2017 Winners

Aamina Ahmad (Fiction)

Aamina Ahmad’s novel in progress, The Walled City, is set primarily in 1960s Pakistan within the ancient walled city of Lahore, where a police detective is investigating the suspicious death of a prostitute. Part crime novel/part family saga, at its heart it is “a story of relationships, about the roles of men and women in Pakistani society and the binds that family, industry, marriage, and political institutions impose on ordinary people.” Her nominator writes, “Depth of characterization, the great attraction of her stories, turns revelatory at novel-length: its source is a spectacularly undeluded empathy. A brave, disciplined, and unconventional mind is at work.” Ms. Ahmad is also working on a collection of stories. Her work has appeared in Ecotone, The Missouri Review, and The Normal School, among other publications. She has received notable mentions in the Best American Short Stories and Best American Nonrequired Reading anthologies. Raised in England, she received her B.A. and M.A. from London University. She also studied at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she received her M.F.A. in 2013. She completed a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University in 2017. Her Writer’s Award will cover living expenses and child care over the next year as well as underwrite an essential trip to Pakistan. It will also provide her with the necessary time to finish her novel. She says, “It would facilitate the final push towards completing the book, which to me, feels, tantalizingly, within reach.” Ms. Ahmad lives in Berkeley, California, with her husband and two children.

Q&A with Aamina

Ama Codjoe (Poetry)

Ama Codjoe is completing her first collection of poems, Iterations of Being, which investigates familial legacies and histories through subjects such as domestic violence, fertility, puberty, sexual desire, and memory. “These poems, much like graffiti, aim to constitute a type of marking that says, ‘I am’ or ‘I am here.’ I hope this work will testify and insist on my existence as a black woman and acknowledge the people and histories I rely on to survive.” Her nominator writes, “Her poems display a consummate intelligence able to transform her longing, objectively, into a studied, revelatory lyric. There is an urgency in her poems that reflects both the strength and frailty of the human body and the ways we access our full humanity.” Ms. Codjoe received her B.A. from Brown University, her M.F.A. in dance from Ohio State University, and her M.F.A in poetry from New York University. She has been awarded support from the Saltonstall Foundation, Blue Mountain Center, Cave Canem Foundation, and Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop. Her poems have appeared in Narrative, The Georgia Review, Four Way Review, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. She currently consults for DreamYard Project in the South Bronx, where she was an educator and administrator for over ten years. Ms. Codjoe facilitates social justice workshops for non-profits, universities, and museums. She will use her Writer’s Award to defray living expenses over the next year in order to focus on her collection. She says, “The crossroads is a place as frightening as it is beautiful. At this critical juncture in my career, the award will enable me to create a path for myself as a writer.” Ms. Codjoe lives in New York City.

Q&A with Ama

Ebony Flowers (Fiction/Nonfiction)

Ebony Flowers is a writer and cartoonist whose comic narratives lie at the intersection of family, place, and belonging. She is currently working on two projects. 4a/b is a collection of short-form comics that tells stories about Black hair through fiction, creative nonfiction, and parody hair advertisements. She says, “Black hair is an intimate experience based upon the familial touch of a mother, friend, or neighbor's hands while punctuated by the vestiges of racism.” Her long-form fiction comic, Shannon O’, which has appeared in the Nashville Review, is loosely based on the Baltimore neighborhood, Fairfield, where her mother grew up and she visited regularly as a child. It explores the everyday life of women in this fictionalized tight-knit community. Her nominator says, “She is inventing something of great importance in terms of comics. There is nothing to compare her work to because it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. Ebony Flowers really is a genius. I believe she is going to change the game in terms of graphic narrative.” Ms. Flowers received her B.A. from the University of Maryland College Park and her M.S. and Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she conducted an ethnography about how young children and graduate students participated in picture-making practices. She wrote her dissertation as a comic. At UW-Madison, Ms. Flowers was a researcher at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery’s Image Lab and a founding member of the Applied Comics Kitchen. Next year, Ms. Flowers will be a visiting scholar at the University of Toronto where she will teach picture-based research methods. She plans to use her Writer’s Award to focus more on her fiction and creative nonfiction comic projects, as well as take research trips and attend comics festivals. She lives in Denver, Colorado, with her husband and cat.

