Announcing the 2020 Spring Writing Contest Winners

Alan Cheuse Fiction Award | Judge: Matthew Norman

Winner: “Neighbors” by Corey Isaacs

There’s an old saying in fiction: “In a good story, everyone is right.” That’s definitely the case here. The characters are so fully and beautifully drawn that you sympathize with everyone, despite the different worldviews that divide them. Additionally, the scene writing is top notch. The tension in the dinner scene is palpable, and, I found that my heart was racing as I read the final pages. Emotionally, I was all in. “Neighbors” is compelling and engaging from beginning to end.

Runner Up: “You’ll Con Them” by Melissa Wade & “Six Dollar Son” by Julie Iannone

“You’ll Con Them” I love the emotional turn this story takes. At first it feels like a bit of dark comedy—a how-to list for lying—but it quickly becomes a fantastic character study of a very troubled young woman. The writing is edgy and fiercely intelligent.

“Six Dollar Son” This is a great example of how a good writer can use contemporary twists to push beyond the limits of the traditional short story form. I found the world that these characters inhabit to be fascinating, entertaining, and totally “of the moment.” I could see this being the premise for a very good novel. 


Dan Rudy Fiction Award |  Judge: Melissa Scholes Young

Winner: “El Grito de la Onda” by Lauren Davila

It's a richly imagined story of identity and loneliness told through a wise and haunting voice. The author examines whether we can ever truly know our origins and how that flawed knowledge determines the paths we choose and the futures forced upon us. The lyrical language is stunning in its restraint. 

Runner Up: “Dasvidanya” by Mary Winsor

The beating heart of this story is how acute hope can hurt as a family struggles to claw their way through class. With vivid imagery and thoughtful observation, the voice is intimate and warm even among the pain of our humanity. 

Honorable Mention: “Loose Ends” by Kyra Kondis & “Spider Crickets” by Juniper Tubbs


Shelley A. Marshall Fiction Award |  Judge: Patricia Smith

Winner: “The Wholeness Institute” by Melissa Wade

I loved the voice. I loved, too, the trust this writer places in the reader, the gradual unfolding of detail, nothing overly explained. This story also does what I love most about stories --- merging the "real" with the imagined, taking something familiar and  imagining it differently, giving it an otherworldly spin. The writing is confident and the story is well-paced and smart. 

Runner Up:  “Moon Landing” by Indigo Eriksen

"Moon Landing." Such a clever premise; I loved it! I loved the crisp, clear prose, the confidence of the narrative voice. I could listen to this narrator tell me all about life  on the moon. And I appreciate the nod to topics that are of particular interest right now, such as gender, and looking at it differently and imaginatively. 


Mary Roberts Rinehart Fiction Award |  Judge: Jessica Anthony

Winner: "Noticeable Object” by Kyra Kondis

A rewarding voice and character-driven fiction that never falters its sound. I also admire this story’s cohesion, an initial premise which is examined and answered is a way that feels both fulfilling and surprising. Here is a writer in charge.

Runner Up: “GR-13" by Michael Mincks

Although this fiction is pretty high-octane, the story’s Mad Libs conceit hurtles quickly beyond gimmick and ends up surprising us with its emotional power. An innovative fiction.


Mary Roberts Rinehart Nonfiction Award |  Judge: Sean Murphy

Winner: "Egg Theory" by Lena Crown

This essay did what any successful and worthwhile piece of writing does: it caused me to see the world in a different way. More, it made me think, first by unsettling, even confusing me, then getting me to accept--and embrace--the writing on its own terms. On a line-by-line basis the adept description worked, and the stylistic and philosophical flourishes were compelling and engaging. With admirable efficiency, this piece is like a tour guide inside a different sensibility, making accessible what's otherwise forbidden by the mores of society and the willful blindness we experience in our daily routines. It's remarkable and refreshing to encounter writing that obliges you to meet it on its own uncompromising terms, and by the sheer power of its emotional import, ensures it will be impossible to forget.

Runner Up: "Blood Tooth Mushroom (Book of Shadows…)” by Lisa Short

I particularly enjoyed the skillful *and* playful use of language, and the breadth of thought, text, history and humanity.

Honorable Mention: "On Places I Have Never Been" by Farhana Chowdhoury


Alan Cheuse Nonfiction Award |  Judge: John Lingan

Winner: "Flight Deck Conversions: Found Grocery List" by Mary Winsor

"This essay is about the need to fly, and in only a few pages this writer achieves a careening emotional state that feels like co-piloting at 10,000 feet. I felt so connected to the speaker and their view of their mother. And I was moved by the quick details that animate their depiction of working-class life, free of pity or sorrow. Very happy to award this year's prize to this creative, urgent essay."

Runner Up: "Restaurant Rich" by Lena Crown & "Get Back to Your Own Bed" by Lisa Short

 For the vividness descriptions of their communities and emotions. 


Mary Roberts Rinehart Poetry Award | Judge: Alan Michael Parker

Winner: “Vivipary” by Katie Richards

A suicide and a miscarriage haunt a new mother in her house, fears transposed into things. With the ghosts of Eugenio Montale and James Wright hovering as well over the twelve sections of this fine poem—the stations of loss?—the poet offers us a powerful and plangent meditation. “Vivipary” is a pitch-perfect piece that ultimately makes sweet and affirming work of its sad subjects.

Runner Up: “Consider the Chickadee” by Alyssa Devlin

Honorable Mention: “Ruins Outside of Port Hueneme” by Lauren Davila & “Acorns” by Christian Stanzione


Mark Craver Poetry Award | Judge: Molly Brown

Winner: "My Mother as a Frost Cloth" by Lauren Davila

I kept coming back to this poem, struck  by its candor and clarity, and the surprise, precision, and invention of the central extended metaphor. On reading and re-reading, I was deeply compelled by its  conjuring of the medically breached body as "a wooden box with nothing inside but old tulip bulbs," and I admire the poem's subtle understanding of the way our pain extends beyond us to touch the people we love.

Runner Up:  "Under" by Martin Mitchell

My pick for runner up is "Under" which I admire for its spare and lyrical compression, and its handle on the way an exacting image can deliver both emotional impact and narrative propulsion. Its winding progression to a "dim slit at the horizon" felt new and engaging each time I read it. 


Virginia Downs Poetry Award |  Judge: January Gill O’Neil

Winner: “Gospel” by Danielle Williams

This poem harkens back to the past while still feeling current and relevant. It’s economical with words on the page—each word relevant and necessary. This skillful poet incorporates repetition, which makes the language lift off the page. A pleasure to read.

Runner Up: “Riddle” by Ian Cappelli

 I like that this found poem uses source material from Google to create something entirely new and surprising.  

Honorable Mention: “Patisserie in Montreal” by Lisa Short & “Endoscopy” by Kate Keeney


Joseph A. Lohman III Poetry Award |  Judge: Sarah Browning

Winner: "Polymorphism" by Eli Vandegrift

I am in love with the gorgeous poem, "Polymorphism." This contrapuntal, visual poem reflects on so many of the binaries imposed upon us and that we impose upon ourselves, as its two halves speak back and forth to one another, making a whole. The poem closes, "please / a slow // sing / ballad // me / for // a / us // song / again" -- exactly as the poem, the song we need.

Runner up: "Stages of Abandonment" by Victoria Mendoza