We would like to congratulate Kristin Nichols on winning first place in our 2016 Wabash Prize for Nonfiction with her essay, “Young Men Fall.” We would also like to recognize the excellence of Bob Brunk’s essay, “The Smell of Sunlight on Stones,” our runner-up in the contest. Congratulations Kristin and Bob!
Michelle Tea, the final judge in our contest, had the following to say about these two essays:
1st Place: “Young Men Fall”
I was taken with this story from the start, intrigued by the author’s strategy for sharing it (as it must be shared) with others.. Such a critical story, the passing of a sibling. ‘I always mention you. It doesn’t seem right for people not to know you were here.’ In the author’s telling, such a great loss elevates daily life to the gestures of a ritual, turns the world a little bit mystic as it has you parsing your dreams, looking for signs of the gone one in the ether. The writing here is skillful and uncompromising, and the detail stuns – the lush details of brother beautiful and triumphant at work; the vibrating starkness of details in a moment of time-stopping, life-altering terror. The author makes clear that she has told this story many times, but surely never in a manner so deliberate and well-paced; you can feel her transcending the comparatively mundane concerns she explained at the start as she does the magic that writers of personal narrative do, taking our awkward and turning them into powerful myths. I felt grateful to have been brought into such a wrenching personal tale, to be handled so carefully as a reader from the deceptively casual beginning to the elegantly jarring end.
1st Runner Up: “The Smell of Sunlight on Stones”
I was deeply taken with the humility this writer expressed in his writing and in the life he was writing about. A humility in the face of life, age, earth, the past – things that can render our most ambitious, heartfelt plans somewhat petty, even meaningless. How the author manages to hang on to his desire to live simply and meaningfully without turning away from our shared insignificance is poignant. Looking to his own ancestry he manages to merge his longings with the very things that stunned him – history and the endurance of the land. Written with the simple elegance that occasionally drifts into the beauty of prayer, it’s a testimony to how personal history can keep us from feeling lost as we engage in the often difficult process of find our small place in the large world.