Heather Johnson Wins 2017 Summer Nonfiction Contest

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Heather Johnson

(photo by Catherine Anne Hubka)


Prairie Schooner is pleased to name Heather Johnson the winner of the 2017 Summer Nonfiction Contest, judged by Esmé Weijun Wang, for her essay “Nowhere Place.” Johnson will receive a prize of $250, and her essay will appear in the Spring 2018 edition of Prairie Schooner. Heather Johnson is a Diné woman from the Navajo Nation, currently residing in Albuquerque, New Mexico where she is a second-year MFA in the University of New Mexico’s Creative Writing Program. She is working on a novel while also writing poetry and personal essays. Her work has appeared in Sigma Tau Delta’s Rectangle, Anti-Heroin Chic, and she was a blog contributor to Blue Mesa Review. Her subjects are surviving personal and historical traumas, marginalized identities, reverence for the body and natural world, and the landscape as sacred. She is the mother of a beautiful six-year-old boy and a founding member of the Trigger Warning Writers Group.


>Esmé Weijun Wang


Esmé Weijun Wang, the judge of this year’s contest, is a novelist and essayist. Her debut novel, The Border of Paradise, was named a Best Book of 2016 by NPR and one of the 25 Best Novels of 2016 by Electric Literature. She is the recipient of the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize for her forthcoming essay collection, The Collected Schizophrenias; her work has appeared in the Believer, Hazlitt, Elle, Catapult, and Eater. She can be found at esmewang.com and on Twitter @esmewang.

Wang said of Johnson’s winning essay, “‘Nowhere Place' is a searing essay that connects individual mental health with intergenerational trauma. The turns of phrase are often elegant and surprising, and never overdone. I commend the writer’s use of Native history in bringing light to current circumstances; their experience draws ever-widening circles of clarity and complexity.”


Melissa Falivenol


This year’s runner-up is Melissa Faliveno’s essay “Finger of God.” Wang commented, “I am impressed by the deft structure used in ‘Finger of God,’ which brings fresh insight to the experience of growing up with tornadoes; its sense of place is certain, its prose clean.” Melissa Faliveno's essays have appeared in DIAGRAM, Midwestern Gothic, Isthmus, Lumina, and Green Mountains Review, and received a notable citation in Best American Essays 2016. An essay about her time as a roller derby skater appeared in the book Derby Life, published by Gutpunch Press in 2015. Born and raised in Wisconsin, she received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, where she teaches workshops in magazine writing. She lives in New York City, where she is the senior editor of Poets & Writers Magazine, plays in the band Self Help, and is at work on a collection of essays.

Last year’s winner was E. M. Tran, whose essay “Miss Saigon” appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of Prairie Schooner; she was interviewed by Assistant Nonfiction Editor Sarah Fawn Montgomery for our blog. Montgomery also interviewed this year’s guest editor Esmé Weijun Wang.

Learn more about Prairie Schooner on our website, and considering subscribing to receive more great nonfiction, poetry, and fiction.

Founded in 1926, Prairie Schooner is a national literary quarterly published with the support of the English Department at UNL. It publishes fiction, poetry, essays and reviews by beginning, mid-career, and established writers.