2020 Winners, Runners-Up, and Honorable Mentions

Short Story Category:

The 2020 short story category of the Words and Music Writing Competition final-round judge was Jamey Hatley. Jamey is a Memphian obsessed with stories in ruin, at the very edge of being forgotten. Her writing has appeared in the Oxford American, Memphis Noir, Strange Horizons, and elsewhere.

She was a Prose Fellow for the National Endowment for the Arts, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award Winner, and the inaugural Indie Memphis Black Screenwriting Fellow (selected by Barry Jenkins). She wrote, directed, and produced a short film based on her story-essay, “Always Open, The Eureka Hotel,” which was an official selection of the 2019 Indie Memphis Film Festival and the Black Film Festival of New Orleans. Ms. Hatley is a member of the Writers Guild of America, East.

Jamey selected the short story “The Extraction,” by Katie Devine as the 2020 winner in the short story category. Jamey notes regarding the winning story: “In ‘The Extraction,’ the unlikely combination of a broken tooth, an alligator, a missing limb, and a trip to Italy collide to form the backdrop of a story about guilt, grief, and shame. A young protagonist attempts to deal with her part in a tragic accident that has changed the DNA of her family.

Reminiscent of Bobcat and Other Stories by Rebecca Lee, the characters in ‘The Extraction’ are full of gaps both physical and psychological, searching for a path to a kind of wholeness.” Katie is an MFA candidate at The New School. Her fiction has received support from Sirenland Writers Conference, Tin House Summer Workshop, Aspen Summer Words, and is forthcoming in Pithead Chapel. She works in media brand partnerships and lives in Brooklyn with her dog, Eliza Hamilton. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter at @katiejdevine.

Jamey selected “This body also dances” by Titus Chalk as the runner-up, noting, “A man is separated from his brother first by guilt and then by an ocean and his own happiness, it seems. After a childhood accident causes permanent damage to his brother’s body, these siblings seem to drift apart—one to the land of the broken and one to the land of the whole. Tasked with sorting out his brother’s apartment after his death, he comes to know him in a way that he never had before. In death his brother manages to teach him about music, freedom, and joy. ‘This Body Also Dances’ is a tender tale that challenges the notions of what a full life is and who gets to live one.” Titus is a British writer, currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Kentucky.

He is also the author of Generation Decks (Solaris, 2017), a personal history of the fantasy game Magic: The Gathering. In his former life as a newsman, he was a recipient of the George Weidenfeld Bursary for British and German journalists. The U.S. is the fifth country he has called home, after stints in the U.K., New Zealand, France, and Germany. He now lives with a handful of houseplants, in different stages of decay, and an ever-expanding record collection.

There are five stories that are Honorable Mentions in the short story category: “Ellen,” by Amina Gautier; “Dead Girl Summer,” by Christie Lauder; “Pastora,” by Michael McClelland; “Going Down South,” by Emily Cogburn; and “While We Sleep,” by Ash Baker.

Creative Nonfiction Category:

The 2020 creative nonfiction category of the Words and Music Writing Competition final-round judge was Kiese Laymon. Kiese is a black southern writer, born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. Laymon graduated from Oberlin College, then earned an MFA from Indiana University. Laymon is currently the Ottilie Schillig Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Mississippi. He served as the Distinguished Visiting Professor of Nonfiction at the University of Iowa in Fall 2017.

Laymon’s powerful bestselling memoir, Heavy: An American Memoir, won the 2019 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, and the 2018 Christopher Isherwood Prize for Autobiographical Prose, and was named one of the 50 Best Memoirs of the Past 50 Years by The New York Times. Three essays from Laymon’s collection, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, were selected for inclusion in the Best American series and The Atlantic’s best essays of 2013. Laymon’s debut novel, Long Division, combines elements of science fiction, satire, and social commentary into a book that Sam Sacks, writing in The Wall Street Journal, called “funny, astute and searching.” Laymon has written for Esquire, Gawker, ESPN The Magazine, NPR, Colorlines, The Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, Ebony, Guernica, The Oxford American, Lit Hub, and many others.

Kiese elected “Look,” by Constance Adler, as the 2020 winner in the creative nonfiction category. The Peauxdunque Review’s CNF Editor, April Blevins Pejic, notes regarding the winning piece: “In vivid and witty prose, Constance Adler offers the reader an opportunity to look deeply at the act of making meaning, at what is gained through this symbolic act and at what is lost. At turns funny and deeply heartbreaking, ‘Look’ is a beautiful portrait of our connection with words.”

