E.M. Tran Wins 2016 Summer Nonfiction Contest

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E. M. Tran


Prairie Schooner is pleased to name E. M. Tran the winner of the 2016 Summer Nonfiction Contest, judged by Kiese Laymon, for her essay “Miss Saigon.” Tran will receive a prize of $250, and her essay will appear in the Spring 2017 edition of Prairie Schooner. E. M. Tran is a Vietnamese American fiction writer from New Orleans, Louisiana. She received her MFA from the University of Mississippi, and she is currently pursuing her PhD in Fiction at Ohio University. Her work is also forthcoming in Iron Horse Literary Review. Visit www.elizabethmtran.com.


Kiese Laymon


Kiese Laymon, the judge of this year's prize, is a black southern writer best known for his essays and fiction. The author of two books, the essay collection How to Slowly Kill Yourself and the Others in America and the novel Long Division, Laymon is currently an Associate Professor of English at Vassar College. Laymon has written essays, stories and reviews for numerous publications including Esquire, ESPN the Magazine, Colorlines, NPR, the Los Angeles Times, PEN Journal, the Oxford American, and Guernica. He is a currently a columnist at the Guardian, and two more books—a memoir, Heavy, and a second novel, And So On—are forthcoming from Scribner.

Laymon said of Tran's essay: “In way more ways than I'd like to admit, stories of survivorship necessitate multiple threads because no one earth is a survivor of just one trauma, villain or love. The essay, ‘Miss Saigon’ renders survivorship in its multifaceted, multigenerational, geographically varied wonder. In a contest filled some of the best essays I've read in the 21st century, no essay made as much use of the literal and emotional space as ‘Miss Saigon.’ It reminded me that stories of immigration are necessary stories lost and found, or performative longing and necessary shedding. It is absolutely amazing art.”


Boyer Rickel

(photo credit John Levy)

Boyer Rickel's essay “Morgan: A Lyric” is this year's runner-up. Laymon called Rickel's essay "easily the most structurally creative of all the essays I read. The piece, in many ways, necessitates an innovative structure because of what it's doing with the body's shell, the body's insides, the body's invariable breaking. The piece is the literal story of life, love, misdirection and death. I felt it, heard what I shouldn't have heard, and will remember how the piece looked as it quaked for the rest of my writing life." Boyer Rickel's publications include two poetry collections, remanence (Parlor) and arreboles (Wesleyan), a memoir-in-essays, Taboo (Wisconsin), and a poetry chapbook, reliquary (Seven Kitchens). Recipient of poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and Arizona Commission on the Arts, he taught in the University of Arizona creative writing program for twenty years. “Morgan: A Lyric” is the final section of a four-part sequence by the same title. The first part won the Tupelo Quarterly 2014 prose award; the second appeared in Guernica.

Editor Kwame Dawes said of the contest, now in its fifth year, “Each year, I become increasingly appreciative of Sara Fawn Montgomery, our Assistant Nonfiction Editor who initiated this exciting contest which has brought us such startling riches as the two writers we are celebrating here, and of course, our judge Kiese Laymon.  Tran’s piece is engrossing and wholly engaging while being elegantly constructed and powerfully enlightening. And it is impossible to walk away from the rollicking formal play with time and idea in Rickel’s work without concluding, well, how else but this way can such a story be told?  Our journal, and, by extension, our readers are wholly enriched by these wonderful new stories.”

Last year’s winner was Laura Elizabeth Woollet, whose essay “Working Girl” appeared in the Spring 2016 edition of Prairie Schooner. The previous year’s winner, Aurvi Sharma’s essay “Eleven Stories of Water and Stone” was recently listed as “notable” in Best American Essays 2016, and the previous year’s winner, Melissa Febos’s essay “Call My Name,” was also listed as a Best American notable in 2015. To read Assistant Nonfiction Editor Sarah Fawn Montgomery’s interview with judge Kiese Laymon, visit https://prairieschooner.unl.edu/blog/evil-and-joy-and-other-mushy-part-between-interview-kiese-laymon. To learn more about Prairie Schooner, the latest issues, and how to subscribe, visit https://prairieschooner.unl.edu.