2021 Winners, Runners-Up, and Honorable Mentions
Short Story Category:
The 2021 short story category of the Words and Music Writing Competition final-round judge was Ravi Howard. Ravi is the author of two novels, Like, Trees, Walking and Driving the King. Ravi was a finalist for the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award and a recipient of the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. His short fiction has appeared in or is forthcoming in, Salon, Massachusetts Review, Saw Palm, Alabama Noir, and Gulf Coast. Ravi’s
essays have appeared in The New York Times, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Atlanta, and Gravy, and he has recorded commentary for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has received fellowships and awards from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and the National Endowment for the Arts. Ravi has taught fiction workshops with the Kimbilio retreat, Callaloo, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. He is currently an assistant professor in the creative writing program at Florida State University.
Ravi selected the short story “Charity,” by D.P. Jannerson as the 2021 winner in the short story category. Ravi notes regarding the winning story: “‘Charity’ shows how ‘fierce urgency’ can power the situation and the pace of the writing. The story’s events are matters of life and death, and the writer offers an insightful take on that idea. We learn of the characters and their circumstances quickly, as the work balances acute and chronic circumstances as both content and technique. The story reevaluates the standard ideas of giving and taking in a way that drives the action and invites contemplation.” D.P. Jannerson is the author of The Women of Dauphine, which was a finalist in the Fiction: LGBTQ category of the 2019 Best Book Awards, and two books of poetry. Jannerson’s short pieces have gone viral with Bitch Media, received honors from publications like The Writer and So to Speak, and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by The Flexible Persona. A trans, queer, and disabled writer, he lives in New Orleans with his wife and is currently shopping around a YA novel about the characters in “Charity.”
Ravi selected “The Elephant’s Foot” by C.A. Munn as the runner-up, and had this to say about the story: “‘The privacy of the mind is a terrifying thing.’ This line in ‘The Elephant’s Foot’ captures the protagonist’s fear about the likely fallout of the truth he carries. The fiction is fueled by the power of disclosure in storytelling. We can consider how private disclosures made to the reader, if revealed, could shake the world of the story. The piece moves with the force of the protagonist’s wondering and ours as invested readers.” C.A. Munn is a current M.F.A. playwright in the University of New Orleans’ Creative Writing Workshop. Their plays have been produced and received staged readings at the Mid-America Theatre Conference and the UNO School of the Arts. For their poetry, they were a finalist for the International Literary Awards’ Rita Dove Prize in 2019, and for their fiction they were a semi-finalist for the American Short Fiction Halifax Ranch Prize in 2020. Their work as an interviewer has been published on the Ploughshares Blog and their flash fiction is forthcoming at Screen Door Review.
There are eight stories that are Honorable Mentions in the short story category: “Icarus Falling,” by Lee Forbes; “Ixmoja” and “A Trip to Valpo,” by Mark Williams; “Simple Care,” by Amina Gautier; “Junk,” by Sue Brennan; “O Guillotine!” by Nikki Ummel; “The Instagram Mothers,” by Kristin Sanders; and “The Second Landing,” by Tej Rae.
Creative Nonfiction Category:
The 2021 creative nonfiction category of the Words and Music Writing Competition final-round judge was Elizabeth Miki Brina. Elizabeth’s memoir and debut book, Speak, Okinawa, was published in February of 2021 by Knopf Doubleday Press. Elizabeth’s work has appeared in The Sun, River Teeth, Lit Hub, and Gulf Coast Magazine, among others. She currently lives and teaches in New Orleans.
Elizabeth selected “Chronicle of My Blood-Summer,” by Ella Latham, as the 2021 winner in the creative nonfiction category. Elizabeth writes of the winning piece: “I felt my heartrate accelerate as I read this essay, from the power of the writing, the visceral yet measured detail, from witnessing such a singular experience. I felt the pain and bewilderment of the author, as what was happening to her body was cruel and unfair and beyond her control, and admired how her mind remained fully present, keen, vying for perspective.” Ella Latham is a writer and poet from South Carolina. She spent her twenties wandering around the Midwest and New York, both geographically and spiritually. A former labor organizer, paralegal, grad school dropout, literary agency assistant, and bartender, she recently quit her latest day job in construction to return to the South, as part of her commitment to doing the work where her roots are and to writing. “Chronicle of My Blood-Summer” will be her first published work. She currently lives in Western North Carolina.
