2018 Words and Music Writing Competition
Winners, Runners-Up, and Honorable Mentions
Short Story Category:
Final-Round Judge - Short Story
Short Story - Winner
Short Story - Runner-Up
The 2018 short story category of the Words and Music Writing Competition final-round judge was Barb Johnson. Barb worked as a carpenter in New Orleans for more than twenty years before receiving her MFA from the University of New Orleans. She won Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers and Washington Square’s fiction competition. Her work has appeared in such magazines as Guernica, The Southern Review, Baltimore Review, and Oxford American, as well as in a number of anthologies, including Don’t Quit Your Day Job: Acclaimed Authors and the Jobs They Quit, and The Booklover’s Guide to New Orleans. Barb’s debut collection of short stories, More of This World or Maybe Another, won a number prizes, including the ALA’s Stonewall Book Award.
Barb selected the short story “Utica,” by Zeke Perkins as the 2018 winner in the short story category. Barb notes regarding the winning story: “In an effort to appease the spirits of dispossessed workers, Hayden, a union organizer, agrees to help Ralph, a recently jailed union worker, kill the boss who ruined his life. Have these characters gone crazy, or have they finally come to their senses? In this heartfelt story, the author tackles the timely subject of what happens to the have-nots in a society in which they have no power or hope of escaping a future in America’s permanent underclass.” Zeke has spent most of his working life fighting for social justice as part of the labor movement. His fiction, essays and interviews have appeared in HobartPulp, Entropy, Queen Mobs Tea House, and Lab Letter. He received an honorable mention from Glimmer Train for their July/August 2017 Very Short Fiction Contest. He has a bachelor’s degree from Bard College in Written Arts and is currently pursuing an MFA at the University of Kentucky. He lives and writes in Lexington.
Barb selected “Cool Air” by Claire Jentsch as the runner-up. Claire works in publishing by day and writes by night. Born and raised in the Ozark Mountain region of Arkansas, she has a passionate, if tumultuous, relationship with the American South and loves to write about it, complain about it, and explore it (along with the rest of the world). She blogs about food and traveling at The Heart and the Hunger, cooks almost entirely without recipes, and lives with her husband, a lanky dog, and a surly cat in Austin, Texas. “Cool Air” is her first published short story.
There are three stories that are Honorable Mentions in the short story category: “Nine Lies,” by Gayle Early (La Mesa, California); “The End of His Rope,” by Ben Sandmel (Metairie, Louisiana); and “gift,” by Joaquin Dorfman (New Orleans).
Creative Nonfiction Category:
Final-Round Judge - Creative Nonfiction
Creative Nonfiction - Winner
Creative Nonfiction - Runner-Up
The 2018 creative nonfiction category of the Words and Music Writing Competition final-round judge was Chuck Reece. After many years in journalism and communications, Chuck and three partners launched The Bitter Southerner to tell stories of a new(er) South — neither the stereotypical garden parties of magazines, nor the “redneck reality” of television. Instead, The Bitter Southerner tells the stories of the South as it is today. Chuck is the editor-in-chief of the BS. Since launching in 2013, the BS has built a strong community of well more than 100,000 readers each month. The Bitter Southerner is anchored by a weekly, long-form feature story that appears on Tuesdays, surrounded by essays on politics, sports, business, music, and personal remembrance throughout the rest of each week. Its new approach to Southern journalism and storytelling has garnered the praise of many, including the New York Times media critics and widely known journalists such as NPR’s Michelle Norris.
