Creative Writing at The New School

On Thursday, October 10, the Writing Program hosted the 2012 MFA Chapbook Contest Reading, featuring the winners of this year's chapbook contest. Hosted by fiction coordinator Helen Schulman, this annual reading showcases the winners from each of four genres, Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry and Writing for Children.

Frances Marie Gonzalez was selected for the Fiction prize for two short stories, "The Cortege" and "Ripples." Of Gonzalez's stories, judge Chris Adrian wrote:

"One senses in 'The Cortege' and 'Ripples' a writer at work under great pressure to say something meaningful about ordinary and extraordinary human experience. In both these stories, the writer is driven outside of mundane reality or mundane discourse in the effort to capture some consolation for suffering the very mixed rewards of life. When a unicorn intrudes—magically but unfantastically—upon the life of a grieving couple, and a kiss gone awry presages and summarizes the disappointments of a pair of lives, we readers are allowed the uncomfortable privilege of participating in someone else's pain, and this would be miraculous if it couldn't be explained as mere good writing and good fiction."

The Nonfiction winner was Elissa Bassist, selected by Danzy Senna for her chapbook, Madame Bovary's Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Granddaughter. Of Bassist's chapbook, judge Senna wrote:

"Your life stories, I tell my memoir students time and time again, are not interesting simply because they happened to you. Simply to confess to us what happened is not enough; you have to understand the experience, shape the experience, and link it to something larger. I have found that without this perspective, the genre itself can feel profoundly limited, artless, solipsistic – even exploitative. One of the qualities I appreciated most about “Madame Bovary’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Granddaughter” is the way the author subtly and gracefully links her deeply personal life story to compelling questions about women’s sexuality, literature, history. We never notice her doing the connecting; the larger themes and analysis are seamlessly woven into the intimate story. She makes us think and care about not simply what happened to her, but about women’s bodies, our continued detachment from our own desire, our own complicity in the culture of sexual violence. Your experience, I tell my students time and time again, is not intrinsically interesting. You have to make it interesting. You have to use your memories – shape them, edit them, structure them – in order to reveal something to us about us. This artful, moving work of creative nonfiction – 'Madame Bovary’s Great-Great-Great-Great Granddaughter' – transcends the self, while keeping us rooted in the most intimate of stories."

The Poetry prize went to Alyssa Morhardt-Goldstein, for her chapbook quiet, selected by Matthea Harvey. In praise of quiet, Harvey wrote:

"If one were to send a postcard back through time to one’s childhood, it might slip through the mail slot in a cloud of fog, the stamp curling to reveal a secret message written behind it. On the reverse side, is that a photograph taken through a lens smeared with Vaseline or a watercolor? These are the kind of imaginings spurred by Morhardt-Goldstein’s poems, lyrics that paint with precise description, then shimmer and dissolve into another world constructed via simile ('time will get away from us like line')."

 Riddhi Kamal Parekh won the Writing for Children contest, for her chapbook, Moucchi. Judge Rachel Cohn wrote:

"'Masterji Mouchhad Mota Moucchiwala' hits that sweet spot where it could be universally appreciated by both adult and kid readers.  This tale of a moustache bitten by wanderlust, who leaves its owner to travel the world (I particularly liked the image of it resting on the Statue of Liberty), and the forlorn owner and his wife whose identities are inexorably linked to the moustache, is delightful, whimsical and wholly original.  I was sorry when the excerpt ended...I want to read the whole book!  A gem of an idea, executed beautifully."

The Chapbook Award Series is published by the Graduate Writing Program at The New School. Winners are selected annually from among the graduates of the program by writers of national reputation.


About The Author

Justin Sherwood's poems and essays have appeared in H_NGM_N, ILK Journal, The Poetry Project Newsletter, New Criticals, and elsewhere. He is a graduate of the MFA creative writing program at The New School, where he was selected for the 2012 Paul Violi Prize in Poetry. Find him on Twitter at @JustinSherwood