Elizabeth selected “Night Music” by Maria Carrera as the runner-up. She notes, “The secrets revealed in this essay are dark and terrible. But just as the author bravely attempts to cope and protect herself with music, she also protects the reader with delicate lyricism and striking experimentation with form and point-of-view.” Maria Carrera was born in Washington, D.C. and kept a diary at age six. Pursuing English Literature, she earned a B.A. at E&H College in Virginia and an M.A. at CU-Boulder, then went into theatre. She lives in San Diego, where she stage managed at the Old Globe, taught Alexander Technique to actors training at USD and UCSD, and retired.
There are two pieces that are Honorable Mentions in the creative nonfiction category: “Telephone Maelstrom,” by Stephen Policoff; and “I Remember Everything,” by Nikki Ummel.
The 2021 poetry category of the Words and Music Writing Competition final-round judge was Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Aimee is the author of World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, & Other Astonishments, finalist for the Kirkus Prize in non-fiction, and recently named the Barnes and Noble Book of the Year. Aimee is also the author of four books of poetry, and is poetry editor of Sierra, the national magazine of the Sierra Club. Awards for her writing include a fellowship from the Mississippi Arts Council, Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for poetry, National Endowment of the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation. Aimee is professor of English and Creative Writing in the University of Mississippi’s MFA program.
Aimee selected “The Dream of Light” by Benjamin Morris as the 2021 winner in the poetry category. Aimee notes regarding the winning poem: “This poem is a burst of dynamite: we are swirled with an explosion of curve and brushstroke, and the carefully tended drop lines make the reader feel we are witnessing the creation of the painting AND the poem–remarkably difficult to pull off in the same poem. This poem calls upon the strength of ancestors while praising what makes us unique, what makes us human and alive.” A native of Mississippi, Benjamin Morris is a poet, writer, and researcher whose work appears in the United States and Europe. He is the author of Coronary (Fitzgerald Letterpress, 2011), Hattiesburg, Mississippi: A History of the Hub City (History Press, 2014), and Ecotone (Antenna/Press Street Press, 2017). His writing appears in such venues as The Oxford American, The Southern Review, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Guardian, and The Scottish Review of Books. Among other honors, he has received a Pushcart nomination, the Academy of American Poets Prize from Duke University, and the Chancellor’s Medal for Poetry from the University of Cambridge, where he earned his Ph.D. His work has received two poetry fellowships from the Mississippi Arts Commission, research fellowships from Tulane University, and a residency from A Studio in the Woods in New Orleans, where he lives
Aimee selected “Villanelle of Her Absence” by Andy Young as one runner-up, writing this about her piece: “Right from the first line, I was destroyed by its vulnerability and insistence for connection with a lost mother. A gut-punch of a poem full of love and loss and ultimately a bright lure of hope for a future remade, never to be the same but with a glimmer of a promise that this, too, is also love.” Andy Young is the author of four chapbooks, including, most recently, John Swenson Dynamicron (Dancing Girl Press, 2019), as well as a full-length poetry collection, All Night It Is Morning (Diálogos Press, 2014). She teaches at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. Her work has recently appeared, or is forthcoming, in The Southern Review, Pank, The Journal of the American Medical Association, and The Cortland Review. Her poems have also been featured in contemporary and flamenco dance productions.
Aimee selected as co-runner-up “Embodiment” by Nicole Eiden. Aimee writes, “What a gem—I adored the description of seeking to name a bird and all the implications of various losses weighing on that too—how they push the poem forward from the unforgettable image of a singular braid and back to birds in flight. This poem chronicles and tries to make sense of loss without flinching, and succeeds.” Nicole M.K. Eiden is a writer and baker. Her poem “Mortgage” appeared in the 2019 New Poetry From the Midwest (New American Press) and won third place in the 2016 Women’s National Book Association Writing Contest. Kirkus Reviews selected her debut collection, I Am One of You (Mississippi Sound Publishing, 2016), as a featured book in its Indie category. Originally from Ohio, Nicole co-owns Windowsill Pies, a Southern-style pie and tart company in New Orleans, where she lives with her husband and daughter.
Five poems have been designated as Honorable Mentions in the poetry category: “New Arrivals,” by Ruby Murray; “The Water’s Running Free and It’s Waiting There for Me and You,” by Kory Wells; “The Memory Ward at San Sebastian” and “The Fig Tree at Dauphin St. Speaks,” by Nikki Ummel; and “Groundhog Day #143,” by Naomi Crenshaw.
