Writers’ Cafe Contest Winners

Writers’ Cafe Contest Winners


It was an honor this year to judge the fiction entries for this year’s Writers’ Cafe entries!

First prize went to Abby Jarrett for her story “False Cypress,” and second prize went to Paige Lawler for her story “Steinway.”

Here are my judge’s notes:

“False Cypress”:

I was impressed by the author’s confidence, as well as the vivid use of language and description.  Andy Warhol once said that life is a series of images that repeat, and the image in this story’s ending is going to stick with me for a while.  “False Cypress” has a real sense of purpose and intention, as well as a layered lonesomeness that arches against the story’s surface.
Steinway” is a downright beautiful piece, well-researched and well-rendered.  I personally think it’s hard to write about music, but this author made it easy.  To my mind, that kind of gracefulness is the best (and loveliest) demonstration of talent.  I loved the way this story explored deep, human ideas but never lost sight of the characters’ humanity.

If you’d like, you can browse the past winning entries here.  If you do, you might notice that a few names pop up more than once.  This is partly because those students are exceptionally talented.  (Many of them are former students of mine.)  However, I’d guess that many of these winning students probably entered the contest every year of their undergraduate careers.  Congratulations to the students who won, and here’s hoping that everyone who entered will try again next year!

Sejong Cultural Society

Sejong Cultural Society


I was truly honored this year to serve as a judge for The Sejong Cultural Society’s 2018 Essay Contest.  The competition was fierce, and it was wonderful to learn about Korean culture and history, especially at this point in history.

You can read the winning entries here and see a list of this year’s judges here.  Special thanks to Lucy Park: it was really neat being asked to judge essays alongside Molly Gaudry and Christine Hyung-Oak Lee.


Giving for Good / Thurs Sept 14

Giving for Good / Thurs Sept 14


I recently stumbled on Sherman Alexie’s classic essay “Superman and Me,” in which he discusses how he first discovered the joys of reading.  Later on, after he becomes a noteworthy poet and short story writer, he visits schools on reservations and encourages the students to write their own stories and poems.  “I am trying to save their lives,” he writes, noting that “A smart Indian is a dangerous Indian.”

My take on Alexie’s essay is that there are entire generations, entire groups who have been beaten down so long that they don’t realize that their lives and experiences have value.  Teaching someone how to re-discover and raise their voice is certainly a noble task, one that affirms the value of one’s life and presumably leads to additional quiet benefits that can last a lifetime.  And in terms of politics, to paraphrase Alexie, a smart Indian who realizes their worth can start to raise their voice and challenge the status quo.  And that’s important–it is my opinion that in our current political climate, we’re going to need a bottom-up and top-down approach to make any meaningful or lasting change.

I’m proud that Sarabande Books (which is a nonprofit based in Louisville, KY) does a lot of literary outreach work and works hard to promote local writers and literature.  This year, they’re participating in the Community Foundation of Louisville’s philanthropic event “Give for Good Louisville” on Thursday, September 14.  Every dollar Sarabande raises will be increased with a proportional match and additional prize dollars, so it’s a great opportunity to maximize your giving.  I’m donating, and I hope you’ll be able to join me.