2020 Awards ($5,000)
Gökçen Ataman creates vivid architectural sculptures from cardboard. These works, using carefully cut printed boxes and corrugation as textured compositional elements, uplift and transform this humble material. Modulating between brightly-painted, exuberant shapes and spare meticulous precision, these pieces bring life to a wide vocabulary of imagined architecture. Gökçen lives with her family in Istanbul, Turkey.
Once, I wanted to be
the last thing you’d want to throw on a gas fire.
Then, I wanted to be the first. Now, I am learning
to be the fire itself.
We love the fierce power of Shaindel Beers’ poems, with their intricate attention to language, urgent voices, and surprising leaps. She teaches poetry in venues ranging from public libraries to tribal schools and prisons, and lives with her son, husband, and an array of pets, in Pendleton, Oregon.
Alda P. Dobbs
Alda P. Dobbs’ compelling middle grade novel, Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna, tells the story of Petra, a twelve-year-old girl who struggles to fulfill her dreams in the shadows of the Mexican Revolution. The story was inspired by the life of the author’s great-grandmother in Mexico, during the Revolution, and as a refugee in the United States. A 2018 SAF finalist, Alda lives with her family in Montgomery, Texas.
Glynnis Fawkes shared excerpts from two fascinating and beautifully-drawn works: Persephone’s Garden, a graphic memoir of her mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s; and a graphic biography, Charlotte Brontë Before Jane Eyre. She teaches at the Center for Cartoon Studies and lives with her husband and two children Burlington, Vermont.
“You may find un-truths. You may find lies. You may find the real story. Or absolutely nothing at all.” Sasha Hom’s lyrical novel, They Swim Circles In The Rain, follows a Korean adoptee trying to discover more about her birth family and culture. The novel moves back and forth in time, progressing via fragments of the adoption file and other vignettes, letting the reader’s search for understanding mirror the protagonist’s. Sasha lives with her partner and four children, off the grid in Sonoma County, California.
Kelda Martensen uses printmaking, layered materials, and drawing to create tactile dimensional works that blur the line between artist book and collage. Her work swells with ecological undertones and compositions that succeed both in their monolithic simplicity and their rich, layered detail. She lives in Seattle, Washington with her husband and two daughters.
Elizabeth Mooney’s paintings are full of contradictions. They have boundless energy, careful restraint, lush intense color, and the negative space of bare wood. All in support of a vision that reimagines landscape and our relationship to it. A 2017 SAF finalist, Elizabeth lives with her family in Boston, Massachusetts.
B. Sharise Moore
It is 1920 and Dr. Marvellus Djinn runs Motherland, the country’s first Colored Amusement Park, in Hampton, Virginia. An arm-wrestling competition will determine the winner of a scholarship, and our protagonist is dismayed to learn that he has to compete against a Girl. B. Sharise Moore’s lively YA fantasy novel, Dr. Marvellus Djinn’s Odd Scholars, had us hooked from the start. She teaches 6th grade in Baltimore, Maryland, where she lives with her husband and child.
David Philip Mullins
A child is missing, a mountain lion is roaming the rural Nevada countryside, and big-game hunter Jesse Tindol, who is still grieving the death of her own child, is hired to find the animal. David Philip Mullins’ taut and vivid prose has us eager to read the finished novel. The author of two other books, David is an associate professor of English at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, where he lives with his wife and three children.
Ghost of a Dream (Lauren Was and Adam Eckstrom)
Ghost of a Dream, a two-person artist collaborative comprised of Lauren Was and Adam Eckstrom, makes rich installations employing discarded materials, repurposing them into clever commentary which illuminates the wasteful excesses of our society. Previous SAF finalists from 2018, their work is conceptually insightful and exquisitely executed. They live with their young daughter in Wassaic, New York.
L. Nichols’ beautiful graphic novel, The Reciprocal, explores family themes both universal and specific, from grieving a father to being a trans father, queer invisibility and his own relationship with masculinity. His first book was about growing up queer/trans in an evangelical Christian community in rural Louisiana. He lives with his wife and two children in Wappingers Falls, New York.
We loved Mae Ramirez’s smart and surprising poems, which are both surreal and deeply rooted in Los Angeles and a Mexican motherland. She is working on her first book-length poetry manuscript, Moonward Delirium, which centers on “the love and violence of sisterhood, the poverty of motherhood in isolation, and the desires of decolonized womanhood in a nightmare world.” Mae lives with her partner and daughter in Berkeley, California.
Rashaun Rucker wowed us with his American Ornithology series: a set of hybridized drawings that at first glance appear to be a clever melding of man and bird. Closer study reveals a carefully-calculated subtext that highlights definitions of and biases against the black male and the rock pigeon. These portraits of systemic oppression are intellectually challenging and visually stimulating. Rashaun lives with his family outside of Detroit, Michigan.
Anu is married to a woman but allows her parents to pretend she’s not; they make up stories about her absent husband, Amil Vora: “I was a coward, yes,” says Anu, “but a compassionate one. I lied out of love.” A 2019 SAF finalist, Reena Shah comments, “I write fiction about people who I’d probably judge harshly in real life,” and Mr. Vora, part of a novel-in-stories she’s working on, is delicious to read. Reena lives with her husband and two children, dividing her time between Costa Rica and New York.
Alisa Sikelianos-Carter impressed us with large-scale mixed media works that explode the viewer’s understanding of what it means to be black. Her rich compositions, loaded with symbolism and texture, explore the contradictions of repulsion and fetishism with which our society treats blackness. She lives with her family in Albany, New York.
Leslie Smith III
Leslie Smith III makes multi-canvassed paintings whose bespoke shapes nest and recoil, activating the space between. This is painting reinvented, escaping the traditions of form. Leslie lives in Madison, Wisconsin with his wife and son.
Rachel Swarns’ book, The 272: The Story of the Enslaved Families Who Fueled the Growth of Georgetown University and the Catholic Church, is well-researched, beautifully written, and incredibly important; it reads like a novel, but is our nation’s own shameful and marginalized history. A contributing writer for the New York Times and a professor of journalism at New York University, Rachel lives with her husband and two children in Montclair, New Jersey.
Elizabeth Tremante’s surreal paintings of girls in museums offer biting commentary on the canon of art history through playful depictions of absurdity and revulsion. They are humorous, subversive, and challenging in equal measure. Elizabeth lives with her husband and daughter in Altadena, California.
Justine van der Leun
“Tell me anything else about your story that you think is important for me to understand why you were convicted,” I wrote. A standard letter, it went out to thousands. Mariam replied in purple crayon: “I got molested at age 3 by my dad, I was in frosters homes from age of 3 years old to 7 years old I got molested at the age of 7 acuple times by my dad…My case was not fair the judge gave me to much time and I was 11 when I did the murder.”
Justine van der Leun’s devastating project, Unreasonable Women: Punishment and Survival in America, tells the story of Mariam and others like her, who are criminalized for their responses to trauma, or for their attempts to survive sexual and domestic violence. Her exhaustive research, careful reporting, and beautiful writing make this an important, groundbreaking book. Justine lives in New York City with her family.
A fun going-to-bed story with a rollicking refrain; a quiet story about several generations tending a pecan tree; and a simple but powerful Juneteenth story, which distills a huge topic into a joyful celebration: Anne Wynter delighted and moved us with the three picture books she submitted. We’re excited to see these books diversify school and library bookshelves. Anne lives with her husband and sons in Austin, Texas.
These finalists are artists and writers whose work impressed us tremendously; we are pleased to acknowledge them publicly.
Harumi Abe, Painting
Hanna Alkaf, Early and Middle Grade Readers
Fanny Allié, Fiber Arts and Textiles
Doreen Baingana, Fiction
Carolyn Case, Painting
Jeremy Dean, Mixed Media
Kendra DeColo, Poetry
Brian Hart, Fiction
Christine Howard Sandoval, Sculpture
Elizabeth Gonzalez James, Fiction
Sheba Karim, Young Adult Fiction
Danielle Lazarin, Fiction
Cleyvis Natera, Creative Nonfiction
Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi, Painting
Gahl Pratt Pardes, Fiction
Gregory William Rick, Drawing
Abigail Santamaria, Creative Nonfiction
Colleen Toledano, Ceramics
Julie Torres, Mixed Media
Christina Veladota, Poetry
2019 Awards ($5,000)
Cathy Akers makes stunning porcelain vases, covered with archival photographs and text, that document the lives of women living in communes in the late 1960s. She writes, “As a vessel traditionally associated with women and domestic life, and that was used as a storytelling object during Greek and Roman times, the vase is a fitting form for this project.”
She lives with her family in La Crescenta, California.
Tatiana Arocha, a 2017 SAF Finalist, impressed us again with bold collage and mixed media pieces inspired by the threatened landscapes of her native Colombia, highlighting both the vulnerability and endurance of these natural ecosystems. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.
Tomiko Breland shared a knockout short story, “What Is Behind,” about a group of refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war; each character passes the narration, like a baton, to the next as they race across a sniper-guarded field. The author of one novel, Tomiko runs an editing and graphic design business in Monterey, California, where she lives with her husband and children.
Clara Broermann‘s paintings are bold explorations of process. Bright, graphic works show an accumulation of layers, both added and subtracted. The paint on these canvases is built up, scraped away, and applied again, giving the works a weathered archaelogical quality that clearly reveals the depth of their making. She lives in Berlin with her husband (also an artist) and their young son.
Teri Ellen Cross Davis
Teri Ellen Cross Davis is a poet whose intimate but also political poems demonstrate a powerful emotional range.
…maybe thank you Jesus—becomes the refrain
every time your husband pulls into the driveway,
alive and whole, and no one has mistaken him
for all the black, scary things. . .
You learned early to cast the net—thank you Jesus
and it’s a sweet needle that gathers the fraying thread,
hemming security in steady stitches.
Teri works as the poetry coordinator for the Folger Shakespeare Library and lives in Silver Spring, Maryland with her husband (also a poet) and children.
Delphine Hennelly‘s paintings are simultaneously bold and soft. Echoes of pastel bucolic landscapes are imbued with overlays of electric line and texture, referencing elements of both tapestry and also digital rasterization. These weathered, modern, interrupted scenes reward deep inspection. Delphine lives with her son in New York, New York.
Nicole Homer‘s poems left us breathless with their frank and urgent voice:
“Let me say it
another way: I like to call myself wound
but I will answer to knife.”
The author of one collection, Pecking Order, Nicole teaches English and lives with her family in
Freehold, New Jersey.
Terri Leker, an SAF finalist in 2017, is a fiction writer who lives in San Rafael, California, with her husband and daughter. We loved her story, “Coyotes,” about a newly-pregnant woman who has just buried her mother and ended an affair. Her work is full of wonderful, unexpected moments that made us gasp in surprise and recognition. And all parents will nod in agreement at her remark that “being a parent has helped me prioritize and treasure my time as never before (and much of what comes out of kids’ mouths is solid gold).”
Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann
Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann works in a variety of mediums to create large exuberant explosions of color and form. The work succeeds at every scale, from immersive sensory takeover, to fine close up, hand-cut surface detail. These are landscapes reimagined, tense in their exploration of form. Katherine lives with her family in Washington, DC.
Jen Palmares Meadows
“And on Memorial Day and Labor Day, we Filipinos did as Americans did—we went camping. Mom packed the full-sized rice cooker. Lola brought her mahjong set and Dad packed his machete.” Jen Palmares Meadows‘ writing drops us directly, vividly into life as a Filipino American and we are excited to read more of her in-progress memoir, Betting on Brown.
