Winners of the 2017 Wabash Prizes in Poetry and Fiction

We’re excited to announce the winners of the 2017 Wabash Prizes in Poetry and Fiction, as selected by our judges. The winning pieces and runners up will appear in our forthcoming issue, 29.2, which will be available in the spring.

Wabash Prize in Poetry, selected by Shane McCrae:

Winner: “Jane in Starving Time” by Alicia Wright
Ironically, in its first line break, “Jane in Starving Time” manifests a kind of completeness. It does so by asserting there Keatsian negative capability—“We grasp at everything but clasp nothing // but wind”—as a result of which, the reader understands that it is both true that nothing, absolutely nothing, is clasped, and that, at the same time, something—“wind”—is also clasped, by the “we,” and the reader is allowed to maintain both things as true. Immediately, the reader is convinced that this poem was written by a poet who knew what they were doing; immediately, the reader feels certain that, whatever they encounter in the lines to follow, none of it will have been accidental, none of it will have been forced into the poem because the poet could not quite manage to say what they wanted to say. It is a poem, in other words, of rare skill. That it is also stunningly beautiful and powerful—reminiscent, at times, of Thomas James’ great poem, “Mummy of a Lady Named Jemutesonekh,” though “Jane in Starving Time” is much different, tonally—ought not even to have been hoped for, but nonetheless, the poem is. Its final phrase, “the role of a berry // is to bleed in your mouth,” will stay with me.

Runner-Up: “White Space” by Chloe Forsell
“White Space” tackles a difficult subject. That seems true to me, but I feel also like I ought to have written, “‘White Space’ attempts to tackle a difficult subject,” and I would have done so if I hadn’t felt certain that doing so would give the wrong impression. Part of what “White Space” does, it seems to me, is speak to the attempt to talk about a difficult subject, the murder of Emmett Till, in an empathetic way—it does not pretend that the attempt can be successful. It is a poem about the limits of empathy. And it is brilliantly structured to make this apparent in its form, as its stanzas alternate between stanzas having to do with the speaker, and stanzas having to do with Till, both of which are bound together and held separate by a commentary running to the right of, and between, them. But it is also a poem about the murder of Till. And it is starkly and movingly thus. It is a poem that pulls off difficult feats—it is both honest and artful, both empathetic and self-expressive.

Wabash Prize in Fiction, as selected by Alissa Nutting:

Winner: “Pizza” by Eric Van Hoose
Surprising and structurally innovative, this story braids dissociated fragments into a vulnerable and affecting whole. It’s troubling, occasionally hilarious, and it interrogates distress with an undeniably intimate grip. Its construction masterfully allows this collage to have an enviable and unexpected fluidity, which makes reading it feel like an incredibly new experience.

Runner-Up: “Mary Rosenthal” by Stacy Lee
A fantastically complex investigation of the gulf between longing and reality, this story invokes an incredible breadth of difficult feelings in such a short amount of time: hope, desire, disappointment, anger, attraction, futility, love. It’s simultaneously comforting and gutting, which is a rare magic. I’ll keep returning to this story; some new heartbreak emerges for me each time.