Q&A with Ebony

 

Tiana Nobile (Poetry)

Tiana Nobile’s first poetry collection, Harlow’s Monkey, explores and grapples with the history of adoption, both her own from South Korea and the broader, collective experience. She says, “As a child I was unable to discuss the complicated nature of how a family like ours was formed, the history left behind and how to negotiate that loss. Through the act of writing my manuscript, I've finally given myself permission to explore the complexities of adoption, dislocation, and familial love.” Her nominator writes, “Tiana did the incredibly difficult work of delving deep into her own personal narrative while also challenging herself to find a new and rigorous poetics that would challenge received ideas of accessibility and emotional charge in the poems. It was a tremendous amount to take on and it gave me such a clear vision into her capabilities as a poet and a person.” Ms. Nobile was an elementary teacher in the New Orleans public schools for several years and is now a teaching artist and arts coach in the schools for KID smART. She received her B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College, her M.A.T. from the University of New Orleans in elementary and special education, and her M.F.A. from Warren Wilson College in 2017. Her poems have appeared in Antenna, The Collagist, and PHANTOM, among others, and she is a recipient of a Kundiman fellowship. She plans to use her Writer’s Award to return to South Korea for the first time since her adoption and to take time to continue her work on her first collection. She lives in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Q&A with Tiana

Dominica Phetteplace (Fiction)

Dominica Phetteplace’s novel in progress, Project Empathy, is a moving, deep, and humorous mix of the real and speculative worlds made intimate and smart. She says, “My novel is set in a near future San Francisco that is inhabited solely by billionaires and their servants. It tells the story of a friendship between two women from impoverished backgrounds who have had computer chips implanted in their heads so that they may provide better service as waitresses. Both are determined to make better lives for themselves in an oppressive surveillance economy.” Ms. Phetteplace received her B.A. in mathematics from UC Berkeley. She has been awarded support from the MacDowell Colony, the Barbara Deming Foundation, and I Park. Her stories have appeared in Asimov’s, Zyzzyva, and Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017. She has received a Pushcart Prize and honorable mentions from the Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy and Best American Short Stories anthologies. Her nominator writes, “Her work is fresh and exciting and thoughtful and plays with genre in a fascinating way. It has intellectual grit and philosophical underpinnings yet it is also emotionally resonant and her characters never feel like templates. Her literary style is solid—she has that crucial thing, a sure sense of voice.” Ms. Phetteplace has been working as a math and computer science teacher, but she plans to use her Writer’s Award to support her living expenses for the next year so she can focus on finishing her novel. She lives in Oakland, California.

Shawna Kay Rodenberg (Nonfiction)

Shawna Kay Rodenberg is a 10th-generation Appalachian from Kentucky. Her parents became deeply involved in a wilderness community in northern Minnesota, where her family lived for seven years. With a singular voice and clear-eyed intensity, her coming-of-age memoir explores this time as well as the isolation and difficulties her family faced upon their return home to the insular mountains of Kentucky. She says, “The book is still taking shape, but some recurrent themes are already visible: the astounding cost of both belief and disbelief in America, the vulnerability of the working poor, and the magic two-sided antidote to all of the above—learning to abandon fear and embrace the self and the greater world.” Her nominator writes, “I have never met anyone like her. She is wildly smart, generous, sane, and she has a wicked sense of humor. Her memoir is beautifully structured and rigorously considered.” Shawna received her nursing degree from New Hampshire Technical Institute, her B.A. from the University of Southern Indiana, and her M.F.A. from Bennington College. She now teaches English at a small community and technical college in eastern Kentucky. Her essays have been published in The Village Voice, Salon, and Consequence Magazine and she has completed a poetry manuscript entitled Black Magic Gun. Her Writer’s Award will allow her to teach less, focus on her memoir, and take related research trips. She says, “I think my identity as a writer is tethered, in order, first to my experiences as a woman and feminist, then as a self-exiled Appalachian, and finally to my inexplicable obsession with belief, specifically Christianity. I cannot stop pushing my disbelieving fingers into the wounds.” She lives in Evansville, Indiana, with her husband and five children.

Q&A with Shawna