Jen lives with her family in Folsom, California.
Yevgenia Nayberg is an illustrator whose work has appeared in magazines and picture books, and on theatre posters, music albums, and book covers; she has also worked as a set and costume designer. Her illustrated children’s books are lush and whimsical, and tackle important issues without being didactic. Yevgenia lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and two sons.
Molly Patterson writes literary fiction centered primarily on the experiences of women. In the piece she shared with us, a woman named Rosanna is living in a cave with her children after fleeing her abusive husband. “It was a cocoon of stone and Rosanna knew that the form she took going in was not the form she would take coming out. Whenever that was. Winter, when it arrived, would decide such things.” Molly teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where she lives with her husband, their two-year old twins, and their newborn daughter.
Theresa Pfarr paints confrontational portraits of young women. Inhabiting the space between attraction and revulsion, these works are a commentary on the idealized beauty portrayed in our media culture; a jarring contrast to the glamorized pursuit of an unattainable perfection. An SAF finalist from 2016, Theresa lives with her family in Ewing, New Jersey.
Pamela Kristine Santos
Pamela Kristine Santos‘ poems are insistent, energetic, and surprising; in “Coconuts, Done Threeway,” she writes:
Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing an impersonation of an impersonation / Nanay wasn’t born in the
Philippines she cooks food from YouTube and curses under her breath in Taglish / She calls me
Anak / I pick up her words like fallen coconuts and when no one is around I crack them
open but they are dry inside husks double-sided / No wonder I feel hunger late at night
Pamela is working on a collection called Manila Mae Livestreams The Rebolusyon; she co-founded Portland’s first Winter Poetry Festival and furthers visibility for Filipinx artists locally through the Sari Not Sari series. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her son.
Amy Schissel, a 2015 SAF finalist, makes incredibly large scale drawings that reference cartography as she layers interpretations of digital information with personal visualizations of spaces known to her. These drawings are hung, stood vertically as monolithic scrolls, and forced to climb the walls of spaces that literally can’t contain them. Amy lives with her family in Miami, Florida where she is a painting professor at the University of Miami.
Sanjay Vora works in a variety of mediums to explore issues of memory and time. Through layered representation, and collage-like gridded overlays, he fragments these frozen moments, confounding our sense of reality. Sanjay is an art teacher who lives with his family in Oakland, California.
Sara Moore Wagner
The language in Sara Wagner‘s poetry is so lush and ripe; at times, it has strains of hope and promise, but there’s a dominant, lingering undercurrent of world-weariness —that coming of age for girls simply means to be taken by a man. She is working on two collections, How Close That Sun, about the heroin epidemic in rural Ohio; and The Swan Wife, a lyric exploration of what it means to be a wife.
Sara lives in West Chester, Ohio with her husband and three children.
Sara Wallace writes, “It’s an interesting time to be a writer with disabilities from the sticks.” Her poetry is not about rural America or disability, nor exploring the intersection of the two, but “about breathing that air.” Whether set on a subway train or in a snow-covered country field, the writing continually surprises with its swift turns of phrase and shifts in tone. Sara lives in Brooklyn, New York with her son.
Chun Ye is the author of a novel in Chinese and two books of poetry in English; she is now working on a collection of short stories, Hao, about Chinese women both in China and in America, often “grappling with the complexity of maternity while being challenged by difficult circumstances.” Her writing is dark, honest, and vital. Chun lives with her family in Providence, Rhode Island, and teaches at Providence College.
“It took a long second for me to remember who I was, what I’d been through, and why this case was a terrible idea for me. But I grabbed the phone number anyway and dialed it that night, saying, ‘I want to talk to you. I’m a private investigator.’ The label sounded as good as anything I had ever called myself.” The author’s memoir-in-progress describes her first big P.I. case, which turned into a nationally covered and legally historic gang rape lawsuit. She has previously written a novel and a collection of short stories.
These finalists are artists and writers whose work impressed us tremendously; we are pleased to acknowledge them publicly.
Tony Chirinos, Photography
Jason Joseph Cytacki, Painting
Sarah Domet, Fiction
Lydia Fitzpatrick, Fiction
Derrick Harriell, Poetry
Rebecca Hazelton, Poetry
Brittany Nicole Helmick, Poetry
Elissa C Huang, Fiction
Susan Kim, Poetry
Jingjing Lin, Installation
Magda Love, Painting
Chloe Martinez, Poetry
David Philip Mullins, Fiction
Danica Marie Phelps, Drawing
Tana Terese Quincy Arcega, Painting
Mandy Rogers Horton, Mixed Media
Tyra Jade Shackleford, Fiber Arts and Textiles
Reena Shah, Fiction
Jodi Stuart, Sculpture
Dannielle Tegeder, Painting
Jean Alexander Frater
Jean Alexander Frater is a painter who impressed us with her graphic sensibility, her exquisite sense of texture, and most of all with her deft manipulation of the canvas, particularly as it literally escapes the frame. Jean lives with her family in Chicago, IL.
Remica L. Bingham-Risher
Remica L. Bingham-Risher writes innovative poems embracing historical documents and exploring themes of family, inheritance, race, and slavery. She lives with her family in Norfolk, VA, and teaches at Old Dominion University.
Cicely Carew is a large-scale painter and printmaker whose bold, graphic works mix exuberance with tight composition. Her work demonstrates a powerful variety of scale and form. She lives with her son in Cambridge, MA where she is currently completing an MFA program.
Leela Corman is a graphic novelist who shared two poetic and compelling works, Kraut and The Blood Road, that both address the Holocaust; they are urgent and angry, and unfortunately timely. Leela teaches illustration and comics, and lives with her family in Gainesville, Florida.
Monique Fields shared three picture books with us: one about claiming a biracial identity; one about the lifelong friendship between Rosa Parks and Johnnie Carr; and finally one, Being Mama, about how it feels to be a mom. They are warm, smart, and just what we’d have read with our kids when they were young. Monique works and lives with her family in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Darien Hsu Gee
Darien Hsu Gee shared excerpts from Julia and Other Small Histories, a series of luminous short essays about four generations of Chinese women in her matrilineal line. The author of six novels and two works of nonfiction, Darien lives with her family in Waikoloa, Hawaii.
Sarah Gerkensmeyer, a previous SAF finalist, knocked us out with her dystopian short story, written in the form of a scientific report, about giant sinkholes which are stabilized when women come and dump their emotional baggage into them. It is timely and pointed and darkly funny–perfect for our times. Author of a collection of short stories, Sarah lives with her family in Indiana.
Rigoberto Alonso Gonzalez
Rigoberto Alonso Gonzalez is a painter whose masterful approach combines an old-world Baroque aesthetic with contemporary concerns. Specifically, his paintings focus on the people, lives, and landscapes of the U.S. and Mexico border. He lives with his family in McAllen, TX.
Raul Gonzalez is a mixed media artist who impressed us with his varied approach to materials, and a quiet, strikingly personal depiction of family life. His ballpoint pen drawings and mixed media works on concrete demonstrate deft skill and fresh perspective. He lives with his family in San Antonio, TX.
Toni Jensen shared an excerpt from her vital and lyrical new work-in-progress, Carry, which explores the intersections between hydraulic fracturing (fracking) sites, and human trafficking, in particular the sex trafficking of Indigenous women and children. Author of a collection of short stories, Toni lives with her child in Arkansas, where she teaches in the Programs in Creative Writing and Translation at the University of Arkansas and in the low residency MFA Program at the Institute of American Indian Arts.
Mary NaRee Laube
Mary Laube paints exquisite, unique trompe l’oeil compositions with a bold graphic aesthetic. These works hover between figuration and abstraction, and offer a wonderful exploration of dimensionality and perspective. She lives with her family in Knoxville, TN.
Tanya Marcuse, a previous SAF finalist, is a photographer who painstakingly creates lush tableaux of flora and fauna. Weeks in the making, these compositions evolve, grow, and decompose; the resulting large-scale photographs capture scenes that hover between growth and decay, engulfing our perspective. She lives with her family in Barrytown, NY.
Kelly Ann Ording
Kelly Ording is a painter who wowed us with her beautiful graphic sensibility. Using bold patterns, she navigates effortlessly from mural-scale work to intimate, intricate pieces on hand-dyed paper. Kelly lives with her family in Oakland, CA.
Kimberly King Parsons
The narrator of Kimberly King Parsons’ “Glow Hunters” says of her charismatic friend Bo, “I’ve seen strangers stop what they’re doing to watch her shake sugar into her tea.” And so it was for us reading this story, which is as universal as tea, but electric in its telling. She lives with her partner and sons in Portland, OR, where she is completing a novel about Texas, motherhood, and LSD.
Cindy Pon, a previous SAF finalist, writes young adult fantasy; the story she shared with us, “The Crimson Cloak,” is a wonderful, feminist spin on the Asian legend of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl. The author of six books for teens and co-founder of Diversity in YA, Cindy lives with her family in San Diego.
Kaitlynn Redell is a multi-faceted artist exploring broad issues like caregiving, identity, and power structures through a wide variety of techniques and materials and an acutely personal lens. She lives with her family in Altadena, CA.
Michelle Brittan Rosado
“Every morning I’ll hose off the chalk // outline of the past,” writes Michelle Brittan Rosado in one of the pieces from The Last Sign of the Zodiac; the collection offers poems about popular representations of Malaysia alongside others about pregnancy and parenthood, to explore the connections between identity and inheritance. The author of two previous collections of poetry, Michelle teaches at the University of Southern California, and lives with her family in Los Angeles.
“Very little has been written about the experience of infertility,” writes Shira Spector, “and even less so from the perspective of those outside of the mainstream. Who better than an infertile, high femme, low income, non- biological Jewish mom, dyke drama queen and ectopic pregnancy survivor smack dab in the middle of the queer baby boom in an increasingly hostile world, to document this point of view?” We couldn’t agree more. Her graphic novel, Red Rock Baby Candy, is like a poetic crazy quilt and we can’t wait to read the finished book.
Shira lives with her family in Toronto, Ontario.
Jenniey Irene Tallman
In her essay-poem hybrid, “Hoarders,” Jenniey Irene Tallman wonders,
“How many sentences can you write
about hoarding before the collection
becomes a hoard?”
We would read all the sentences she can write with her distinctive and compelling voice. Jenniey lives with her family in Iowa City, Iowa, and works at the University of Iowa, where she is an instructor in the International Writing Program and a support specialist in Healthcare.
Arlaina Tibensky, a previous SAF finalist, delighted us with her sample from Tonight’s Menu, a novel about a newly-divorced mom and her weary, adult daughter on a Kenyan safari. What could possibly go wrong? A founding board member of Pen Parentis and author of one novel, Arlaina lives with her family in South Orange, New Jersey.
These finalists are artists and writers whose work impressed us tremendously; we are pleased to acknowledge them publicly.
Katrina Michele Andry, Printmaking
Natalia Arbelaez, Sculpture
Roxanna Faye Asgarian, Long Form Journalism
Helen Barff, Sculpture
Laura Berman, Printmaking
Brooke Champagne, Creative Nonfiction
Alda P Dobbs, Early and Middle Grade Fiction
Kelli Jo Ford, Fiction
Ghost of a Dream (Lauren Was and Adam Eckstrom), Installation
Aracelis Girmay, Poetry
Jacqueline Goldfinger, Playwriting
Harvest Henderson, Fiction
Robert Leroy Hodge, Mixed Media
Kate McQuade, Fiction
Phoebe North, Early and Middle Grade Fiction
Memory Risinger, Fiction
Mia Rosenthal, Drawing
Adelia Saunders, Fiction
Hannah Stephenson, Poetry
Valerie Wallace, Printmaking
Jason Hugh Ackman
Jason Hugh Ackman’s sculptures impressed us with their quiet strength. While these works often use recycled lumber, the material is transformed with charring, or the application of beeswax, to create a masterful contrast of textures. There’s whimsy and power in these thoughtful, beautifully constructed works. Jason lives in rural Illinois with his wife and two daughters.