Short Story by a Public High School Student Category:
The 2021 short story by a public high school student category of the Words and Music Writing Competition final-round judge was Maurice Carlos Ruffin. Maurice Carlos Ruffin is the author of The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You, which was published by One World Random House in August 2021. His first book, We Cast a Shadow, was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and the PEN America Open Book Prize. It was longlisted for the 2021 DUBLIN Literary Award, the Center for Fiction Prize and the Aspen Words Literary Prize. The novel was also a New York Times Editor’s Choice. Ruffin is the winner of several literary prizes, including the Iowa Review Award in fiction and the William Faulkner–William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition Award for Novel-in-Progress. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the LA Times, the Oxford American, Garden & Gun, Kenyon Review, and Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America. A New Orleans native, Ruffin is a professor of Creative Writing at Louisiana State University, and the 2020-2021 John and Renee Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi.
Maurice selected “Snake-people,” by Jessica Wang as the 2021 winner in the public high school student short story category. Maurice notes regarding the winning story: “‘Snake-people’ is a richly allegorical hybrid prose poem about navigating otherness in a society that demands conformity. In a few short pages, the author brings us through several movements of anxiety, fracture, and a keen reckoning with the costs of assimilation. At the heart of the piece are a mother and daughter trying their best within an impossible situation. The story is excellent; the writer may be a genius.” Jessica Wang is a seventeen-year-old from Long Island, New York. Her work has been nationally recognized by Scholastic Art and Writing, NCTE, Mission InspirEd, and Susquehanna University. She has forthcoming writing in Blue Marble Review, and her work can be found in The Apprentice Writer. She is the founder of the youth literary magazine Ice Lolly Review, which accepts poetry, prose, and artwork from creators ages 12-26. In her free-time she enjoys listening to Japanese Indie Rock and rewatching Studio Ghibli films.
Beyond the Bars Category:
The 2021 Beyond the Bars category of the Words and Music Writing Competition final-round judge was Stacey Balkun, selecting winning work from entries by incarcerated juveniles nationwide. Stacey is the author of Sweetbitter (Sundress 2022) and co-editor of Fiolet & Wing: An Anthology of Domestic Fabulist Poetry. Winner of the 2019 New South Writing Contest and http://Terrain.org’s 10th Annual Contest, her work has appeared in Best New Poets 2018, Mississippi Review, The Rumpus, and several other anthologies and journals. Stacey holds an MFA from Fresno State and teaches creative writing online at The Poetry Barn & The Loft. Visit her online at http://staceybalkun.com.
Stacey selected “This Kid,” a poem by Mason Hyde as the 2021 winner in the Beyond the Bars category. Stacey notes regarding the winning poem: “‘This Kid’ is an incredibly powerful poem. Through detailed imagery and a driving rhythm, ‘This Kid’ tells a story of living with ghosts. What happens to a young person who’s lost everything, and everyone? Who do we—any of us—turn to when we’re alone? Equally vulnerable and universal, this poem asks such questions through intimate, rhyme-driven stanzas that detail a difficult coming-of-age. The kid, who is revealed to be our speaker, has come from ‘a bloodline full of trouble.’ He ‘doesn’t know how to pray’ yet still struggles to honor the voices of everyone he has lost. Riddled with guilt and sleepless nights, how can the kid—or anyone—move forward from here? ‘This Kid’ is a courageous act of creativity and persistence, and I’m honored to award it this year’s Beyond the Bars Prize.” Stacey selected a poem by Mason Dufrene, “Destiny,” as the runner-up, writing, “‘Destiny’ is a small, powerful poem. Sound-driven and intrepidly musical, it details a difficult coming of age. Though the world may pressure us to make the worst decisions, this poem looks to the future with hope, stating forcefully that ‘Failure is not my destiny,’ a line that will stay with me for a long time to come.”
Other Honorable Mentions in the Beyond the Bars category (identified here by titles and by the authors’ initials, per the request of the juvenile facility where this group of writers resides) are “The Demons Within,” Kevin O.; “Von Dada,” Lavon W.; “Lone Wolf,” Ravon G.; “Momma,” Derrick G.; “Pray,” Antoine A.; “When I Pray,” Breanna M.; “Will You?,” Terrell C.; and “Stay Awake,” Daigen H.. Stacey wrote of all of these pieces, “Send my enthusiasm and respect to each and every one of these poets because I was blown away.”