Chuck selected “The Braille Machine,” by Jennifer Steil as the 2018 winner in the creative nonfiction category. Chuck notes regarding the winning piece: “The writing is strong by virtue of its directness. The tension that drives the whole story is set up in the very first sentence: ‘I quit my newspaper job to work for a porn mag.’ Sometimes, life puts us in situations that demand to be written about, and this writer’s stint at Playgirl was exactly such a situation, but rarely do writers take full advantage when they find themselves in such situations. And she has managed, with ‘The Braille Machine,’ to deliver everything that first sentence seems to promise: a titillating but never prurient peek inside the porn machine, a look at how realities always seem to break fantasies into pieces, and how, at the end of the day, it remains important to search for the pony in every truckload of horseshit.” Jennifer Steil is an award-winning author and journalist. Her third book, a novel about a family of Austrian Jewish musicians who seek refuge from the Nazis in Bolivia, is forthcoming from Viking USA. Her most recent novel, The Ambassador’s Wife, published by Doubleday in 2015, won the 2013 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition Best Novel award and the 2016 Phillip McMath Post Publication book award. It was shortlisted for both the Bisexual Book Award and the Lascaux Novel Award. Jennifer’s first book, The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (Broadway Books, 2010), a memoir about her tenure as editor of the Yemen Observer newspaper in Sana’a, received praise from The New York Times, Newsweek, and the Sydney Morning Herald. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune chose it as one of their best travel books of the year in 2010, and Elle magazine awarded it their Readers’ Prize. She is currently starting work on her fourth book while pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham. Her freelance work has appeared in the Saranac Review, World Policy Journal, The Week, The Washington Times, Vogue UK, Die Welt, New York Post, Playgirl, The Rumpus, Time, Readers’ Digest Version, Irish National Radio, France 24 (English), CBS radio, and GRN Global Reporter Network Service. Jennifer earned a Bachelor of Arts in theatre from Oberlin College, a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College, and a Master of Science in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
Chuck selected “‘I Am Sane’; The Life of Sara Mayfield” by Jennifer Horne as the runner-up. Raised in Arkansas and a longtime resident of Alabama, Jennifer Horne is a writer, editor, and teacher who explores Southern identity and experience, especially women’s, through prose, poetry, fiction, and anthologies and in classrooms and workshops across the South. In 2017 she was commissioned Poet Laureate of Alabama, a four-year position. Her latest book is a collection of poems, Little Wanderer,published in Ireland by Salmon Publishing. Tell the World You’re a Wildflower is a collection of short stories in the voices of Southern women and girls. She is also the author of two poetry chapbooks and another poetry collection, Bottle Tree, and the editor of Working the Dirt: An Anthology of Southern Poets. Her web page and blog, “A Map of the World,” are at: http://jennifer-horne.blogspot.com/
There are two pieces that are Honorable Mentions in the creative nonfiction category: “Fork,” by Faith Garbin (Ocean Springs, Mississippi); and “Manhandling,” by Cate Root (New Orleans).
Dr. Jerry Ward
Final-Round Judge - Poetry
Lana K.W. Austin
Poetry - Winner
Poetry - Runner-Up
The 2018 poetry category of the Words and Music Writing Competition final-round judge was Dr. Jerry W. Ward, Jr. Dr. Ward is a retired Professor of English, poet, Richard Wright scholar, and literary critic, living in New Orleans. He taught for 32 years at Tougaloo College and 10 years at Dillard University. A founding member of the Richard Wright Circle and co-editor of Redefining American Literary History (1990), Black Southern Voices (1992), The Richard Wright Encyclopedia (2008), and The Cambridge History of African American Literature (2011), he compiled and edited the anthology Trouble the Water: 250 Years of African American Poetry (Mentor, 1997). Dr. Ward’s poems and essays have been published in such journals as The Southern Quarterly, African American Review, Literature and Medicine, Callaloo, Mississippi Quarterly, and Black Magnolias. His most recent books are The Katrina Papers: A Journal of Trauma and Recovery (2008), The China Lectures (2014), and Fractal Song: Poems (Black Widow Press 2016). Work–in-progress includes Reading Race Reading America (social and literary essays), and Richard Wright: One Reader’s Responses. In 2000, he received the Darwin T. Turner Award of Excellence from the African American Literature and Culture Society. He was inducted into the International Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent in 2001 and received the Richard Wright Literary Excellence Award from the Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration in 2011.
Dr. Ward selected “Interviewing Li Lu,” by Lana K.W. Austin as the 2018 winner in the poetry category. Dr. Ward notes regarding the winning poem: “‘Interviewing Li Lu’ juxtaposes the noise of modern history with the transcendent silence of calligraphy, thus engendering a recognition of how poetry can function in contemporary thought. It brings us to a recognition. How does the body react to interrogation? It gestures itself into ‘fluent metacarpals.’ It bends, curves, and bows ‘a hushed appeal.’ As one part folds ‘in angular language,’ another sticks out ‘in full translation.’ The body writes the shapes of things, showing more than it tells. The poet uses verbal economy to focus a reader’s attention, and the reward is ‘a wild surmise’ as the reader dwells ‘in the artifice of eternity.’ This is not a claim that the poet consciously imitated John Keats’ ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ or deliberately negotiated time as did William Butler Yeats in ‘Sailing to Byzantium.’ It is an assertion that ‘Interviewing Li Lu’ brings excellence into being by creating equilibrium between sense and sensibility.” Lana Austin’s poems, short stories, and book reviews have recently been featured in Mid-American Review, Sou’wester, The Chariton Review, Columbia Journal, Zone 3, Appalachian Heritage, The Colorado Review, The Pinch, The New Guard, Switchback, and others. Austin has been a finalist and semi-finalist in multiple competitions, including the James Wright Poetry Award, the Crab Orchard Review First Book Award, the Zone 3Book Award, the American Short Fiction Award, and the Machigonne Fiction Award. Born and raised in rural Kentucky, Austin studied creative writing at both Hollins University and the University of Mary Washington as an undergraduate and has an MFA from George Mason University (2008). Her full-length poetry collection, Blood Harmony, is from Iris Press (2018) and her chapbook, In Search of the Wild Dulcimer, is from Finishing Line Press (2016). Austin has lived in England, Italy, and Washington, DC, but currently resides in Alabama, where she is an adjunct instructor in the English department at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
Dr. Ward selected “A Greater Distance” by Kelly Anderson as the runner-up. Kelly was raised in Crown Point, Louisiana. Today, she continues to call the area home with her husband and two school-aged children. She is presently completing her undergraduate degree in English with a concentration in creative writing at Nicholls State University. Her work appears in the current issue of Mosaic, a literary publication of Nicholls State University. She works as a paralegal for the State of Louisiana.