Keliy Anderson-Staley is a photographer whose tintype portraits reveal a deep commitment to the process; in the age of selfies, these slow, careful studies are important, not just for their form, but for the diverse range of subjects portrayed in her series “[Hyphen] Americans.” Keliy lives with her family in Houston, TX.
Kenneth Barrett’s novel-in-progress, All of We, introduces us to a family dealing with death and global politics in Grenada in 1983. It’s a tense and lyrical story, and we are excited to read the finished book. Kenneth is an architectural designer who lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children.
Clare Beams’ novel, The Illness Lesson, is set in the late 19th century, during an episode of mass hysteria at a girls boarding school; it’s a story we found both timely and timeless.
Clare is a creative writing teacher and lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two daughters.
Krys Malcolm Belc
Krys Malcolm Belc shared excerpts from his forthcoming flash essay collection, In Transit, which considers the infrastructure of the city and the transgender body. The essays are lively, funny, poignant, and so compelling.
Krys lives with his wife and three kids in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Clover is a doctor’s daughter living in the magical, alternate history world of The Oddity, Eli Brown‘s forthcoming novel. Clover is witty and clever and, at the end of the sample we read, tossed into a river by her father in an attempt to save her life. We are impatient to read the rest!
Eli lives with his wife and family in Northern California.
Victoria Ming-Kai Chang
We were so moved by Victoria Chang’s prose poems, from a new project called Obit, in which she explores grief and the ways language can fail us.
Her earlier collection, Barbie Chang, was just published. Victoria lives with her family in Southern California.
Jeffrey Spencer Chapman
Jeffrey Chapman shared excerpts from two graphic nonfiction projects with us: a memoir called My Evolution as a Comic Book Creator and also a book called Ovid in Exile, which makes the Roman poet seem more relevant than he has since our high school Latin class.
Jeffrey is a creative writing professor at Oakland University, outside Detroit, and lives with his family in Michigan.
“That summer my sister Marlene and I didn’t agree on much. We agreed cabbage boiled or fried was nasty. We agreed that Grandma was mean. And we agreed that Daddy would do almost anything if we asked him right.” So begins Traci Dant’s engaging middle grade novel, Polio Summer, based partly on her own mother’s story of being treated for polio in a segregated hospital outside St. Louis. It’s an important story that we’re eager to see out in the world.
Traci lives in Illinois with her husband and three children.
Delano Louis Dunn
Delano Dunn is a mixed-media artist who floored us with a series of collages pairing historical portrayals of African-Americans with bold graphic stripes of color. These pieces invite us to behold our nation’s complex racial history while offering some hope, some light, some color. Delano lives in Queens, NY with his wife and daughter.
We loved Honor Freeman’s gorgeous, tantalizing slipcast porcelain works of soaps, sponges, and other domestic objects. Through exquisite execution and thought-provoking installation, she elevates the mundane. Honor lives and works with her family in Adelaide, Australia.
The poems in Elizabeth Hughey’s work in progress, White Bull, are composed entirely of words found in the letters and public statements of Bull Connor, the Commissioner of Public Safety for the city of Birmingham, Alabama, during the Civil Rights era. This would just be an interesting exercise in word play if the poems didn’t draw attention to language in exciting ways and create beautiful images, with lines like “The window uploads another dawn” and “Does this afternoon come in sleeveless?”
The author of two previous poetry collections and co-founder of DISCO, a non-profit literary arts center, Elizabeth lives with her family in Birmingham.
Samuel Levi Jones
Samuel Levi Jones is a mixed media artist whose powerful works use deconstructed books to form abstract compositions that address inclusion and exclusion through a literal and metaphorical dismantling of history. These works are visually striking and thought-provoking. Samuel lives in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and two daughters.
Ying-Ju Lai shared an excerpt from her novel, Quarantine, about a Vietnamese nurse’s aid working in Taiwan. Its focus on the triangulated relationship between parent, caregiver, and adult children resonated with us deeply.
Lai lives with her husband and son in Brighton, MA.
Keith Leonard writes deeply observant poems full of wonder; they filled us with joy.
The author of a collection of poems titled Ramshackle Ode, Keith is a high school English teacher who lives with his wife and family in Columbus, OH.
Susan Bassam Muaddi Darraj
Susan Bassam Muaddi Darraj‘s novel, Brotherly Love, moves back and forth between a soldier in Vietnam writing home and his Arab American family in Philadelphia. It’s a quiet and unassuming work of fiction that made us quickly invested in its characters.
Susan is a community college professor and mother of three who lives in Maryland.
Aram Han Sifuentes
Aram Han Sifuentes is a fiber/textile artist whose works offer a unique insight on immigration and identity politics. She infuses historically and socially significant raw materials and artifacts with precise attention to detail. The resulting works are beautiful, charged, thoughtful, and inspiring. Aram lives with her family in Chicago, IL.
Allyson Strafella wowed us with her inventive technique of drawing with a typewriter on pigmented paper: part drawing, part printmaking, and wholly inspired. These works are beautiful, simple compositions that reward close examination and consideration of their means of creation. Allyson lives with her family in Hudson, NY.
Evan Venegas is a painter whose modern abstract paintings reference architecture, graffiti, and data visualization. At times hard-edged and intricate, at others soft and delicate, the range of his work is truly impressive. Evan lives with his family in Queens, NY.
Eve Williams writes poems that are political, musical, and smart. They leap off the page and captivate audiences when she performs at poetry and music festivals around the country. Eve lives with her son in Buffalo, NY.
Tatiana Arocha, Illustration
Andrew Bailey, Fiction
Yvonne Battle-Felton, Fiction
Nicole Callihan, Poetry
Marjorie Gabrielle Celona, Fiction
Doris Wen-Yin Cheng, Fiction
Tony Michael de los Reyes, Painting
Sara Elise Eichner, Drawing
Yara El-Sherbini, Mixed Media
Joey Fauerso, Mixed Media
Angela Fraleigh, Painting
Mya Guarnieri Jaradat, Long Form Journalism
Maya Kuvaja, Mixed Media
Lindsey Landfried, Drawing
Terri Leker, Fiction
Elizabeth Ann Mooney, Painting
Melissa Sarno, Early and Middle Grade Fiction
Tamara Staples, Installation
Kevin Waltman, Young Adult Fiction
Etienne Zack, Painting
Fall 2016 Awards
Cande Aguilar‘s large scale abstract paintings assembled from multiple panels simply wowed us. Referencing graffiti, collage, graphic design, and abstract expressionism, these stunning pieces are alive with color and energy. Cande lives with his wife and four children in Brownsville, TX.
Rose-Anne Clermont’s young adult novel, Stowaway, follows the lives of two young boys: Ahmed, a refugee from South Sudan who survives a migrant shipwreck and Jarick, a Dutch boy with Caribbean roots. The novel is of course topical but never becomes didactic; it simply unfurls its story with quietly urgent, suspenseful prose. We are so eager to read the finished book. Rose-Anne lives in Berlin, Germany, with her three children.
William Evans writes poetry with a heartbreaking mix of street toughness and raw vulnerability, as in a poem called “Tonk,” which opens with images of family gatherings and adolescent fights but brings the reader up short with its final lines:
Cousin never spoke
much after that or maybe it just seems that way
because the phones in prison be real choppy
or maybe that’s just what the rumors are
because I was too much of a coward
to visit him there.
William is currently working on his third collection of poems, titled “Still Can’t Do My Daughter’s Hair;” he lives in Columbus, OH with his wife and daughter.
“If you are going to look for your enslaved ancestors,” opens Dionne Ford’s Finding Josephine, “you will have to look for the people who enslaved them. In a third of all cases, the enslavers will also be your relatives….You will meet them on beaches, in dusty archives and in rustic farmhouses, scratching at the past like it is a lotto game and you are strokes away from a million more reasons to believe.”
In a multi-layered and compelling memoir, she traces her family history, an important American story. Dionne lives in New Jersey with her husband and two daughters.
Alyse Rosner is an abstract painter whose large gestural pieces are simultaneously structured and filled with energy. The structure comes from a rigorous process of rubbings that underlie and inform each work, and the resulting compositions are solid, filled with depth and movement. Alyse, who was a finalist in our Spring 2015 competition, lives in Westport, CT with her two boys.
Fall 2016 Promise Awards
Natalya Aikens is a textile artist who creates architectural compositions of buildings and urban streetscapes out of vintage fabric and recycled plastic. Her process moves through photography, digital editing, machine work, and hand stitching to create stunning depictions of the city. She lives in Pleasantville, NY with her two daughters.
Next time we are whining about the hard work of writing and parenting, we will think about Arwen Donahue, who does those things while also running a Kentucky farm with her husband and daughter. Her graphic memoir, The Stay, explores the challenges of this life with compelling prose, beautiful illustrations, and the ability to make it sound occasionally pretty enjoyable; as a long day of chores ends, she and her husband celebrate “Julep Time”:
DAVID: I’ll wrap the cheese, you make the juleps.
ME: How do you make these things?
DAVID: You have to muddle the mint, then add the bourbon.
ME: Like, say confusing things to it?
ME: [speaking into glass] You are not mint. You are a giraffe.
We can’t wait to read the finished book.
Chanda Feldman’s poetry collection, Approaching the Fields, is based on the personal history of her mother’s sharecropping family and her father’s subsistence farming family in the pre-Civil Rights south. The work paints a vivid picture of rural life, as in “Election Day,” which begins with a pretty image of a picnic:
No one picked in the fields on Election Day—
The trucks drove us to a picnic on the Bluff.
The children sang songs like it was Sunday.
We ate salads, melons, and iced cakes.
and ends, five stanzas later, more somberly:
The men, one by one, signed for their ballots.
The man you sharecropped for chose your say.
No one picked in the fields on Election Day.
The children sang songs like it was Sunday.
Originally from Tennessee, Chanda currently lives with her family in central Israel.
Nahum Flores is a mixed-media artist whose deft handling of a wide variety of materials left us in awe. Multiple series of work involving sardine cans, soda cans, and cigar boxes were beautifully executed, and a recent series of illustrations were equally adept. Nahum lives in Toronto, Canada with his wife and son.
Kathleen Founds woke us right up with stories like “Recipes for Disaster,” which offers absurd dishes from a church fundraising cookbook, like “Valley of the Shadow of Death by Chocolate Cake” and “Dark Night of the Soul Food,” a recipe submitted by the pastor which directs: “As you stir, cut pages from your youthful diary into snowflakes, wondering just when you lost your faith in man’s capacity to turn from his history of violence and build a new earth.”
The author of an earlier collection of short stories, When Mystical Creatures Attack!, Kathleen lives in Watsonville, CA, with her family.
In Ladee Hubbard’s novel, The Talented Tenth, we meet a man named Johnny Ribkins who, showing up at his late brother’s house to dig up a long-buried cashbox, meets his young niece, Eloise, who turns out to share the family gift for odd talents:
Little sparks of something special that didn’t seem to make much sense and had generally caused more confusion than anything else. Because, not knowing what to do with these gifts, many had wound up spending years trying to find footing, trying to figure out where they belonged and who they were.
