2022 Winners, Runners-Up, and Honorable Mentions
Short Story Category:
The 2022 short story category of the Words and Music Writing Competition final-round judge was Ladee Hubbard. Ms. Hubbard is the author of the novels The Talented Ribkins, which received the 2018 Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award for Debut Fiction, and The Rib King. Her latest book is the story collection The Last Suspicious Holdout; Roxane Gay called the collection “fiercely intelligent, warm in their own way, and absolutely absorbing … Excellent excellent excellent.” Her writing has appeared in Oxford American, Guernica, Virginia Quarterly, and Callaloo, among others. She is a recipient of the Berlin Prize, a Radcliffe Institute Fellowship, and a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award. Born in Massachusetts and raised in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Florida, she currently lives in New Orleans.
Ms. Hubbard selected the short story “Her Own Kind,” by Bae Di, as the 2022 winner in the short story category. She wrote that the winning story “is a well constructed, emotionally evocative tale about the subtleties of racial and gender violence. I appreciated how the author handles the intricacies of Dani’s alienation, her understanding of relationship to her environment, and the careful delineation of the ways self-loathing too often manifests itself as cruelty towards those who remind us of parts or ourselves we may be trying very hard not to think about.” Born in Beijing, 1996, Bae Di (贝笛) is an emerging Chinese artist. She is the author of the Chinese novel《白马伶娜》Chassé (Shanghai, 2019), as well as the writer and the star of the English feature film 《金玉》 The Chinese Tourist (Idaho, 2022). Currently, she is a John and Renee Grisham Fellow at the University of Mississippi and working on her debut English novel.
Ms. Hubbard selected “Digging” by Nick Rees Gardner as the runner-up, and had this to say about the story: “A deeply resonant story about a relationship that seems at once improbable and utterly believable. The juxtaposition of the wider history of anti-gay violence and the loneliness and self-loathing that propels Neil’s interactions with Tucker was very affecting. I also appreciated the ambiguity of the story, which repeatedly signals a growing awareness of the ways self-love becomes, for many people, a matter of life or death.” Nick Rees Gardner has worked as a winemaker, chef, painter, show salesman, teacher, and addiction counselor. His criticism, fiction, and poetry have appeared in many literary journals, including Epiphany, Atticus Review, Reckon Review, and Barrelhouse. His book of poetry, So Marvelously Far, which tracks a life of substance abuse and recovery through a postindustrial Mansfield, Ohio, was published in 2019 through Crisis Chronicles Press; and his novella, Hurricane Trinity, is forthcoming in 2023 from Unsolicited Press. He currently lives in Washington, D.C., but still writes about Ohio.
There are six stories that are Honorable Mentions in the short story category: “Kelly’s Song,” by Anita Powell; “We Can Sort Out the Lawn,” by Alex Tronson; “What She Finds,” by Amina Gautier; “Rooms,” by Anne Elliott; “The Impersonator” by Xochitl Bentley; and “Consuelo,” by Sophie Nau.
Creative Nonfiction Category:
The 2022 creative nonfiction category of the Words and Music Writing Competition final-round judge was Mike Adno. Mike’s a writer from Florida who works for The New York Times, National Geographic, and The Bitter Southerner. His piece on Ernest Matthew Mickler and the book White Trash Cooking won a James Beard Award for profile-writing in 2019, and his reporting on the illicit harvest of palmetto berries in Florida won a Green Eyeshade Award last year in business reporting. He’s written broadly about the American South from investigative features about the sugar industry to Tennessee Williams’s paintings and the concentration of psychics in his hometown of Sarasota, Florida. Currently, he’s working on a book, A Stranger in Our House, about how a traumatic brain injury altered the arc of his family’s lives, the history of the injury in America stretching back to the Civil War, and just what constitutes a meaningful life.
