Writing at The New School is proud to announce the winners of the 2014 Chapbook Competition! The competition is open each year to the graduating MFA class. Winners are selected by acclaimed writers who are not affiliated with The New School. A winner is selected for each of the program's four concentrations: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Writing for Children.
Fiction Winner: Gillian O'Neill, "The Cottage"
Fiction judge Justin Torres, author of We the Animals, has this to say of O'Neill's winning short story:
"The Cottage" is a very evocative story that is also very short. When I reached the end I thought, surely this is not the end! My other thought was, surely I've just read the winner. Judging is a strange business. The stories for this contest were all strong, all laudable. I wondered, should I pick the sexiest story? The boldest? The most imaginative? The saddest? "The cottage" is all these things--sexy, bold, deeply imagined, sad. But where "The Cottage" is superlative, and undeniable, is in the quality of the writing itself. O'Neill's writerly instincts, her pacing, her use of dialogue, the clarity and variety of her sentences, somehow exhibit both maturation and promise. This story could, to my mind, go on, go deeper--or not. There is, after all, something satisfyingly startling in its sudden termination. Either way, it is a winning story written in winning prose. And most importantly, and what seemed most worthy of recognition, was the certainty that O'Neill herself will go on writing, going ever deeper. So my initial thought, surely this not the end, might be seen to have arisen from a kind of general hunger for more from this author, and an awareness that I had just read the work of a writer with a brilliant career ahead. Let me then revise and rephrase that thought, and in doing so, offer a toast to O'Neill: surely this is just the beginning!
Nonfiction Winner: Anna Fridlis, "The Edge of the Known World"
Nonfiction judge Ted Conover, author of Coyotes: A Journey Across Borders with America's Mexican Migrants, said this of Fridlis' winning manuscript:
This storyteller has her own voice, and the power to conjure up a faraway place and time. I happen to have read Chekhov's Sakhalin Island and I admire the way Fridlis invokes it to help set her desolate stage; the slow reveal that this is the story of her grandparents adds meaning and tension. On the last page I wanted to know what happens next to these humble people on the edge of the world.
Poetry Winner: Steven Klett, "A Field Full of Mirrors"
Poetry judge Rachel Zucker, author of The Pedestrians, said this of Klett's poems:
Initially, I was seduced by the short, funny poems in “A Field Full of Mirrors”—poems like “Van Gogh” and “Moss”—poems that made me laugh out loud. I wanted to send these poems to friends who don’t usually read poetry because I knew they would like them and laugh out loud as well. What kept me reading and liking Steven Klett’s poems was the way the humor, strangeness, charm and sonic pleasure of these poems dig until they hit something deeper, something substantial. Steven Klett’s poems are playful and pleasing to the ear: “As night wore out its welcome/ we made headway with wine”; “We sleep on beaches/ and speak with the intimacy/ of a clam to its shell.” The poems are quick witted but never rushed. Klett looks at relationships and the human condition as if he were an explorer, turning over a rock, peeling back a piece of bark, slowly, carefully, full of precision.
“There’s a still/ in the air/ that I just can’t shake”
“My hands are heavy/ with your sleeplessness”
“If there is such a thing as exile/ our modern age experiences it / as Ella Fitzgerald”
Klett’s poems employ the pathos of James Schuyler’s short poems and the syntactical high jinks of Robert Creeley. Like Schuyler and Creeley, the cleverness isn’t snide, isn’t facile. These are fresh-feeling lyric love poems that snap like elastic. “Two people in a dark corner/ have the capacity to get along,/ and by get along/ I mean seek comfort/ in the fact that they have one another/ until they’re miserable” writes Klett. Later, “The swaying fields have me again./ This feeling is neither true nor fruit.” The poems are funny, but they sting too, as poems should.
Writing for Children Winner: Chelsea Schoenbeck, Born to Run Away
Writing for Children judge Aaron Starmer, author of The Riverman, writes of Schoenbeck's submission:
Like so many great stories, Chelsea Schoenbeck’s Born To Run Away is about a very specific moment. Two friends reunite after a year apart and confront unresolved issues surrounding the death of a young woman named Amelia. Heartbroken and confused, Lee was Amelia’s best friend. Aloof and wandering, singer-songwriter Rhett was Amelia’s friend too, but their friendship had grown into something more. Lee and Rhett are haunted by what could have been, because Amelia had made promises to both of them. And she could only keep one of those promises. In fluid, patient prose, Schoenbeck follows Lee as she tracks Rhett down in Malibu. Carrying little more than a notebook full of letters and a mysterious box under her arm, Lee hopes to tie up loose ends. But the wonderful thing about a story like this is that once the loose ends are tied, everything unfolds. That specific moment may be over. Amelia’s story may have ended. But Lee and Rhett have new roads in front of them.
A reading will be held in the fall of 2015 to celebrate the release of these chapbooks. Congratulations to the winners, and thanks to the judges for their careful consideration of the many submissions!