Constance is the author of the memoir My Bayou, New Orleans Through the Eyes of a Lover. Her stories have appeared in numerous publications that include Oxford American, Utne Reader, Philadelphia Magazine, Spy Magazine, and Blackbird. Her profile of Mardi Gras float designer Henri Schindler in Gambit Weekly was honored by the Louisiana Press Association with a first-place award in feature writing. She contributed an essay to Cheryl Gerber’s photography book Cherchez la Femme: New Orleans Women.

Kiese elected “Mikey Go Boom!” by R. Tiara Malone as the runner-up. Pejic notes, “R.T. Malone’s prose nearly vibrates off the page in this fearful plea to her young nephew. ‘Mikey Go Boom!’ stuck with me, piercing my quiet thoughts long after I read it.” Tiara is a New Orleans transplant by way of Chicago. She is an all-in-one writer. Her poetry has been published by Partial Press. Her stageplays have been read in Chicago, Atlanta, and New Orleans.

She studied Media, Communication, and Theatre at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. She hopes to commit to finishing a grad program one day. In the meantime, she is writing more essays and working on a memoir at a snail’s pace. When not writing, she is busy as the owner of a massage studio in Mid City.

There are five pieces that are Honorable Mentions in the creative nonfiction category: “Noodle Soup,” by Adam Karlin; “Ice Cream Math,” by Dev Jannerson; “From this Body—Music,” by Sherre Vernon; “So Much Shit,” by Christy Lorio; and “Atheism, Abortion, and Apple Pie,” by Percy Unger.

Poetry Category:

The 2020 poetry category of the Words and Music Writing Competition final-round judge was Beth Ann Fennelly. Beth Ann, the poet laureate of Mississippi, teaches in the MFA Program at the University of Mississippi, where she was named Outstanding Teacher of the Year.

She’s won grants from the N.E.A., United States Artists, and a Fulbright to Brazil. Her sixth book, Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-memoirs (W. W. Norton) was an Atlanta Journal Constitution Best Book of 2018.

Beth Ann selected “Ghazal at the end of the world” by Elizabeth Gross as the 2020 winner in the poetry category. Beth Ann notes regarding the winning poem: “‘Ghazal at the end of the world’ takes a fresh look at the tired, constant, low-grade terror of quarantine. The author finds in the ghazal form a perfect vehicle to get at the circular and claustrophobic feeling of the shelter-in-place, yet finds room for the startling weirdness of Zoom virtual backgrounds. This is a full and multi-layered poem.”

Elizabeth is a poet/translator/teacher/artist in New Orleans. this body/that lightning show, her first full-length collection, was selected by Jericho Brown for the Hilary Tham Capital Collection of The Word Works, and came out in 2019. DEAR ESCAPE ARTIST, a chapbook in collaboration with artist Sara White, came out from Antenna in 2016. She co-translated and produced a new adaptation of Euripides’ Bakkhai at the Marigny Opera House in 2015. Her poems have appeared in the Fairy Tale Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, New Orleans Review, and are forthcoming in Green Mountain Review. She teaches interdisciplinary humanities for the Honors Program at Tulane University and co-organizes The Waves Reading Series, showcasing LGBTQIA+ writers.

Beth Ann selected “My Mother’s Skull Is Opened for the First Time” by Andy Young as the runner-up, writing this about her piece: “‘My Mother’s Skull is Opened the First Time’ finds skillful tension in its abrupt lineation—almost as if the lines have been scalpeled—and lack of punctuation which together keep the reader moving through to its devastating and beautiful last line.”

Andy is the author of four chapbooks, including, most recently, John Swenson Dynamicron (Dancing Girl Press), 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 translations, with Khaled Hegazzi, are featured in the Norton Anthology Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia & Beyond.

Sixteen poems have been designated as Honorable Mentions in the poetry category: “passenger side window,” by Elizabeth Gross; “Cracking Coconut,” by Carmin Wong; “Starling Love,” by Jessica Kinnison; “Float in the Air, Breed in the City,” by Jessica Kinnison; “Fever,” by Jessica Kinnison; “Anniston Burning,” by Nikki Ummel; “Eleven,” by Nikki Ummel; “Womanpower Unlimited,” by Nikki Ummel; “Stag,” by Kenneth Hill; “Detour, I-85,” by Kenneth Hill; “Mandarin Peel,” by Lauren Walter; “Comorbidity,” by Nathan Moore; “Oklahoma,” by Ruby Murray; “Mississippi,” by Ruby Murray; “Friendly Advice,” by Reeya Banerjee; and “Ruin as Gift, or The Equations of Science of Love,” by Robert Keeler.