Johnny continues his journey with Eloise, digging up buried cash and helping her understand her peculiar gift, resulting in one of the quirkiest, most pleasurable road trip stories we’ve ever read. Ladee lives with her three children in New Orleans, LA.
Priya Kambli is a photographer whose compositions combine modern portraiture with manipulated family photos to explore the makeup of her own identity. These works serve as a bridge between cultures, family, and time. She lives in Kirksville, MO with her husband and two kids.
Amy Meissner, a finalist from 2015, wowed us again with a rich variety of strong, graphic, politically charged textile work. Her pieces combine modern compositional assemblages of text, shapes, and imagery with traditional craftsmanship, often with vintage materials whose age and history add even more depth to the work. Amy lives in Anchorage, AK with her husband and two children.
Kelly Popoff’s wide variety of works based on memorabilia — specifically old yearbooks — are skilled, thoughtful, and provide such a unique way of exploring our connection to a slice of history. Through cumulative carbon tracings, collage, and painting, she’s opened a dialog with the children depicted in these historical texts that is timelessly relevant. Kelly lives in Greenfield, MA with her husband and daughter.
Lisa Robinson is a photographer whose large-scale work is organized into tight, distinct, thematic series, each of which provides not just a set of beautiful images, but a consistent window of landscape and form. Lisa lives in Tucson, AZ with her daughter.
Christina Soontornvat’s middle-grade fantasy novel,The Mapmaker’s Boy, grabbed us from its opening lines:
Feltwhip Road was still dark and sleeping when I heard boots tapping across the cobblestones toward the shop. Outside, the clouds sagged with water scooped up from the sea, and they threatened to dump it all at once onto this poor person’s head.
Her novel is a page-turner about a young boy, apprentice to a mapmaker, picked to embark on a journey to map the Southern Hemisphere. We can’t wait to read the rest of the book. Christina lives with her family in Austin, TX.
We loved the variety of poetry Rachel Zucker submitted, from a page turner the length of a short story to a series of prose poems. It’s accessible work which still pushes the reader in a wonderfully satisfying way. In a poem titled “wish you were here you are,” for instance, she muses on the physics of time, bringing it home to us with these lines:
last night I saw my son’s adult self &
in the same moment toddler self this really
happened he was playing “Wish You Were Here”
by Pink Floyd on his electric guitar & feeling it
he’s 11 & in between 2 kinds of time on the verge
of worlds I think we are too you & I who are old
young women it’s not all ‘downhill from here’ we are
here you are & I am & this beautiful moment our sons
Rachel lives with her three sons in New York City, where she writes, teaches, and works as a doula.
Fall 2016 Finalists
Carolina Ebeid, Poetry
Sarah Gerkensmeyer, Fiction
Miriam Klein Stahl, Illustration
Delita Martin, Mixed Media
Christy Matson, Fiber Arts and Textiles
Katie Munnik, Fiction
Hoa Nguyen, Poetry
Rachel Peachey, Mixed Media
Theresa Pfarr, Painting
Julia Prendergast, Fiction
Sokunthary Svay, Poetry
Rhett Trull, Poetry
Evan Venegas, Painting
Emily Withnall, Nonfiction
Ibi Zoboi, Young Adult Fiction
Spring 2016 Awards
Radhiyah Ayobami’s singular voice is like nothing we’ve read before; her essays are urgent and unforgettable. In “what we volunteered for,” Radhiyah writes:
some of us got jobs. some of us bought cartoon smocks and white pants and went to one of the buildings in one of the neighborhoods all across the country that train poor and immigrant and colored women to take care of the parents and sick relatives of those that weren’t poor and immigrant and colored, and after we went to one of those buildings everyday for three or four weeks we came out with a piece of paper that said we were qualified to feed elderly people, wipe their bottoms and turn them in bed, and that’s what some of us did…
Radhiyah lives in Oakland, CA, with her teenage son.
Lisa Myers Bulmash
Lisa Myers Bulmash is a mixed-media artist who inserts personal stories into physical books, frames, and texts — an intimate process that takes established historical narratives and turns them inside out. She elevates these small glimpses and reclaims the historical framework that contains them. She lives outside of Seattle, Washington with her husband and two children.
Carmen Lizardo is a photographer whose gelatin transfer prints on wood wowed us with their luscious tonal range, but even more so with their quiet, composed commentary on immigration and citizenship. As a Dominican-born artist, she explores both assimilation and displacement in her work, and we look forward to to seeing more powerful images. She lives in the Hudson Valley with her two daughters.
In “Five Days after the Wedding,” a young bride collects an Army ID card and “a sheet of paper that says
What Happens after Death in Combat…her belly still full of lemon cake and champagne.” In “How to Be Married after Iraq,” a couple is guided through alphabet poses that signal the strength of their relationship: “the right choice for officers and their wives, a letter H: two people clasping hands across a comfortable lunging distance…”
Abby Murray’s poems about military life impressed us all with their quiet restraint and vivid images. She teaches creative writing at the University of Washington-Tacoma and lives in Puyallup, WA with her husband and daughter.
The surface of Lake Eden is black glass under the press of winter stars. The snow, stopped for now, hangs to the branches of the pine trees. A young man, Robert Rauschenberg, is alone in the icy water. His mind, like the air, like the sky, is black. …
Another young man, Cy Twombly, his friend and fellow student, his lover too, wades out in the cold water and calls him back to dry land. The black water around Twombly’s waist is ice and fire both…
So opens Joshua Rivkin’s dazzling new biography-in-progress of Cy Twombly, a book which is both personal—the writer is a presence here, chasing for meaning in the clues of Twombly’s life—and also deeply steeped in research: letters, interviews, and feet-on-the-ground travel. We found the mix extremely successful and appealing.
Joshua lives in Salt Lake City with his wife and daughter.
Spring 2016 Promise Awards
Todd Anderson is a skilled printmaker whose exquisite woodcuts are impressive from a pure visual standpoint; his series portraying the last remaining glaciers in Rocky Mountain Park in Colorado provides poignant documentation of climate change, and its impact on our lives and on our landscapes. He lives in upstate South Carolina with his wife and two children.
We were a bit skeptical about a novel in verse for a middle-grade audience, but Rebecca Grabill’s manuscript, One Summer, about the friendship and families of two young girls, Bethy and Eloise, won us over with sweet passages like this:
I wish Eloise was white,
so Daddy’d let her and me be bests forever.
Cause I could do this all summer long,
me and Eloise
like proper ladies
making up fancy accents
and wearing her mama’s Sunday hats.
And we think it will win young readers over to the pleasures of poetry. Rebecca lives with her husband and five children in Michigan.
Terence Hannum impressed us with a portfolio that was unlike any we’d seen before. A musician, he creates works–with magnetic tape and leaders from discarded cassettes–that are striking both in color and in black and white. The exploration of tape and leader, figure and ground, signal and space, obsolescence and posterity is exquisitely achieved through these linear abstractions. He lives in Baltimore with his two children.
Tania James shared two pieces of writing with us: Rawhide, which offers a familiar, wrong-place, wrong-time set up for a story, but took our breath away with its nuanced understanding of character and its delicate craft; and an excerpt from her novel, The Tusk That Did the Damage, which tells the story of the ivory trade from the varying perspectives of a poacher, a filmmaker, and an elephant known as The Gravedigger.
Her new project is a novel about the U Street neighborhood of Washington DC—focusing on its current, gentrified incarnation while also delving into its past as a center of African-American arts and culture. We can’t wait to read it.
Tania lives with her husband and son in Washington, DC.
Kim Piotrowski is a painter whose exuberant works dazzled us at scales both big and small. Her work is alive with energy, and her palette continually surprises: at times muted, while at others nearly iridescent, at all times a pleasure to behold. She lives near Chicago with her two children.
Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts is the author of two books, Harlem is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America and a picture book, Jake Makes a World: Jacob Lawrence, A Young Artist in Harlem. In clear, lucid prose, she explores race, history, art, and all their various intersections. Her current project is A Free Zone: Journeys in Haiti, the Black Republic. Sharifa lives in Houston with her son.
Maya Jewell Zeller
Maya Jewell Zeller’s poems move gracefully between personal and archetypal, domestic and mythic. We sighed with pleasure and understanding at lines like
What I mean to say is
being a mother made me feel
like a myth.
…delicate embryos, sensing each
flutter as they began to move steadily
to the booming koans rippling this frat
house of a body.
Maya teaches at Gonzaga University and lives with her husband and children in Spokane, WA.
Spring 2016 Finalists
Larissa Bates, Painting
Adriana Carranza, Printmaking
Madeline ffitch , Fiction
Carribean Fragoza, Fiction
Tytia Habing , Photography
Toni Jensen, Fiction
Rachelle Mozman , Photography
Cindy Pon , Young Adult Fiction
Yelizaveta Renfro , Nonfiction
Alyse Rosner, Painting
Fall 2015 Awards
Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson
Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson’s stunning essay, “On Nostalgia,” reads like a piece of detective work as it ranges from musings on medieval palimpsests and Archimedes to her hometown and her own complicated family history. The essay is part of a larger project that marries investigative journalism with creative nonfiction to explore the impact of secrets and silences on a family.
Elizabeth teaches nonfiction writing at the Maryland Institute College of Art and lives in Baltimore with her family.
Brendan Mathews’ terrific novel, THE WORLD OF TOMORROW, takes place in New York City over the course of a single week in 1939; in it, we meet big band musicians, Bronx politicians, an escaped convict, a seminary drop-out, an émigré photographer, the ghost of William Butler Yeats, a former gangland hit man, and the King and Queen of England, whose visit to the World’s Fair provides a setting that draws these disparate storylines together. It’s historical fiction with resonance in today’s news, and we can’t wait to read the finished book.
Brendan teaches at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, and lives in Massachusetts with his wife and four children.
Catherine Pierce’s poems are fierce, gorgeous explorations of parenthood’s vulnerability in the face of a treacherous natural world. In her collection, THE TORNADO IS THE WORLD, coming out next year, we hear from a mother, the town in which she lives, and even the tornado itself, which attacks with the casual violence of a playground bully.
In “The Mother Warns the Tornado,” a mother bathing her baby speaks directly to an oncoming tornado:
I will heed the warning
protocol, I will cover him with my body, I will
wait with mattress and flashlight,
but know this: If you come down here—
if you splinter your way through our pines,
if you suck the roof off this red-doored ranch,
if you reach out a smoky arm for my child—
I will turn hacksaw. I will turn grenade.
I will invent for you a throat and choke you.
I will find your stupid wicked whirling
head and cut it off. Do not test me.
These poems mine terrain that is, for all parents, both familiar and frightening, with a sense of energy and compassion that kept us eager to read more.
Catherine lives with her family in Mississippi, where she is an associate professor of English and creative writing and co-director of the creative writing program at Mississippi State University.
Ann Toebbe’s inventive paintings of deconstructed rooms simply knocked our socks off. Her imaginative format flattens walls and invites close study of these interiors, made all the more powerful by their reliance on memory and recall. She lives in Chicago, IL with her husband and three children.
Tenesh Webber is an abstract photographer whose black-and-white photograms wowed us with their crisp precision and graphic impact. Her work is cohesive and consistent, without being repetitive. Tenesh was previously a Sustainable Arts Foundation finalist. She lives with her husband and daughter in Jersey City, NJ.