Mike noted about all of the finalist pieces that “each essay I read seemed to grow out of grief and the writers’ memories of it, a deceptively challenging thing to write about.” Mike selected “Visiting Mama,” by N.R. Robinson, as the 2022 winner in the creative nonfiction category. Mike writes of the winning piece: “In ‘Visiting Mama,’ the levity and clarity that belong to the writer were something I found especially thoughtful, especially when writing of family. What was there was eloquent; what wasn’t was critical. And after reading it, I felt compelled to know more, listen to what they had to say, and only hoped to read more of their work. ‘Purposeful’ felt right in describing the work, but ‘meaningful’ did, too. All I know is they took an awful mystery, loss, along with love, and shaped it into something beautiful.” N.R. Robinson grew up in Junior Village, a notorious DC-government-run orphanage that was the oldest and largest institution of its kind in America. He dropped out of high school in the ninth grade, earned a GED, and graduated with honors from the University of D.C. An alumnus of the creative writing programs at Florida Atlantic University (2009 MFA) and the University of Missouri (Ridgel Nonfiction Fellow, 2016 PhD), N.R.’s work has been recognized by more than two dozen literary journals over the past thirty-six months, with book chapters published in Southeast Review, New Ohio Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, Peauxdunque Review, Memoir Magazine, SFWP Quarterly, and elsewhere. His memoir chapter, “Junior Village,” won the 2020 Ned Stuckey-French Nonfiction Prize, judged by 2013 Pulitzer Prize Winner in nonfiction, Gilbert King, and has been named a 2022 Best American Essays Notable Essay. N.R. was a Tennessee Williams Scholar in nonfiction at the 2021 Sewanee Writers’ Conference. He is represented by Miriam Altshuler of DeFiore and Company Literary Agency and can be contacted at [email protected]. “Visiting Mama” is N.R.’s newest book chapter.
Mike selected “Dear Methheads” by Anisse Gross as the runner-up. He notes, “Writing of unhappiness, when every atom in your body is ill, doesn’t tend to work. It can be maudlin, nostalgic, or something like a dial tone, but in ‘Dear Methheads,’ I found a story that reflected the not too often talked about humor of how boring unhappiness is. The story was self-aware and dark, funny but so damn lonely. What I found moving was how disarming the turn in the piece was. Truly, I didn’t see a story so somber ascending to such a particularly pleasant place, and that’s the sort of work that edges toward magic in the reader’s hands.” Anisse Gross is a writer based in San Francisco, where she is a member of The Ruby and The Writers’ Grotto. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Believer, The Guardian, and elsewhere.
There are five pieces that are Honorable Mentions in the creative nonfiction category: “The Taste of Honey, the Sting of Bees,” by Stacey Balkun; “Between Us,” by Sarah Lawler; A Short History on My Family’s History with Butter, by François Bereaud; Lessons in Girlhood, by Jen Hallaman, and “Holding Breath,” by Shannon Polson.
The 2022 poetry category of the Words and Music Writing Competition final-round judge was Skye Jackson. Skye was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. She has served as a poetry editor for Bayou Magazine and several other publications. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Electric Literature, Green Mountains Review, RATTLE, and elsewhere. Her debut chapbook, A Faster Grave, won the 2019 Antenna Prize. She was also a finalist for the 2020 RATTLE Poetry Prize. In 2021, she won the AWP Intro Journals Award and was twice nominated for Best New Poets. Her work was recently selected by former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins for inclusion in the Library of Congress. In the spring of 2022, she was crowned the winner of the legendary KGB Annual Open Mic poetry competition in New York City. Poets & Writers has also recognized her as a New Orleans “Poet to Watch.”
Skye selected “Killing It” by Gaia Rajan as the 2022 winner in the poetry category. Skye notes regarding the winning poem: “In the poem, ‘Killing It,’ there is a palpable hunger—the piece itself vibrates with an undercurrent of rage along with an unmitigated desire. The speaker longs to be seen, wants more than this life has given them. They present the weight of their lineage as ‘bootstrap royalty,’ giving readers a glimpse of a mythic and small-town American landscape that is rarely seen and even less understood. The details of the poem sing as the figures within the poem act out an almost gritty piety. The poet writes, ‘All my friends are bored waitresses who fold tips in their skirts like scriptures.’ And suddenly, we can’t help but believe what the speaker sees. Ultimately, the poet presents the sacred mundane of quiet desperation like a fiery preacher standing and stalking the congregation from the pulpit. We must sit with the piercing and precise weight of the message and catch every word like bread from the heavens as the poet leaves us in fervor … for more.” Gaia Rajan is the author of the chapbooks Moth Funerals (Glass Poetry Press 2020) and Killing It (Black Lawrence Press 2022, released after the selection of winners in this competition). Her work is published or forthcoming in Best New Poets 2022, the 2022 Best of the Net anthology, The Kenyon Review, THRUSH, Split Lip Magazine, diode, Palette Poetry, and elsewhere. Gaia is an undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon University, studying computer science and creative writing. She lives in Pittsburgh. You can find her at @gaiarajan on Twitter or Instagram.
