2020 Contest Results!
BWR is pleased to announce the winners and runners-up of our 2020 Contests in Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Flash. We are forever grateful to our inimitable judges: Lucy Corin, Mayukh Sen, Paul Tran, and C Pam Zhang.
Rachel Julia Engler was selected as the fiction winner for “Community.” Fiction judge Lucy Corin writes:
The immediate and unrelenting confidence and clarity of the prose and its attitude is what caught me. But rather than get mesmerized by its own (astonishing) way with sentences, “Community” stays story-first in every line. Our narrator is on a dangerous quest for psychic release. How can you feel better? How can you feel better in a place like this? It’s hilarious and brutally serious with a remarkable and spot-on punch of an ending.
Jennifer Cie was selected as the fiction runner-up for “The Visit.” Lucy Corin writes:
An elegant and truly mysterious story— cinematic in its atmosphere, fastidious in its release of information. Rare and real suspense built around complex characters with deeply moving relationships and something powerful to say.
Katherine Yeejin Hur was selected as the nonfiction winner for “Third.” Nonfiction judge Mayukh Sen writes:
Processing a parent’s death is messy by design; this piece is anything but. With great discipline, Third takes a subject that is tricky to write about and doesn’t take a false step. Third tenderly inhabits the inner mind of two deceased souls—one the writer’s mother, the other the composer Rachmaninoff—drawing parallels between the two that feel earned, never forced. But what is most striking is how much generosity the writer of Third finds for themselves, articulating how disorienting such a death can be and what it takes to build oneself back together in grief’s chaos.
Gyasi Hall was selected as the nonfiction runner-up for “Alas Poor Fhoul.” Mayukh Sen writes:
Alas, Poor Fhoul isn’t afraid to make the reader work. This sharp, funny narrative challenges one to examine what white gatekeepers demand of Black art, who endures in white cultural memory and why, and the very nature of “truth” itself as determined by white institutions. This story might grab you instantly and refuse to forfeit your attention, even as it twists and bends over itself. That’s certainly the effect it had upon me. A striking piece.
Jody Chan was selected as the poetry winner for “flashback.” Poetry judge Paul Tran writes:
Form, by itself, has no meaning but can suggest or lead a speaker to meaning when exacted with intent and imagination. The sestina, by this logic, leads a speaker to meaning through the shifting repetition of end-words in each of its sestets. The repetition, which occurs in what I call a collapsed fashion, being that the end-words go from ABCDEF to FAEBDC to CFDABE and so forth, means that the interior progression of the poem, its emotional and psychological investigation, isn’t so much linear or cyclical but always, more and more, inward: observations and concerns otherwise taken for granted are, instead, deepened and revised and, sometimes, contradicted. This sestina, for which there’s no envoy where the end-words for a final time convene, revise, specifically, what’s remembered and the very notion of memory itself. The speaker, opening the poem with the fragment, “home,” recalls “clouded recollections” from “a time [the speaker] can’t remember.” Yet they do: “dad smoking downstairs, the scent of rice sharp as a mother’s heart.” Perhaps the speaker recalls not the “time” but its vestiges because memory, all “miles” of it, is “ribboned,” “a lit fuse,” and time is “lost,” “buried under skin, hair, dirt.” Still, despite being lost, “time licks [the speaker’s] hair, buries [the speaker] under teeth, skin, and dirt”—the very things that time, the speaker has told us, was lost to. Against or because of this paradox, the poem reveals the speaker thinking and learning, arduously, what memory does and is: “memory lights miles of dust, lifts it to my lips.” It’s “silent as a blown fuse.” I admire, very much, this restlessness of thought and revision, as much as I admire the difficult to achieve long lines that, dense with detail, never relinquish their integrity, particularly those marked with great caesura, such as: “I’ll go through. outside the dream, a window. this bedroom’s fuse.” Now the next question is: how does one live with this knowledge?
torrin a. greathouse was selected as the poetry runner-up for “Vanitas Vanitatum.” Paul Tran writes:
Every poem on the page, to me, begins with its shape and its title. The twenty-eight stanzas, more or less in prose, signal the interior progression of prose, which is to follow logic toward argumentation and persuasion, and that there are twenty-eight stanzas signals potential interruption, revision, incorporation of additional concerns, and the braiding of all this. The title, which translates to “vanity of vanities,” seems appropriate for a poem that begins and ends with an “I” statement in the indicative grammatical mood: “I was called a pansy before I was ever called a faggot.” “I just want to be fucked like I’ll live forever.” Between what the speaker “was” and what the speaker “just [wants],” the poem carefully braids information about the Bradford Pear, the 1930 Hays Code, the 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause, the 1976 death of Sal Mineo who played John “Plato” Crawford in the film, and given all this, all that the speaker has seen “on film” and in life, the belief that “straight people only want to read poems about faggots fucking if there’s the risk of someone dying at the end.” But more than an announcement of already known beliefs, of what others want, this is a poem of refusal and discovery made with that conviction: “I refuse to perish where the poem ends,” the speaker says, and in the penultimate stanza, “there’s a joke here about tiny deaths, but I’m not going to tell it.” I can see the patterning of language unfold. “Tiny death” is an idiom for orgasm and, here, also a reference to queer lives lost to a world where such desire is deemed, like the Bradford Pear, “invasive” and punishable by “moral guidelines” like the Hays Code. It’s the invocation of “death” that leads the speaker to the utterance about life, living forever, and I want to praise the equally subtle intelligence that one can miss: this poem is an argument about the verb “to be,” about metaphor and, at times, simile, and who gets to decide what one “is.” It’s therefore not lost on me that the only time metaphor and simile converge is in that final utterance, when the speaker decides.
Elaine Hsieh Chou was selected as the flash winner for “In Which Ms. Swan Suffers Clarity.” Flash judge C Pam Zhang writes:
In this year of absurdity and isolation, “In Which Ms. Swan Suffers Clarity” is a small, necessary spike driven into the stuff of reality (or surreality). Who has not felt as if they are “enmeshed in a repeating time loop?” Who has not flailed against the slippery, reflective surface of constructed identity and despaired of being entombed by it? In crisp, unblinking prose, Elaine Hsieh Chou refuses shallowness, plumbs the depths of a comic character, and makes us reconsider those who slip by at the margins of narrative. “If you listen very closely, you can hear her trying to tell you who she is.”
Kiley McLaughlin was selected as the flash runner-up for “WALANG HIMALA.” C Pam Zhang writes:
A precise, haunting nugget of myth.
Congratulations to the winners!
We also want to congratulate the finalists in each genre, listed below.
Yvonne Yevan Yu
Ae Hee Lee
noor ibn najam
Keenan Teddy Smith
Rebecca Pinwei Tseng
Yvette Lisa Ndlovu