Fall 2015 Promise Awards
Karlyn Coleman shared two compelling pieces of fiction with us. In “Ice Roads,” we meet a father trying to track down his daughter, who has fallen in with a bad crowd: “They could smell her recklessness, her rancor, the stench that comes from being born to shitty parents–a mother moving from one man to the next, a father who hadn’t seen his daughter in nine years, now in charge of her, trying to raise her in an apartment above a bar.”
In “Orange Crush,” Coleman gives us the perspective of another teenage girl, Avery, who lives in a Malibu house that her widowed mother has turned into a hospice: “Ghost-girl, was what the kids at school called me, because not only did I live in a place where people came to die, but I was also the whitest girl in Malibu….
The California sun had killed my father, so I hid in the shade of buildings and trees and dressed like a middle-aged woman instead of a young teen.”
Both of these pieces, from a novel and a series of linked short stories, electrified us with their strong, suspenseful writing and their flawed but sympathetic characters. We can’t wait to read more.
Karlyn lives in Minneapolis with her family.
Lisa Kijak is a quilter with a contemporary, painterly aesthetic. Her works are painstakingly constructed reproductions of photographs, pieces that read beautifully at a distance, and whose surfaces are alive with the rich textures of minute fabric detail. Lisa lives with her wife and two daughters in Laguna Hills, CA.
Jay Nebel’s poems are like good conversation with an old friend: effortless, and sparked with wit and discovery. “Killing Things” begins “I work hard every day to be a good person /
and then I get in my car….” and what could be a funny meditation on carpool road rage goes deeper; “Trouble Poem” speaks to us, too:
Every time the phone rings
I think I’m in trouble.
I’m in the stolen Honda again.
I’m out in the park scratching
my name into the picnic table with a pocket knife
while my classmates get their diplomas. …
All these poems of everyday family life make us smile with pleasure and wince in recognition.
And Jay might have given SAF our new slogan when he wrote, in his application essay, “I still manage to write though because poetry helps me make sense of the mess.”
Jay lives in Portland, OR, with his family and drives a juice truck for a living.
The Scarlet Slipper Mystery. The Mystery of the Wooden Lady. The Secret Lost at Sea. We couldn’t believe our luck on encountering Nancy Reddy’s clever and beautifully well-crafted Nancy Drew series of poems, and were impressed with how well they work with all the poems of transformation in her first collection, DOUBLE JINX. Her work-in-progress, POCKET UNIVERSE, includes a series of poems about Harry Harlow’s infamous rhesus monkey experiments and another series about her older son’s birth and infancy; any creative parent can relate to these lines:
The mother loves the baby and also she can’t finish a sentence. Her mind reaches
the frayed end of a subject and the verb falls out of reach. The baby wants. …
Nancy teaches at Stockton University and lives in New Jersey with her family.
We were so moved by the poetry Alison Stine submitted from her new collection, THE SHED, which addresses motherhood, poverty, and environmental justice in an area affected by fracking operations. Despite its very specific terrain, the poems treat quite universal concerns, as in the poem “Dark”:
I didn’t feel mortal. I didn’t know fear—
until they passed the child
into my arms, the faces
of the midwives shined, expectant,
your weary, wondering sigh. Only us. Only
everything. And the wild world waiting, opening—
The author of two previous collections of poetry and a novel, Alison lives in Athens, OH, with her son.
Fall 2015 Finalists
Susanna Bluhm, Painting
Delano Dunn, Mixed Media
Katrina Goldsaito, Nonfiction
Caroline Van Hemert, Nonfiction
Amy Meissner, Textile Arts
Linn Meyers, Painting
David Poppie, Mixed Media
Evan Roth, Mixed Media
Sasha Steensen, Poetry
Jennifer K. Sweeney, Poetry
Spring 2015 Awards
Lauren Haldeman’s wonderful, sometimes surreal poems grabbed us from the first line and surprised us to the last. They are spare and inventive, funny and knowing, full of heart and wit; they capture especially well the disorienting early days of parenting: “I cried because your head came out of my body. Your whole body came out of my body & it was nuts. It was absolutely insane. Then your hands kept hitting your face. Over & over, you didn’t even know what your face was, but it still kept getting hit.”
Lauren’s first collection, Calenday, was published by Rescue Press; she teaches at the University of Iowa, where she lives with her family.
The artists Stephan Hillerbrand and Mary Magsamen, working as the collaborative, Hillerbrand+Magsamen,
have one of the more unique art practices we’ve ever encountered. With humor and insight, they document
and embellish family life from the mundane to the absurd, at times giving over their home and other worldly
posessions in the process. By including their children so seamlessly into their work, they particularly embody the
mission of our foundation.
They live and work in Houston, Texas with their two children.
Sabrina Orah Mark
Sabrina Orah Mark is a poet currently working on a collection of wild short stories in which a preschool
teacher begins to snow, a woman is covered with daughters, a nervous family lives on dried apricots and frozen milk,
and in an echo of a familiar children’s book, a woman searches for influences:
“If Francine Prose is not my mother, and Hillary Clinton is not my mother, and Jorie Graham is not my mother, and Diana Ross is not my mother, maybe John Berryman is my mother. I go to John Berryman’s house and knock on his door. He is dead, but he opens anyway. … ‘Are you my mother?’ I ask. ‘I am not your mother,’ says John Berryman. He opens the door wider. ‘But I could become your mother.’”
The worlds of this fiction are so strange, and yet just familiar enough; we can’t wait to spend more time in them. Sabrina lives in Athens, Georgia, with her husband and two sons.
Sara Rockinger is a fiber artist whose work defies traditional categorization. Her art is varied in style and scale, but most memorable are a series of figures freehand stitched with a sewing machine on painted and dyed fabrics. The interplay of line, color, and transparency are compelling visually, but her work is also political without being didactic. It’s simultaneously strong and delicate.
Sara was previously a Sustainable Arts Foundation finalist. She lives with her husband and son in Lafayette, Colorado.
Alexander Weinstein writes dystopian fiction with such depth of feeling it makes us weep. In “Heartland,” Hawaii is on fire; the midwest is covered in clay; and the Pacific is tar black with a three-year-old oil spill. In “Children of the New World,” a family enjoys virtual enhancements–including children–that are wiped out by a computer virus. Despite the unfamiliar worlds these characters inhabit, they are familiar and affecting; these haunting stories offer just enough hope to keep us eagerly reading more.
Alexander lives and teaches creative writing in Michigan, where he is working on his second collection of stories, The Lost Traveler’s Tour Guide.
Spring 2015 Promise Awards
Jennifer Alise Drew
“I am a vision of my mother,” begins Jennifer Alise Drew’s essay, “Probabilities,” “the way I like to think of her when she was young: barefoot on the steps, no bra, those velour mini-shorts of the time, her hair reined in by a red bandana, blowing bubbles from a plastic wand.”
This essay interweaves threads from her own childhood as the twin daughter of a hippie mom, now facing difficult decisions midway through her own pregnancy. Others in her collection reflect on the Heimlich maneuver, the South, Hooters, preschool, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. We are so eager to read it!
Jennifer lives in Burbank, California, with her family.
Elsie Kagan is a painter whose work lives at the border of figure and abstraction. Our jurors loved her series of vibrant still lifes that radiated color and energy. We particularly loved that this previous Sustainable Arts Foundation finalist has continued to apply with new work, demonstrating a commitment to her craft, and a wealth of ideas that we couldn’t ignore.
Elsie lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and two boys, where she maintains a network of parent artists in her neighborhood.
“If you could unzip the fire escape to open an exterior wall of 804 W. 180th Street like a jacket of bricks, here is what you’d see:” And so begins Emily Raboteau’s new project, a compelling and multi-layered novel titled Endurance, which traces the relationships among the various residents of a gentrifying co-op building in Washington Heights.
Emily is the author of another novel, The Professor’s Daughter, and a work of creative nonfiction, Searching for Zion.
She lives in New York City with her husband, writer Victor LaValle, and their two children. She teaches creative writing at City College in Harlem.
Kendra Langford Shaw
“‘Don’t be surprised if some of the students are picked off by the wolf,'” begins Kendra Langford Shaw’s story, “Miss Petunia and the Wolf,” “‘It’s kind of a problem out here.'” Miss Petunia is unfased, adjusting her math problems to the situation (“If we start with twenty-five students and three are eaten by the wolf, how many will we have?”) and reminding her students to keep clear of the schoolyard fence (“‘It’s for your own good,’ she says. ‘You’re just so bite-sized.'”)
We also loved reading an excerpt from her novel-in-progress, The Pillager’s Guide to Arctic Pianos, which is a multi-generational family saga set in an alternate version of the Alaskan Arctic. We can’t wait to read it.
Kendra lives in Montana with her family.
Carmen Gimenez Smith
Carmen Gimenez Smith has published four collections of poetry, and is currently working on one about family and memory called The Brief Remember. We were particularly moved by the poems about her mother’s Alzheimer’s:
“That you don’t know her is your
misfortune. Know what was of her,
which was a hot planet’s core,
a late summer’s best light.
Perhaps she is still those images,
but the center of her is now only
in my essay, in my poem.”
Carmen lives with her family in Las Cruces, New Mexico and teaches at New Mexico State University.
Diana Whitney’s poems offer Polaroid- vivid images of family life, school days, and summer fishing trips, but they are always real, never romanticized.
“Summer beckons us with sea glass,
hunting someone’s broken trash transformed to gems
for eagle eyes, finders/keepers at low tide.”
Diana lives in Vermont with her family.
Andrew Woodward is a skilled painter who specializes in architectural paintings. These works hang together beautifully as a cohesive group, but we’re so impressed by the variety of compositions, which elevate these works considerably. They are precise at scale, and painterly in close view: a visual treat. Andrew lives in Denver, Colorado with his wife and two children.
Spring 2015 Finalists
Siobhan Adcock, Fiction
Valerie Cumming, Fiction
Sara Eichner, Painting
Emily Fleisher, Sculpture
Elizabeth Langemak, Poetry
Artemio Rodriguez, Printmaking
Amy Schissel, Mixed Media
Emily Schultz, Fiction
Stephanie Soileau, Fiction
Tenesh Webber, Photography
Fall 2014 Award Winners
Florida has just surrendered in the Civil War and twelve-year-old Gussie has just buried his mother, one of the “working ladies” at the local saloon. When he tries to collect her last wages, the bartender tells him, “Money come in. It come thisaway. Don’t go thataway.” John Brandon’s novel-in-progress, Ivory Shoals, riveted us with its gorgeous language (“Whenever a gust kicked up outside, the limbs [of the verbena] would whump their burdensome blossoms against the glass panes.”) and fantastic dialog. We’re eager to follow Gussie on his journey across Northern Florida as he looks for the father he’s never met.
The author of three novels and a collection of short stories (all published by McSweeney’s Press), John teaches creative writing in Minnesota, where he lives with his wife and two sons.
Gabe Brown’s paintings cleverly blend abstract and figurative elements and, most strikingly, soft textures and strong graphic elements. The multiple forms of mark-making create a layered effect that gives the works incredible depth. They are both quiet and sharp— a delight to the senses! She lives and teaches painting in the Hudson Valley with her son.
We are blown away by the intricacy of Susan Graham’s sculptures; her fine porcelain work is a treat. We love how the pieces operate at multiple scales: they are compositionally strong, socially and politically challenging, and their delicacy rewards close inspection. Her woodblock print collages bring a similar aesthetic— this is an artist who moves fluidly across mediums. She lives in New York City with her two children.
