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Catching Up With 2014 Literary Award Winners

Nikki Steele / October 17, 2014

  • Luke Tennis, Michelle Chikaonda, and  Emelia Reuterfors at the Literacy Award Winners Panel at the 2014 Tucson Festival of Books.

    Luke Tennis, Michelle Chikaonda, and Emelia Reuterfors at the Literacy Award Winners Panel at the 2014 Tucson Festival of Books.

In anticipation of the looming due date for this year's Literary Awards competition, we caught up with our three first-place winners from last year to see what they're doing with their pieces, how they enjoyed the Festival and Masters Workshop, and (most importantly!) what they're reading right now.

Award winners react to winning TFOB Writing Competition

"I, at first, was afraid that it was a mail-merging error," writes Michelle Chikaonda, winner of the nonfiction category with her piece "AIDS: A Family Topology." Two days later when Chikaonda received a follow-up email, she writes, "that's when it became real, and that's when I started telling people about it in earnest."

The other authors had a similar experience upon receiving their award-winning news.

Luke Tennis, the winner in the fiction category with his work "Go Long," writes, "I'd forgotten I'd entered, and so of course, I was surprised. I find it's better to send your stuff off and forget about it if you can. Upon getting the news, I was excited. It's great to get validation for the hard work you've put in."

Emelia Reuterfors' win helped set the tone for her 2014. On winning in the poetry category for "Anti-Kill and Other Poems," she writes, "I believe I received my email informing me I won the writing competition on New Year’s Day, so my reaction was a bit dazed and slightly surreal like some sort of groggy kitten. Despite my disorientation, it felt fulfilling to start the new year off with some congratulations."

Experience helps winners expand pieces and ready them for publication

After winning the competition, Tennis decided to rewrite his piece and send it out. His piece focuses on a teenager who is coping with his older brother’s fatal accident, while trying in vain to connect with the older brother’s best friend who was there at the time. Tennis writes that he's "hoping to get it published."

Reuterfors, likewise, notes that her "poems have transformed and regenerated another limb or two" since winning the award. She is now submitting these poems, a product of her MFA thesis at University of Arizona, for publication. She describes her poems as "fragmentary, non-linear, and linguistically predatory."

Chikaonda is currently revising her piece, "AIDS: A Family Topology," which is a discussion of the AIDS epidemic in Malawi written through the lens of its effect on her immediate and extended family. She writes of her revision process on the piece: "While I believe it is an incredibly important narrative to speak, it is still a nonfiction narrative, about my family no less, and I am still figuring out how to tell the story in a way that better protects their identities if they don’t wish to be outed as either being HIV+ or as being participants in this story, before I attempt to get it more widely circulated."

Winners attend the Festival and Masters Workshop

"It's wonderful to witness an event so hopeful and all-inclusive in terms of literature and publishing," Reuterfors writes of the Tucson Festival of Books. The Masters Workshop was equally wonderful. She notes that her favorite part of the Workshop was listening to faculty-member Rae Armantrout talk about "her own fascinations of double meaning and of Freud's perspective of the 'uncanny.'"

Chikaonda notes that the most important takeaway from the Masters Workshop was that "the workshop reinforced for me just how difficult it is to write of the harder parts of life with appropriate respect to oneself and one’s placement inside the narrative while still effectively universalizing it such that it speaks to people other than oneself. "

Besides helpful critiques, Tennis notes that his favorite part of the Masters Workshop was "meeting other writers and remaining in contact with some of them." He also writes that while the Festival is great for meeting and hanging out with fellow writers, one of the most exciting aspects was the opportunity to leave a chilly winter in the Northeast to go to sunny Tucson!

What they're reading now

Tennis writes that he's reading a collection of short stories from Chris Adrian called A Better Angelas well as Steve Erickson's Tour of the Black Clock.

Chikaonda just completed Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and is now reading Man Walks Into a Room by Nicole Krauss and An American Life by Annie Dillard.

Reuterfors is currently reading Fanny Howe’s collection of essays The Wedding Dress, Mike Harvkey’s In The Course Of Human Events, and Hoa Nguyen’s collection of poems Red Juice.

If you're ready to enter the 2015 Tucson Festival of Books Literary Awards Writing Competition and join this group of talented and widely-read award winners, check out the full rules and submission process here. Remember to have your submissions in by Tuesday November 18!

Nikki Steele is a freelance writer in Phoenix, AZ. She writes about books at BookRiot.com. Connect with Nikki on Twitter @nnsteele or on Pinterest at nkksteele.

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