Skye selected “The Reason I Keep My Questions Between Dark and Dark” by Jenny Keto as the runner-up, writing, “In this poem, the poet paints us an exquisite portrait of unrelenting grief and the speaker’s fierce haunting. Their concerns about their mother’s suicide attempt follows them as they fight for lives of strangers everyday in the medical field. The speaker helps those who are suffering but cannot find their own peace or comfort. We see their intimate life and work clash like cymbals so wonderfully here as the poet makes one thing abundantly clear: you can run from your own problems and even hide at work from them, but they’ll still find you every time.” Jenny Keto is a neurodivergent poet, psychiatric nurse, and former professional actor from Austin, Texas. She’s thrilled to begin her studies in the MFA Creative Writing program at the University of Mississippi. Her poems appear and are forthcoming in The Madison Review, Ponder Review, Gris-Gris, Cathexis Northwest Press, Host Publications, and Francis House, among others. She lives in Abbeville, Mississippi, on some untouched land with her partner, three dogs, two cats, and lots of love.
Poems by nine poets have been designated as Honorable Mentions in the poetry category: “how we hold on to youth” and “Blue Collar Hands,” by Sami Helgeson; “Wonders,” by Daniel W.K. Lee; “Night Attendant,” by Christine Kwon; “Hungry, Hungry Ho,” by Meghan Sullivan; “The Unlistened” and “Asterism,” by Rodger Kamenetz; “Paw Paw” and “For Which I Want/To Apologize,” by Jillian Dankel; “Dreamwake” and “A Burning Ship,” by Kelly Jones; “How Much Do You Want to Know,” by Rachel Mallalieu; and “Threnody,” “Lightshow,” and “Elegy for Chris Cornell,” by Christopher Rose.
Short Story by a Public High School Student Category:
The editorial board of Peauxdunque Review served as the final-round judges for the 2022 writing by a public high school student category.
The editors selected “Poems from Internet Therapy Collection,” including the poems “Scared as Hell by Thoughts of Hell,” “Digging in My Gut,” “My Body, My Religion,” and “Hostage,” by Amiyuh Tobias, as the 2022 winner in the writing by a public high school student category. The editors noted, “These poems function as a single piece, both as poetry and as flash CNF/fiction. With the writer playing with rhythm and sound and meaning in fresh ways, the subject matter cuts to the bone, with no flinching. Excellent.” Amiyuh Tobias is a high school senior at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and East Jefferson High School. She enjoys all forms of writing (fiction, journalism, etc.) but poetry is her forté. Her work has been acknowledged in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, where she won a gold medal for her personal essay titled “Committed.” Her work has also been published in the Cathartic Literary Magazine and Rigorous Magazine, as well as her school’s literary magazine, Umbra, in which she is also serves as an editor. She looks forward to her growth as a writer in the future.
The editors selected the short story, “It Lives There” by Logan Meredith, as the runner-up. The editors noted that the story, a story revolving around a young man’s initial psychiatric session in a residential mental health facility, was “filled with great interiority and insight that would seem far beyond the years of the typical high school writer, elevating this piece beyond that category altogether,” and that the writing was “really strong” and “so well-executed.” Logan Meredith is a student at Destrehan High School, and over the summer she studied creative writing at Boston University and Kenyon College. She is published in Umbra Literary Magazine, and she has won the gold key award in the personal essay category of the Scholastic Art and Writing competition. Logan’s major projects include writing, editing, and directing a collaborative film based on one of her original poems; and her screenplay that she wrote and directed a performance of while attending classes at Boston University.
Honorable Mentions in the Writing by a Public High School Student category include “The Birthing of a Young Poet: She Can’t Stop Writing,” a selection of poems by Caitlin White; “Calderas,” a story by Millicent Helmka; “Bees for a Wish,” a story by Olivia Fontenot; “Do You Take this Man,” a story by Ida Schenck; “A Recognizable Difference,” a story by Maya Wandrei; and “The Thing,” a story by Raidabi Ashraf.
Beyond the Bars Category:
The Peauxdunque Review editorial board also served as the final-round judges for the 2022 Beyond the Bars category, selecting winning work from entries by incarcerated juveniles nationwide.
The editors selected “Seed in the Dirt,” a poem by “CJ.” “Seed in the Dirt” employed fresh and mature metaphor to examine the meaning of hope and redemption even in the darkest of times, working with language on multiple levels. Since submitting his poem, CJ has completed his incarceration and is successfully employed offshore as a welder, and is looking forward to building a successful life. The editors selected the poem “When I Weep,” by John Church, as the runner-up. “When I Weep” moves seamlessly between metaphor and concrete imagery to find the hope that can only come from inner-strength, even in the face of doubt or antipathy from the writer’s surroundings. John is from Covington, Louisiana. He loves working with animals and fishing with his friends when he has free time. He has completed his high school diploma and is taking courses in wildlife and fisheries management. He hopes to make a career out of that, so he can enjoy what he does for a living.