Johanna is a 15-year-old girl living in rural Vermont, circa 1992; her dad’s a famous record producer who has invited rocker Dean Callahan to the farm to record a new album, a chance for the washed-up star to become relevant again. She’s into Nirvana, but still studies Callahan’s old Rolling Stone cover—the one where he’s naked but for a strategically-placed Fender guitar—for hours.
We read the opening scenes of Kate Leary’s terrific novel-in-progress, Opening Act, which promises to follow Johanna and her family for twenty years. We can’t wait to see how this story unfolds.
Kate lives with her husband and two sons in Massachusetts.
“It’s only technically morning. Not even the birds // believe it.”
It only took two lines for us to fall for Maggie Smith’s poems. From the toddler in her crib singing “Weep up!” in the dark light of morning, to the parent naming everything to her child as they walk, realizing, “I’m desperate for you //
to love the world because I brought you here,” the voices in Maggie’s poems are familiar and poignant; they speak to our experience as parents today, their wry tone keeping the work from ever getting maudlin. “Face it,” the narrator of one poem says, reminiscing about long-ago teenage kisses; “your life // is not what it was.”
The author of two books of poetry, Maggie lives in Ohio with her husband and two children.
Fall 2014 Promise Award Winners
In Skye Anicca’s short fiction we meet K King, a young woman and former ward of the state who works at the New Horizons Home for the Elderly; we meet Clara May, one of K’s fragile charges, who won’t bathe because of the trauma of nearly drowning in Hurricane Katrina; we meet a young woman who’s haunted by her deceased nephew: “He hung around as if we had an appointment and I was standing him up. Eventually I taught him to play gin.” This collection of linked short stories, tentatively titled Skins of Fortune, offers a mosaic of voices whose stories are so compelling, and yet so rarely heard; we look forward to more.
Skye teaches writing and lives with her husband and daughter in Arizona.
Brandon Lingle is, to the best of our knowledge, the foundation’s first active-duty award winner. A major in the U.S. Air Force, husband, and father of five, he is currently serving in Afghanistan, while his family holds down the fort in California.
Right now, Brandon is working on a collection of essays, A Fair Fight, in which he explores fatherhood, war, illness, and military life. Our favorite, Keeping Pace, interweaves the history of the treadmill with the story of his son, who was born with half a heart; it makes for gripping and intelligent reading.
Kathleen McGookey knows that “just looking at a poem can make a reader wary, worried she might have to explain the meaning.” So she writes short, chunky, prose poems about some everyday things (noisy kids; first grade homework; the woods in October) and some fantastic things (a fat baby hauled in with the day’s catch; a dying star found in a second-hand store). The poems look sneakily “unassuming,” she wrote in her application; “Kind of regular. A reader could pick up one of my prose poems and not realize she should be on guard, ready to figure it out. By the time she realizes it isn’t an article on organizing your mudroom, I hope she’s hooked. Or at least interested enough to keep on reading.”
We’re hooked. Our mudroom is a mess, but Kathleen’s poetry took our breath away; it offers an insight into our days that will last longer and give us more satisfaction than any clean house.
The author of several books and chapbooks, Kathleen lives with her family in Michigan.
“Ola, the more outgoing of our just-turned three year old twins, yells from her place on the deck, ‘Papa, is the house still moldy?'”
Thorpe Moeckel’s Appalachian house is very moldy—so moldy that his wife is deathly ill and his family has moved out, into a cabin he and their older daughter built on their homestead. His memoir of their life—a story of public health, food, family, illness, fatherhood, rural life and material space—is as compelling as any we’ve ever read.
Moeckel, who has published several collections of poetry, teaches at Hollins University and lives with his wife and three children in West Virginia.
Susan Montgomery’s work is hugely inventive; we were especially taken by a series called The Conversion of Pope Joan. Beautiful sculpture of wire and fabric is infused with smart commentary on art history and how our prevailing views are typically shaped by those in power. Her imaginative works blend fact with fiction, truth with rumor, and embrace those contradictions through a unique lens. She lives and teaches in Western Massachusetts with her husband and children.
Liz Garton Scanlon
We have been fans of Liz Garton Scanlon’s work since our kids introduced us to All The World and are happy to learn that she’s writing middle grade fiction now, too; The Great Good Summer comes out from Simon & Schuster this spring.
She comments that she writes for young people because it “allows me to celebrate that time and place where possibility ruled and imagination was a valid use of time. And, it offers up hard-won clarity about some of the tough stuff — the disempowerment that came with being small and voiceless and not in charge of anything.” We are so glad she does.
Liz lives in Austin with her husband and two teenage daughters.
Fall 2014 Finalists
Sylvie Baumgartel, Poetry
Matthew Ferrence, Nonfiction
Bethany Hays, Painting
Ann Hudson, Poetry
Sara Rockinger, Installation
Rebecca Rutstein, Painting and Sculpture
Laura Stanfill, Fiction
Arlaina Tibensky, Fiction
Laura Van Prooyen, Poetry
Sara Zak, Painting
Spring 2014 Award Winners
Martin Cozza’s work-in-progress, Vincent’s Lens, is a young adult novel about a boy who discovers he can see fantastic things through his dead father’s glasses; if he sleeps with those glasses on, he can travel to the other world where his father now exists. It’s a story about family and loss and grief and love; it’s a richly-imagined, beautifully written novel that we look forward to sharing with our children. Cozza lives with his family in Minneapolis.
Cynthia Innis produces modern landscapes, richly colored, but with room to breathe. Using paint, ink and collage, she evokes light, time, and space using traditional technique with a fragmented, almost digital aesthetic. She lives in Berkeley with her husband and young daughter.
Marshall Klimasewiski is writing a fantastically imaginative novel called Hyperborea, which brings real-life 19th century explorers and familiar fictional characters to a North Pole that is, like the novel’s characters, both real and imaginary. We love how the novel is constructed partly out of diary entries and letters, and we love the vivid and memorable descriptions of the ways the characters travel, whether via balloon or via a mysterious, and beautifully-constructed, underground corridor. Klimasewiski is Writer-in-Residence at Washington University in St. Louis, where he lives with his wife and two children.
Elizabeth McKenzie’s novel-in-progress, The Portable Veblen, might be the most surprising love story we have ever read. Set in present-day California, the novel introduces us to a young woman–the title character–who is newly engaged to an ambitious neurologist. As in many love stories, the young couple’s quirky families play a meddling role; unlike most love stories, so do a family of squirrels, as well as the memory of 19th century economist Thorstein Veblen. We look forward to the publication of this unusual and compulsively readable novel. The author of three previous books, McKenzie lives with her family in California.
Bonnie Rough is author of the award-winning memoir Carrier: Untangling the Danger In My DNA. Her new memoir-in-progress, Mama Bare, grows directly out of her experience discussing Carrier with audiences, and being challenged to talk about the issues raised in that book—especially her decision to end a pregnancy—with her daughters. Not satisfied with answering just that one question, Rough goes big, tackling the larger issue of how we raise girls today. This is an important book, relevant beyond mothers and daughters but to anyone parenting today. Rough lives with her husband and two daughters in Seattle, Washington.
Spring 2014 Promise Award Winners
Terrance Flynn’s terrific memoir-in-progress, Dying To Meet You, tells the story of how Flynn received a heart transplant shortly after he and his partner became fathers via gestational surrogacy. It’s a dramatic story, told with an understated tone and dry humor that make us eager to read the finished book.
Rinne Groff is a playwright and mother of three. In her new play, Schooner, which will be produced in San Francisco this fall, we meet a married couple discussing their work and the prospect of having a third child. Their conversation is every bit as meaningful and banal as any couple’s conversation; the dialogue is sharp and smart. We look forward to seeing this work– and Groff’s future productions– on stage.
Jodi Hays impressed us with her quirky and original compositions and palette. Her abstract paintings feature simultaneously deliberate and discovered forms, and are beautiful in their expression of process. She lives with her husband and two boys in Nashville, TN.
The work of Lu Heintz is thoughtful, engaging and expertly constructed. Whether it’s delicate clothing stitched from receipts or sculptures crafted from steel, her work is exquisitely made. Her social commentary focuses on motherhood, digital community, and domesticity. She lives with her family in Greene, RI.
Irene Lusztig is a filmmaker with a wide scope, although two recent projects have certainly been influenced by parenthood. The Motherhood Archives explores the history of pregnancy, birth, and childcare training. The Worry Box Project offers an exquisitely produced medium for mothers to share their worries. Irene lives with her family outside of Santa Cruz, CA.
Angela Voras-Hills is a poet and mother of two. Her manuscript, Here Begins the Account of Worms, was inspired by a 1950s propaganda video, “The House in the Middle”, about how a clean house can save your family from a nuclear attack. Moving from that premise, the poems explore the notion of domestic spaces going feral (something most of us are quite familiar with). The poems range in tone from dark to joyous, with images that resonate long after reading.
Joe Wilkins is working on a collection of short stories, The Kickers and the Cowboy Angels. The pieces we read from the collection impressed us with their muscular but poetic prose — a rare and compelling combination. The author of a memoir and two collections of poetry, Wilkins lives with his wife and two children in Oregon, where he’s also a professor of English at Linfield College.
The art of Tuguldur Yondonjamts is nearly impossible to describe. It is a whimsical yet rigorous exploration of both the mathematical and fantastical. It is at times playful, drawing from games of chess, and also intensely serious, calling attention to the issue of falcon exportation in Mongolia. Tuguldur lives with his family in New York, NY.
Spring 2014 Finalists
These finalists are artists and writers whose work impressed us greatly. Their work showed such strength and promise, we felt compelled to acknowledge them publicly.
Barbara Cole, Poetry
Matt Galletta, Fiction
Elsie Kagan, Painting
Amy Leach, Nonfiction
Tanya Marcuse, Photography
Gabriel Pionkowski, Painting
Michelle Seaton, Fiction
Kendra Langford Shaw, Fiction
Erin Toungate, Fiction
Stephanie Wang-Breal, Filmmaking
Fall 2013 Award Winners
Sara Houghteling’s first novel, Pictures at an Exhibition, tells the story of a family of Parisian Jewish art dealers whose collection is looted by the Nazis during WWII. Her work in progress, Music for the Left Hand Alone, is set in the US during the age of McCarthy, and is a page-turner about art and politics. We’re so eager to read the finished book. Houghteling lives in Northern California with her husband and son.
Kerrin McCadden is a poet and high school English teacher who lives in Vermont with her two children. Her first book, Landscape with Plywood Silhouettes, comes out this spring; we read samples from her new collection. They are vivid, engaging poems about familiar topics from aging parents to ex-husbands, poems we lingered over and read aloud to each other, taking such pleasure in her language.
Travis Mulhauser’s novel, Sweetgirl, is set in the tough landscape of Northern Michigan’s high country and peopled with some pretty seedy ex-cons and meth dealers. Our guide through this world is a young woman named Percy James, who is searching for her addict mother when she comes upon an abandoned infant. We had to force ourselves to put the book down, and hope to see it published soon. Mulhauser, author of Greetings from Cutler County: A Novella and Stories, lives in North Carolina with his wife and two young children.
Matthew Scheatzle’s wood and resin compositions are absolutely stunning. In a space that lies between sculpture, collage, relief, and painting, his work weds natural materials and a modern sensibility. He lives in Oakland, CA with his wife and son.
