done” by Ben Luton
In a kind of textual painting akin to Picasso's “Guernica," life and love are slaughtered and reassembled in a brilliant mirage of logic and landscape in a tribute to the New Orleans that was inundated by Lake Pontchartrain when the levies broke following Hurricane Katrina. Into this seething terrain of language, fragmentary thoughts, clipped memories of setting, school, family, sexual and social intercourse, violence, and bureaucratic neglect, are shot sudden lucid images that break the heart. Glimpses of lost characters and innocence emerge and evolve into the violent wreckage portrayed by the text. As a whole, “Pontchartrain. . . . Or, What Have I Done” is poignant, riveting, horrific, many times nearly (and appropriately) impenetrable, completely brilliant and original. Exceedingly well done!
“Tornasse al Mondo” by Matthew Marisco
An unexpected bildungsroman explores extreme subjectivity and fragile interiority through an unconventional over-the-shoulder perspective. With a delicate architecture in language, and compression and elongation of time and movement, this narrative of youth on the threshold carves out fresh terrain from a typically well-trod field.
“An Interruption” by Andrew Smyth
In particular, "An Interruption" works deftly with suspension of a single moment (and the tension surrounding) over several pages: characters flower, fruit and ripen in the interim between musical stanzas. Here language and phrasing makes the familiar unfamiliar, elegant and highly wrought--every description is carefully and finely tooled.
Beth Lisa Feldman Prize in Children’s Literature
“Shallow Diving” by Caitlin Kennedy is an incredibly lively and readable story for young adults, about a complex young teen. The writer took great effort in authentically inhabiting the mindset of that age, and the story she tells is affecting and original.
Frances Mason Harris ’26 Prizes
“Featherbone” by Erica Mena-Landry
A sorcerer's brew of chant and prayer and charm, “Featherbone” casts a mesmerizing spell. In a language forged and fused together by desire and terror and wonder and awe, the poems create something separate and new, something transformative--brutal and beautiful, dark and light, weightless and weighted: 'Licham. Bonesalt. Pulse.'
“Sophia: The Wisdom of the Hole” by Kelly Puig
What a thrilling conception! "Sophia" is intellectually rigorous while also being deeply moving. It is a work of art that manages to traverse many fields of inquiry with an ease and serenity and knowingness that is truly impressive. Its physical presence is ravishing, and its message, embodied, devastates.
“A Field Guide to the Life, Death, and Migratory Patterns of the North American Bird” by Charlotte Seaberry
When one character asks, “Can’t you wave nicer to me?” and the other responds, “You mean like someone else?” the reader knows right away that she is in a different kind of space, one with different rules and unconventional architecture. This is a highly original venture in storytelling, full of strange characters, making even stranger choices. I was riveted from beginning to end.
“The Many Mothers Lisa” by Marina Stevenson
This is a wonderfully orchestrated novel that explores the countless iterations of a mother and daughter, who crave adventure, dabble in magic, and find trouble wherever they go. “The Many Mothers Lisa” blends realism, fairytale, and farce into a portrait of an ever-changing Lisa and an ever-changing Charlotte that is both humorous and profound.
John Hawkes Prize in Fiction
“Dream Me” by Mona Awad
A lively and quirky collection of three stories that highlights a kind of damaged masculinity and is, at its best, very funny. The writing is confident and bold in a way the characters depicted rarely are, and the author's ability to understand and depict the pains and struggles of relationships are very good. This is a wonderful sequence, and would make a very strong chapbook.
“And Also the Sea” by Molly Faerber
One of the best examples I've seen lately of work that takes on some of the considerations of fairy tales but brings a contemporary and modern sensibility to it, not jokingly but seriously. The sentence-by-sentence writing is very strong, beautifully rendered, and the story as a whole comes together quietly and elusively but in nonetheless quite remarkable and masterful ways. This story made me want to read more by this author, which is no small achievement.
Edwin Honig Memorial Award
“Ponchartrain… or What Have I Done” by Ben Luton
The sentences of “Ponchartrain…Or What Have I Done” ricochet off each other and down the page like pachinko balls. Some dangle suspended over back walls of white space before re-connecting with their trajectories. Transitions and narrative development are minimal, but the work coheres around repeating diaristic references and characters, a curious and original structural framework, and a kind of indefatigable Beat energy released in a flat deadpan worthy of a Robert Ashley composition.
“Mapping and Pull” by Sylvia Tomayko-Peters
These interactive pieces are subtly and elegantly constructed. While the type is moving, it is slowly rising into place or moving at the will of the reader with a “legend” of choices in “Mapping” or by lifting into position so that the lines become legible one at a time to build the entire poem. Both have a somewhat lonely circumstance. “Pull” mostly concerns what the light falls on and the light falls from. “Mapping” offers multiple readings by shifting between the options of Time/Energy/ Position/Mass/Velocity. It expands and contracts, erases and elaborates. These poems are composed without so much visual static that the reading of them is compromised. Instead they are so restrained in their movement against the white space (with a shadowy suggestion of landscape in the background of “Mapping”) that the reading is soothing in their guidance to “recapture this one instant-this one instant when one + one human being in existence, watch[es] as time slows down.
Weston Senior Prize
“Betrayal & Other Stories” by Tania Sarfraz
This collection of short fiction gives the impression of being a conversation as well as a narrative, the quality of the prose invites the reader to think along with the characters, to experience the events of life as opportunities to reflect as well as act. The pieces are brief, but imaginatively deep, and the writer is skilled at an economy of scene, which puts us both in the situation as well as near the character's thoughts. I enjoyed the way the 'pieces' have different focus points, not always where you think: irritation seems to motor "The Baker" while "Lines" is populated by shapes. There's a poetry to the attention to language and shape overall, and the sense that the little connections are often where stories reside.
“Mapping” by Sylvia Tomayko-Peters
Mapping is a digital arts piece that demonstrates the elegance of the form. When the reader approaches the prose poem the language is as we would expect -- a well-wrought instance of writing. However, the mouse/trackball becomes a new way to experience the text, as the reader selects one of five options (Time, Energy, Position, Mass, Velocity) each providing a colorful and kinetic response from the text itself. Layers are possible as the reading of the text with one choice, such as Position, can be further explored through Velocity, creating a satisfying sense of a new piece of writing, as well as bringing visual art considerations to the fore. I think this is a truly elegant example of the best of digital writing.
Weston Graduate Prize
“Sophia: The Wisdom of the Hole” by Kelly Puig, makes compelling use of the process of writing by reduction; in this case, the source material is Existentialism and Human Emotions by Jean-Paul Sartre. The reader anticipates a philosophical investigation -- yet the results are just as often personal, direct, candid. The many gaps yield a rich intensity -- but also an austere musicality that carries the text toward an emotional honesty all the more engaging for being found through the lens of disappearance. Along with the artful handless watch collage that accompanies the book, this is indeed "a little device / of ideas...made to feel clarity"-- but one also approaching "the / distressing / infinite / written.”
“Four Stories” by Molly Faerber
The pieces making up "Four Stories" are a set of compelling and beautifully written contemporary fairytales that explore animality and magic: A mermaid who takes up temporary residence on land, girls being transformed into wolves, a woman whose hands have turned into birds - the left "a small, beautiful bird, the golden color of the light that collects at the edges of leaves," the right "speckled, dark and mistrustful" - and a doctor who debrides the wounds of war, expecting to find flesh that has turned to stone. Gorgeously and lyrically written, these stories are also deft, imaginative, poignant, never predictable.