Eight poems have been designated as Honorable Mentions in the poetry category: “Colfax, Louisiana, Easter Sunday,” by Brad Richard (New Orleans); “Preludes to Cage’s Sonatas & Interludes for Prepared Piano,” by Clare Harmon (New Orleans); “Making Space” and “Obedience and Creativity,” by Elizabeth Bolton (Toronto); “Fountain of Youth, St. Augustine, Florida,” by Kaitlin Murphy-Knudsen (Safety Harbor, Florida); “Quiescent,” by Lana Austin; and “Alligator Squash” and “Echo Bath,” by Chad Foret (Hattiesburg, Mississippi).
Short Story by a Public High School Student Category:
Maurice Carlos Ruffin
Final-Round Judge - Short Story by a Public High School Student
Short Story by a Public High School Student - Winner
Short Story by a Public High School Student - Runner-Up
The 2018 short story by a public high school student category of the Words and Music Writing Competition final-round judge was Maurice Carlos Ruffin. Maurice’s work has appeared in Unfathomable City: a New Orleans atlas, AGNI, Kenyon Review, Callaloo, Massachusetts Review, the Bitter Southerner, LitHub, Virginia Quarterly Review, and LA Times. He is the winner of the Iowa Review Fiction Award, the So to Speak Journal Short Story Award, and the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Competition for Novel in Progress. Maurice’s first novel, We Cast A Shadow, will be published by One World/Random House in 2019.
Maurice selected “Sprout,” by Raven Little as the 2018 winner in the public high school student short story category. Maurice notes regarding the winning story: “This story takes an unusual form. It is a series of very short flash fiction pieces the author weaves together to create a vivid portrait of a young girl and her relationship to her family. In lesser hands, the vignettes would have come across as disjointed and vague. But ‘Sprout’ is tense, powerful, and true to life. Any reader would be lucky to encounter work from this writer.” Raven Little, a senior at Lusher Charter High School in New Orleans, Louisiana, is a fourth-year student in Lusher’s Certificate of Artistry Creative Writing Program. She has a lot of experience in both poetry and short fiction, and prides herself in the work she produces in both genres respectively. She especially enjoys poetry, and including poetic elements in her short fiction. Raven has received awards from competitions like Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and The Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society Writing Competition, and now Peauxdunque as well.
Maurice selected “Saint Abbi” by Gabrielle Marullo as the runner-up. Gabrielle also attends Lusher Charter School and has been writing in that school’s creative writing program for four years.
There are two pieces that are Honorable Mentions in the public high school student short story category: “JAK,” by Evan Sawatsky of Dennis Morris High School in St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada; and “Mrs. Townsend,” by Grace Tran of Westview High School in Portland, Oregon.
Beyond the Bars Category:
Final-Round Judge - Beyond the Bars
Beyond the Bars - Winner and Runner-Up
The 2018 Beyond the Bars category of the Words and Music Writing Competition final-round judge was Zachary Lazar, selecting winning work from entries by incarcerated juveniles nationwide. Zachary is the author of five books, including the novels Sway and I Pity the Poor Immigrant, a New York Times Notable Book of 2014. His honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship and the 2015 John Updike Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for “a writer in mid-career whose work has demonstrated consistent excellence.” His new novel, Vengeance, was published in February of 2018.
Zachary selected “Window,” a poem by Jesus Mendez as the 2018 winner in the Beyond the Bars category. Zachary notes regarding the winning poem: “‘Window’ begins with a simple concrete image of light coming in through a window. Before long, we realize that this is not just any window but a portal to the world beyond a prison that is never named. What streams in through that window is the entire universe, the vastness addressed by King David in the psalms.” Jesus Mendez is 17 years old, was born in Denver, Colorado, and raised in El Paso, Texas and Las Cruces, New Mexico. He is artistic in a number of ways and is an accomplished poet and visual artist. His future goals are to become a barber and to pursue a college degree in creative writing. Currently he is at the John Paul Taylor Center juvenile detention facility in Las Cruces. Zachary also selected Jesus’s poem, “Heart Memories,” as the runner-up in the Beyond the Bars category.