Jacob Tonski is an installation artist whose work is artful and cerebral, thoughtful and playful. From a self-balancing sofa to a machine for dropping feathers to a height-adjusting conversation machine, his kinetic sculptures and explorations reveal an artist whose technical skill has found its match in his youthful curiosity. He lives in Oxford, Ohio with his wife and two young children.
Fall 2013 Promise Award Winners
Joanne Diaz’s new book, My Favorite Tyrants (coming out this winter) offers poems about Stalin, Lenin, and Castro beside poems about personal histories. Diaz writes, “I aim to explore desire, grief, and loss in a world where private relationships are always illuminated and informed by larger, more despotic forces.” The collection she is currently working on, The Electric Dress, inspired partly by the fact that her parents were both members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union, explores the ways in which our private selves are shaped by forces of technology. Diaz lives with her husband and son, and teaches at Illinois Wesleyan University.
Sveta Dorosheva is an extraordinary illustrator working in a wide variety of media and styles. Her works are deeply influenced by the Golden Age of Illustration, melding a fairy tale sensibility with more modern technique and sensibility. Her work is equally at home on the page as it is on the gallery wall, and we marvel at the many avenues the future holds for her. She lives in Rehovot, Israel with her husband and three boys.
Alisa Dworsky is an installation artist who investigates hard sciences— physics and geometry— with materials that defy expectation. The title of one of her pieces— Surface Tension— provides an apt metaphor for these explorations: taut, fragile, and sturdy, all at once. She lives in Montpelier, VT with her husband and two daughters.
Karen Hartman is a playwright and essayist who lives in Brooklyn with her family. Her play, Goldie, Max and Milk, introduces us to a new mother struggling with her relationships to her ex-girlfriend, her sperm donor, and the new woman in her life: a bossy lactation consultant. The dialogue is sharp and funny, and we’d love to see it on stage. Hartman has commissions for two new plays: The Book of Joseph, based on a collection of letters which survived the Krakow Ghetto during World War Two; and Polaris, about hotel workers and international sex trafficking. We’re fascinated by the range of political and historical material Hartman explores in her plays and are proud to support their development.
Mary McMyne’s novel-in-progress, The Book of Gothel, is one of our favorite kind of multi-layered fictions: it offers both a 12th century woman’s memoir and the story of the modern-day scholar who finds, translates, and annotates it. It is utterly inventive and a real pleasure to read. McMyne lives in northern Michigan with her family and teaches at Lake Superior State University.
Amy Shearn is a novelist who came to widespread attention last summer when she published an essay in The New York Times, “A Writer’s Mommy Guilt,” that expresses perfectly the need for this Foundation. Her most recent novel, The Mermaid of Brooklyn, is so wise and funny; it really captures the messy realities of motherhood and marriage. Amy lives in Brooklyn with her young family, where she is working on a new novel about a librarian who helps a widower research the history behind his possibly-haunted house.
Kukuli Velarde is a Peruvian sculptor whose works are simultaneously classical and modern. Her ceramic work evokes the visual and material aesthetics of pre-Columbian pottery with clever, contemporary politics and insights. She lives in Philadelphia, PA with her husband and daughter.
Fall 2013 Finalists
These finalists are artists and writers whose work impressed us greatly. Their work showed such strength and promise, we felt compelled to acknowledge them publicly.
Brian Daykin, Fiction
Rebecca Donnelly, Fiction
Jennifer Givhan, Poetry
Sheena Graham-George, Installation
Courtney Kessel, Installation
Kathryn Nuernberger, Poetry
David James Poissant, Fiction
Kelley Rossier, Creative Nonfiction
Holly Savas, Mixed Media
Andrew Woodward, Painting
Spring 2013 Award Winners
Chris Bachelder is a novelist (and occasional essayist) whose quiet, closely observed writing compelled us with its sense of curiosity and wonder. We loved Abbott Awaits, a pensive, engrossing novel about a father who is in the familiar-to-any-parent position of not wanting to change any aspect of his life but feeling suffocated by his adored family, too. We look forward to his work in progress, The Throwback Special, about a group of men who convene each year to reenact the career-ending leg injury of Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann; we expect it will be about a lot more than football. Bachelder lives with his wife and two young daughters in Ohio.
Lenka Clayton is a U.K. artist living in Pittsburgh, PA. Working in a range of media, Clayton explores different aspects of motherhood. A video series, The Distance I Can Be Away From My Son, offers an amusing, but tense, glimpse into the strength of the parent-child bond. Her Artist Residency in Motherhood is not just producing clever, thoughtful work, but poking holes into the residency concept, and what it means to be immersed — both working and parenting. All her work asks how we can treat parenthood not simply as a distraction or impediment, but as a productive site for creativity.
Scott Conary’s painting is quiet and confident: masterful works that blur the edges of landscape, still life, and abstraction. His simple depictions of weeds and even meat are exquisitely executed and inject light and drama into otherwise mundane subjects. He lives with his wife and young daughter in Portland, OR.
Myla Goldberg is a writer we’ve followed since reading her acclaimed first novel, Bee Season; she’s also published two other novels, a children’s book and a collection of essays. Her work in progress, Notes on Lillian Preston, is a novel built of letters and notes for a museum catalogue of a fictional photographer’s work; it offers a fascinating investigation of photography, motherhood, and memory. Goldberg lives, writes, and teaches in Brooklyn with her husband and two daughters.
In Frank Haberle’s powerful fiction we meet a grant writer for a senior center which — because of its steep staircases — has no seniors; we meet a man who takes a break from his beer-drinking each week to make rice — with a man he doesn’t really know — for the homeless. Haberle’s characters are scraping by, not deeply connected to each other or their world, but his assured and interesting voice makes them memorable, and kept us reading deep into the night. Haberle lives with his wife and three children in Brooklyn.
Spring 2013 Promise Award Winners
Chris Crossen’s work is deeply engaged with color. Interactions of shapes, waves, circles are all centered on delivering sensations of both contrast and balance. Content to remain in the abstract, these pieces are confident in the simplicity of interplay. Crossen lives in Truckee, CA with his wife and two boys.
Camille T. Dungy
Camille Dungy is a poet who lives with her husband and daughter in Berkeley; she’s a professor of creative writing at San Francisco State University and the author of three collections of poetry. Her work in progress is a collection of poems titled Still Life with Roots, Rattle, and a Violet. With vivid language and urgent questioning, her work explores relationships – especially while mothering and caring for aging parents — and the way our engagement in these relationships affects our very language. We take great pleasure in her poetry’s range of topics and ability to surprise.
John Jodzio creates a surreal world in which a baby devours a household, appliances have sex, and a woman responds to her husband’s war injury by raising their baby entirely inside. His stories are short, sharp, and utterly engrossing, a bit twisted but never bleak. Jodzio lives with his wife and 2-year old son in Minneapolis.
James Sansing’s work comes in many forms, but his portfolio highlights his photography. Two distinct, yet connected, series of photographs involving an abandoned juvenile hall showcase his talents perfectly. Photographs of the abandoned structure use light and shadow masterfully, and the decaying building provides rich texture. His photographs of abandoned ledgers are stunning, exploring texture, symmetry, and a deeper textual meaning as well. He lives in San Rafael, CA with his three children.
Anya Ulinich’s first novel, Petropolis, was named Best Book of the Year by The Christian Science Monitor and The Village Voice. Her work in progress, Magic Barrel by Lena Finkle, is a reimaging of and homage to the Bernard Malamud story, Magic Barrel. Ulinich’s work is an autobiographical graphic novel about an immigrant raising American children, about dating as a single mom whose daughters are becoming interested in boys, about writing, love and obsession. It is funny, compelling, and utterly original. Ulinich lives in Brooklyn with her two daughters.
Naomi Williams is working on a set of linked short stories called Landfalls, which imagines characters involved in the La Pérouse expedition, an 18th-century voyage of exploration from France to the South Pacific that ended – after less than four years — in shipwreck and total loss of life. Each story offers a different setting and a unique perspective, from the ship captain, crew members, Pacific Islanders and Europeans encountered along the way. Each story is completely distinct and engaging and we look forward to reading the finished work. Williams lives with her husband and two teenage sons in Davis, California.
Wendy Wunder is the author of the young adult novel, The Probability of Miracles (Razorbill, 2011); her work in progress is a second YA. The Museum of Intangible Things introduces us to Zoe and Hannah, friends who spend their days eavesdropping on lessons at the fancy school up the hill because their own school only has funding for remedial classes. In their spare time, they curate the museum of the book’s title, to help Zoe’s brother Noah, who has Asperger’s, learn about and understand emotions. We love the concept of the museum, and find Wunder’s writing so funny and fresh, we look forward to sharing it with our own kids. Wunder lives with her husband and daughter in Boston.
Fall 2012 Award Winners
Carin Clevidence is a novelist and mother of two whose first book, The House on Salt Hay Road, explores the aftermath of a fireworks factory explosion in a tightly-knit Long Island town. It’s a quiet, character-driven book, deeply rooted in place. Her novel in progress, My Family In Cuneiform, casts a broader thematic net, investigating big questions about childhood, poverty, and family ties. We were pulled in from the very first pages and couldn’t stop reading.
Suzanne Kamata is an American writer living in rural Japan with her husband and twin children. Despite living far from a traditional network of writing support, she’s published books in an impressive range of genres: three anthologies, a YA, a picture book, a novel and an award-winning collection of short stories. Her work, while steeped in the daily realities of life in a mixed-race, rural family, reaches broadly and gives clear voice to those who are not well represented in literature. Her next project is perhaps the most personal in that vein, as she plans to use her grant to research a nonfiction book about exploring the world with someone who is deaf and uses a wheelchair – her own teenage daughter.
Sara Press is a book artist who produces small handmade editions of meticulous care. Her books cover a wide range of subjects, with an emphasis on old vs. new—modern-day interpretations of historical subjects and events, from bears to brawls. She lives in Pasadena, CA with her husband and two children.
Adrian Sykes is a UK artist whose architectural landscapes create the perfect blend of realism and fantasy. His compositions are instantly satisfying, but the real strength of his work is in the painstaking detail which allows for deep exploration. He lives in Bristol with his partner and daughter.
It can be difficult to get the feel for a play without seeing it performed, but Stefanie Zadravec’s writing makes her work spring vividly to life from the page. Her plays, set in familiar places and peopled with ordinary characters, captivated us with their elements of the fantastic and their dark humor. Zadravec lives in Brooklyn with her husband and twin sons.
Fall 2012 Promise Award Winners
Anna Laurie Mackay Allred
Anna Laurie Mackay Allred uses inventive techniques to enhance what are already solid charcoal drawings. By making meticulous cut patterns or folding the paper on which they are drawn, she adds a depth that’s absolutely alluring. She lives with her husband and son in Columbus, OH.
Lacy M. Johnson
Lacy M. Johnson is a writer living in Houston with her husband and two children. Her first book, Trespasses—a memoir in prose poems about her family’s long history in rural Missouri—compelled us with its unique form and diverse voices. The memoir she is working on now originates in a singularly horrific event: the five hours she spent as prisoner of a man who intended to kill her. Johnson’s book is a meticulously researched and fascinating inquiry into memory and trauma, neurobiology and anthropology, the culture of violence against women and the meaning of truth. It is a dark but utterly absorbing and important book.
Derek Sheffield is a poet, an English professor, a husband, and father who lives in central Washington. His work is beautifully anchored in the daily realities of life with his two young daughters: a child opening a present; a drive to school; a medical procedure. We found the vivid details of his language and the ease of his metaphors deeply satisfying. “We are,” he writes of how parents orbit a child, “exactly where she keeps us // whirling.”