Short Story by a Public High School Student Category:

The 2020 short story by a public high school student category of the Words and Music Writing Competition final-round judge was Maurice Carlos Ruffin. Maurice is the author of the critically-acclaimed novel, We Cast a Shadow, released in January 2019 from One World/Random House, and newly available in paperback. Maurice was the recipient of the 2014 Iowa Review Fiction award, as well as numerous other accolades for his short and long fiction.

He has been a nonfiction book reviewer for Virginia Quarterly Review, and serves on the faculty of the LSU creative writing program and the Randolph College low-res MFA program. In the 2020-21 academic year he is the John Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi. His short story collection is forthcoming from One World/Random House in 2021.

Maurice selected “XoXo, Zion,” by Deja Robinson as the 2020 winner in the public high school student short story category. Maurice notes regarding the winning story: “This epistolary story is a heart breaker about a young man dealing (or not) with his own rage and repression. In a perfect world, he might have a therapist or preacher to confide in. Instead, he only has a prayer journal where he writes his most intimate and disturbing thoughts. The story is brief but electrifying for anyone going through difficult times.”

Deja is a student at Livingston Collegiate Academy and studies creative writing at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. She’s won silver keys in both the Poetry and Humor categories at Scholastic Art and Writing contest, was a semi-finalist in the 2019 Faulkner Wisdom Competition in the Short Story category, and was the recipient of the 2020 Quarante Club Prize for Fiction.

Maurice selected “Breaking” by Percy Unger as the runner-up, writing of her story, “‘Breaking’ is a short but powerful character sketch about the importance of engaging with past failures. In only one page, the narrator demonstrates that even the most fractured lives can be mended.”

Percy is a high school student born and raised in Oakland, California. She recently moved to Las Vegas, New Mexico, and enjoys reading, writing, and performing in amateur musical theater productions. She loves to write fiction and creative nonfiction.

Two stories were designated as Honorable Mentions in this category: “Recognizable Difference,” by Maya Wandrei; and “The Thing,” by Raidabi Ashraf.

Beyond the Bars Category:

The 2020 Beyond the Bars category of the Words and Music Writing Competition final-round judge was Michael Zapata, selecting winning work from entries by incarcerated juveniles nationwide. Michael’s debut novel, The Lost Book of Adana Moreau, was called “hypnotizing” by the New York Times Book Review and an “expansive, big-hearted and time-hopping debut” by Chicago Tribune.

Michael is a founding editor of MAKE: A Literary Magazine. He is the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Award for Fiction; the City of Chicago DCASE Individual Artist Program award; and a Pushcart nomination. As an educator, he taught literature and writing in high schools servicing dropout students. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa and has lived in New Orleans, Italy, and Ecuador. He currently lives in Chicago with his family.

Michael selected “Deep Down,” a poem by RBE (awaiting authorization to publicize his name) as the 2020 winner in the Beyond the Bars category. Michael notes regarding the winning poem: “Deep Down is both urgent and measured, its sharp language burrowing farther and farther down into a singular and powerful ancestral image. It offers us a rare and stunning glimpse into those forgotten spaces between sleep and wakefulness, the past and the future. I’m honored to have selected it as the Beyond the Bars Winner for the Words and Music Competition.”

Michael selected a poem by GBS, “Pain From the Streets,” as the runner-up, writing, “Pain from the Streets is a devastating witness of loss, told both with absolute tenderness and harrowing honesty. Of course, loss is always with us, despite a life that’s ‘been racing,’ and Pain from the Streets is also a recognition of how memory carries us through. I’m honored to have selected it as the Beyond the Bars Runner-Up for the Words and Music Competition.”

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 “Battle Within,” DWS; “Come Through the Struggle,” CPS; “Deadly Flower,” RGE; “Hide and Seek,” JA; “Do You Know the Little Robin,” SWS; “Vices,” TFE; “Who Can I Trust?,” AJ; and “Will You?,” TCE.