Ashley Shelby’s’ novel, Winter-Over, takes place over two seasons in the science research station on the South Pole. Into this intense, isolated community of diverse inhabitants—from astrophysicists and molecular biologists to cooks, solid waste managers, carpenters, construction staff, human resources personnel, a chaplain, and artists – come two medical crises: a pregnancy and a mental breakdown. It’s a beautifully-written page-turner which we can’t wait to see in print. Shelby lives with her husband and two children in Minnesota.
Krista Steinke is a self-described “lens-based artist” based in Ambler, PA. Her practice involves homemade lenses and filters which produce a textural quality in her work that could easily be misinterpreted as brush strokes. We found them enchanting, and can’t wait to see more.
Sarah Pemberton Strong
Sarah Pemberton Strong is a novelist, poet, and—as far as we know—the first plumber to win an SAF grant. Her poems, rooted in everyday objects (a fish tank; a lamp) and common events (losing a tooth; Thanksgiving logistics), explore family relationships and the connection between the mundane and the sacred. She speaks for many parent-artists when she writes of the ways parenting affects her writing life “as the constraints of a sonnet: approached with patience and understanding of the form, the restrictions they impose give shape and meaning to the poem created there.” She lives in Connecticut with her daughter and spouse.
Peter Tonningsen is a bay area artist whose large scale multiple-exposure prints reinvent the landscape. Bursting with color and texture, they provide a sense of place—not with realistic purity, but with a layered impressionism that’s beautiful to look at. He lives in Alameda, CA with his wife and two sons.
Spring 2012 Award Winners
William M. Adler
William M. Adler is the father of one and the author of three books. Adler writes that his first two books, Land of Opportunity: One Family’s Quest for the American Dream in the Age of Crack and Mollie’s Job: A Story of Life and Work on the Global Assembly Line, “describe the gap between American ideals and American realities;” his most recent work, The Man Who Never Died: The Life, Times and Legacy of Joe Hill, American Labor Icon, is a terrifically engaging biography of the songwriter whose life has influenced artists ranging from Wallace Stegner to Joan Baez. Adler’s books tell important stories, compelled by a duty to shed light on Americans whose lives might otherwise be forgotten. In his next project, Adler proposes trying to answer a simple question: Why do we still have fatal mining disasters in this country? We can’t wait to read it.
Jason Engelund is a visual artist who has worked in a variety of media. We were particularly taken by his most recent work in which he uses non-traditional photographic techniques to explore abstraction. Additionally, his work for the California College of the Arts Center for Art and Public Life combines social, humanitarian and artistic ideals, and demonstrates beautifully how art can be integrated into one’s life and community. He lives in Oakland, California with his wife and daughter.
Thendara M. Kida-Gee
Thendara M. Kida-Gee is a multimedia artist who impressed us with her intensely textured photographs in a series called This Life in Ruins. We also love her most recent work, in which she breathes new life into old photographs by cutting them up and then layering and weaving them into landscape collages. She lives with her daughter in Seattle, WA.
Travis Mossotti is a poet who has published one collection, About the Dead, and is currently completing a second, Field Study, written in his role as Poet-in-Residence at the Endangered Wolf Center, in St. Louis, Missouri. His poems are deeply engaged with nature, and the ways both people and animals interact with it; each poem creates a vivid world, peopled with characters we won’t soon forget. He lives in Missouri with his wife and daughter.
Tom Noyes is the author of two short story collections and is working on a third. A writing professor and contributing editor of the journal Lake Effect, Noyes’ writing impressed us with its quiet tone and understated urgency. Its environmental undercurrent is timely and important, but the stories are never “issue” stories; they simply map human relationships in a compelling way. He lives in Erie, PA, with his wife and two children.
Spring 2012 Promise Award Winners
Dorothy Barnhouse is a teacher, a mother of two, and the coauthor of What Readers Really Do: Teaching the Process of Meaning Making, a book about teaching reading. Her work-in-progress, a young adult novel called Horse Man, is a book we can’t wait to buy for our kids. Its main character, Horace Mann, is a smart (but not smart-alecky) eighth grader struggling with life in a New York City public school. The novel is funny and full of terrific word play.
Jung Han Kim
Jung Han Kim impressed us with his realistic portrayals of San Francisco neighborhoods. He has tremendous talent for capturing atmospheric nuance — his paintings of the same intersection at different times of day and in different weather conditions recall the haystack or cathedral paintings of Monet. He lives with his wife and two children in San Francisco, CA.
Lisa Olstein is the mother of one son and the author of three books of poetry: Radio Crackling, Radio Gone; Lost Alphabet (named one of the nine best poetry books of 2009 by Library Journal); and Little Stranger, forthcoming in spring 2013. She’s at work on two new projects: one is a collection of poetry, and the second, in collaboration with a musician, is an invented archive which will detail — via letters, diaries, poems, lyrics, interviews, drawings, and other ephemera written by Olstein — the lives of four fictional sisters who lived in the Swift River Valley in the early 1900s.
Kelcey Parker is the author of two short story collections, For Sale By Owner, Winner of the 2011 Next Generation Indie Book Award in Short Fiction, and the forthcoming Liliane’s Balcony. Parker’s fiction offers a very different view of domestic life, presenting a picture that’s not always very comfortable, but always fascinating and honest. Her next project, The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová, heads a different direction, offering a collage-biography based on found texts and altered images of the 19th Century writer that Milan Kundera calls the “Mother of Czech Prose.” Parker lives in Indiana with her husband and daughter.
Naomi Wanjiku marries traditional quilting techniques with a slightly more modern sensibility. We were taken by her quilts which bring elements of abstract expressionism to the world of fiber arts, and also by a series of works weaving together stainless steel in various stages of decay — truly unique. She lives in San Antonio, TX with her husband and two sons.
Winter 2011 Award Winners
Emily Barton‘s most recently published novel, Brookland, has received much critical acclaim. We were equally impressed by her novel-in-progress and how it quickly established a world that felt both historical and futuristic, realistic and fantastic. We can’t wait to see it finished. She lives in Kingston, New York with her husband and son.
Kim Curtis is a painter based in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, where she lives with her husband and two children. Her paintings ride the edge between abstraction and imagined landscape: evocative without being of a specific place. The depth of her paintings rewards continued study.
Kate Hopper is a writer based in Minneanapolis, Minnesota, where she lives with her husband and two young children. We found her memoir riveting, and were just as impressed by how much time and effort she spends supporting a larger writing community through her work with the Loft Literary Center, the online magazine Literary Mama, and a forthcoming writing guide for mothers.
Maria Shell is a textile artist based in Anchorage, Alaska, where she lives with her husband and three boys. Her quilts are fantastic — merging traditional techniques with a modern sensibility. Not unlike the work of an impressionistic painter, her work offers multiple layers of interest — the composition as a whole, the individual pieces of fabric, and also intricate thread work.
Andrea Stolowitz lives in Portland, Oregon and is the first playwright to win one of our awards. We loved the range of her previously produced work, and also the plans she has for her forthcoming play. Her meticulous approach and professionalism inspire confidence that this award will be put to great use.
Winter 2011 Promise Award Winners
Eden Unger Bowditch
Eden Unger Bowditch is an American writer currently living with her family in Cairo, Egypt. Her recently published YA novel, The Atomic Weight of Secrets, the first in a planned trilogy, is a thrilling adventure, in which science takes the place of magic. We look forward to reading the rest of the series.
Paul Brigham impressed us greatly with his ability to paint in multiple styles. His series of bird paintings is delicate with an Asian influence, while his landscapes are richly textured with an intense palette and a deft accumulation and removal of paint. He lives in Fairfax, California with his wife and two kids.
Rebecca Campbell‘s forceful paintings exude confidence. Her use of paint is bold and assured in depicting both figures and nature. She writes eloquently about her work. She lives with her family in Los Angeles, CA.
Stanley Goldstein paints big, rich canvases that are full of life and story. They are beautifully executed and intensely personal which almost paradoxically gives them universal appeal — they capture moments familiar to us all. He lives in San Francisco, CA with his wife and son.
Allan Reeder‘s fiction impressed us with its strong, clear voice. The writing is compelling, without being too flashy. In addition to creating his own work, he has shared his talents with others as the director of a writing program and founder of a website devoted to high school writers. He lives in Arlington, MA with his wife, son, and 3-month-old daughter.
Jenny Robinson creates massive monoprints with a rich, weathered look, a beautiful palette and an incredible texture. Printmaking at this scale is quite rare, and she executes them spectacularly. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and two young sons.
Claudia Rowe is a journalist whose memoir about a correspondence and communication with a multiple murderer is riveting. The writing captures the eerie sensation of its subject matter, and explores how we’re often unable to control the things to which we are drawn. She lives with her family in Seattle, WA.
Summer 2011 Award Winners
Brooks Hansen is a writer living in Santa Barbara, California with his wife and two children. His fiction is stunning: inventive, historical work that seems to focus underneath and around more traditional narratives. His memoir about his family’s experience with infertility and adoption is equally compelling. We were also impressed by the pragmatism of his future plans.
Mary Corey March
Mary Corey March lives and works in San Francisco with her husband and child. She creates installations that engage viewers and inspire a dialogue: gallery goers weave or tie yarn and fabric to frameworks she installs. The process is moving, the resulting artwork incredibly beautiful: the intersection of art and anthropology.
With short brushstrokes of thickly-layered oil paint, Joshua Meyer’s paintings explore the shifting relationships between artist and model, painter and viewer, and most strongly, between abstraction and representation. We were as impressed by his writing about his paintings as the paintings themselves, and love that one is called Wopbopaloobopbalopbamboom. He is the father of two, with a third child due in August.
Catherine Newman is a freelance writer and the author of the memoir Waiting for Birdy (Penguin, 2005); she lives in Massachusetts with her family. We admire her ability to work the line between funny and heartfelt without ever dipping into sentimentality. Her award will give her time for creative work in an intriguing new direction.
Samantha Schoech contributes a smart column to BabyCenter.com and has edited two terrific anthologies. She plans to use her award to continue work on a collection of essays that ring true with the edgy humor of your best friend. She lives with her husband and five year-old twins in San Francisco.
Summer 2011 Promise Award Winners
Julie Bruck is a poet and mother who lives in San Francisco. She has published two collections of poetry with Brick Books, and her third collection, Monkey Ranch, will come out in 2012. Her poetry has been published widely, including in The New Yorker and Literary Mama. Her work impressed us with its precise language, wit, and clear voice.
Andrea Higgins is a painter working in San Francisco. Her paintings focus on textiles, and while the simulated fabric carries symbolic meaning, what dominates the work is the striking effect of her detailed brushwork, staggering in its repetition and surprising depth.
Cyrus Lemmon lives and works in Chico, California. His mixed media and pen and ink works evoke both natural and constructed worlds. The overlay of schematic lines on the more organic textures is simply gorgeous: the inventiveness of this work impressed us greatly.
As San Francisco residents, we have benefited from the whimsy of Matthew Passmore’s public art projects. As a founder of REBAR Art & Design Studio, he created PARK(ing) Day, an annual event when artists and citizens collaborate to transform metered parking spaces into temporary public parks: art, activism, and joy all rolled up into one.
Drew Perry is a novelist who lives in North Carolina with his wife and son. We loved his funny and moving first novel, This Is Just Exactly Like You (Viking, 2010), a story about a married couple, their autistic son, and a great deal of mulch. We also enjoyed reading excerpts from his next novel and look forward to seeing it in print.