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Current Issue: Fall 2015
Current issue: Summer 2015
We present, in the style of an 80s infomercial, an explanatory video showing just how easy it is to record, edit, and submit a piece to our 9th Annual Miller Audio Prize! There’s no excuse now–send us your best!
After weeks of reading, rereading, and then rereading some more, we’re proud and excited to announce the winners and finalists of our 25th annual Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize. We received a record number of around 3100 entries this year, and the quality of all the work submitted made our final decisions very difficult. I’d like to thank all the writers who submitted and gave us the chance to read their work.
Here are our winners in all three genres:
Emma Torzs of Minneapolis, MN, for “The Wall”
Becky Adnot-Haynes of Cincinnati, OH, for “What Are You Afraid Of?”
Maria Anderson of Laramie, WY, for “Kalispell”
Cynthia Robinson of Ithaca, NY, for “Maison des Oiseaux”
Phillip B. Williams of Chicago, IL
Jackie Craven of Schenectady, NY
Allison Davis of Provincetown, MA
Corey Van Landingham of Gettysburg, PA
Genese Grill of Burlington, VT, for “Portals: Cabinets of Curiosity, Reliquaries, and Colonialism”
John W. Evans of Mountain View, CA for “The Polish Prince”
Dionne Irving of South Bend, IN, for “Treading Water”
Dan Musgrave of St. Louis, MO for “Worry”
I want to thank my team of contest readers and assistants this year for making the reading, rereading, and selecting process go smoothly. Big thanks to Hannah Cuthbertson, Leanna Petronella, Traci Cox, Jennifer McCauley, Katie McGinnis, Jessica Osborne, Marek Makowski, Evelyn Somers, Dedra Earl, and Christina Bramon for all their help.
We are currently making plans for our Editors’ Prize weekend, our annual spring reading and reception to honor the winners of the contest. The Editors’ Prize issue, featuring our winners, will also be out in spring of 2016.
Please stay tuned for details of our 9th Annual Miller Audio Contest, which you can check out here: http://www.missourireview.com/audiovisual/submissions/. The deadline is March 15, 2016.
I’ve been walking with John Irving since September and I don’t know if he feels better, but I sure do. I’ve lost almost ten pounds and I feel stronger. I set out to shape up almost four months ago and on a strange hunch, I downloaded A Prayer for Owen Meany to listen to while I pounded the trail. It was exactly the right choice. I had read the novel years ago but didn’t remember much about it. Owen was with me for the whole month of September (the version I listened to was 27 hours long). He made it easy for me to keep going, to increase my distance from two miles to three, then four, five, and sometimes even six miles a day. From September 1 until today, I have walked 583.15 miles out of a yearly total of 1442.28 miles (thank you, Fitbit).
I switched it up a little, of course. I’ve listened to Rose Tremain, Ian Rankin, Harper Lee, and a few others who didn’t make it past the first mile. I realized very quickly that the reader makes all the difference. Joe Barrett, who read Owen, is a wonderful reader. He’s reading Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist to me now. I tried to listen to John Updike’s Rabbit, Run and the combination of the subject matter and the narrator made me want to hurl myself off the old railroad bridge I was walking over. I chose to move on to something else.
Audiobooks haven’t always been my thing. As I mentioned in another blog post, my daughter and I listened to To Kill a Mockingbird together. It was an enjoyable experience, and a great way to pass time in the car while shuttling her big brother to a never-ending series of band practices and performances this fall. It became apparent to me that listening to a book, particularly one I had read before, brings a whole new dimension to the work. I read very quickly. Listening to a book slows me down and forces me (sorry, “allows” me) to pay attention to every word. And it helps me see the overall structure of the book in my mind. Maybe this doesn’t make sense, but listening creates a way for me to see the book in a different way than reading the words on the page. It becomes more three-dimensional. And I remember it better when I’m finished.
I listened to The World According to Garp during November. It was 20 hours long. I’m not an Irving fanatic or anything, but I found myself captivated by his storytelling abilities and his talent for creating a whole world with very real people in both Owen and Garp. And his books are still very relevant, addressing feminism, abortion, transgender issues, gun violence, religious fanaticism, and the effects of war on soldiers, just to name a few topics. I was captivated also because I had decided, for the very first time, to participate in National Novel Writing Month…and actually write the 50,000 words. I had made a timid attempt a few years ago and abandoned it. But this year I vowed to see it through, just because. Irving was a great help to me. I would listen to him describe, for instance, Garp making dinner. And I could see Garp making dinner, chopping the onions and sautéing them. And I could hear the characters talk to each other. I realized that description and dialogue can be simple. You just have to write it. Not every utterance has to be scintillating—you can paint a picture of a life by creating a scene between two characters about, oh, I don’t know, making sandwiches. But don’t get me wrong—I’m not comparing myself to Irving or claiming I wrote a good novel. I’m just saying he gave me the courage to keep putting words on the page until I had a beginning, a middle, and an end, for a total of 50,000 words.
So what’s this blog post about? Two things, I guess. I’m patting myself on the back for putting one foot in front of the other and one word in front of the other in the year 2015. And I’m giving you a recommendation for a last-minute Christmas gift for someone you love: a comfortable pair of earphones and a subscription to an audio book app.
Happy holidays and happy new year from The Missouri Review.
When you’re telling true stories, it’s a temptation to think that all you have to do is, “tell it like it happened.” Particularly if what happened is amazing and interesting; the story should practically tell itself, right? But how do you tell the story of malaria in a few paragraphs?
There are a lot of amazing and interesting things about malaria, but where is the story? Malaria is life-threatening and maybe that should be enough to get readers’ attention. But perhaps the story doesn’t lie in the lives it takes (the World Health Organization estimates 438,000 in 2015) but in whose lives; two thirds of the deaths occur in children under five, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa. Or perhaps the most interesting thing about malaria is actually the fact that the incidence is going down globally. In that case it becomes a success story, a story about hope. When you add that malaria wasn’t eliminated from the United States until the early 1950’s, your story of hope might become, at the same time, a cautionary tale.
These were the kinds of questions faced by a group of public health students when they agreed to write explanatory panels for a collection of photographs from the Pictures of the Year International archives, now being shown in the lobby of the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute and called, “The Human Face of Disease.” Students from all over the world worked in teams to tell the story of five infectious diseases that threaten human health and have a non-human face, as well. Each team chose a disease and did their research. Then they began to craft their stories.
Once you know the general outlines of the story, you still need to decide where to start. If you’re telling a group of friends about how you were almost hit by a car crossing Providence at Stewart, do you begin your story in the middle of the road, at the moment when you jump out of the way with a yell? Or do you start further back with an explanation of how you were late to work that morning and failed to make eye contact with the driver of the car?
Similarly, how much do you need to know about malaria in order for the story to have impact? How much do you need to tell so that you don’t feel like you’re glossing over important details, or omitting necessary facts? Is it important, for example, for your readers to know that malaria is transmitted to humans via mosquitos (the non-human face of the disease)? What about the fact that it’s just the female mosquito or that transmission occurs in the form of a parasite? Why are you telling this story, anyway? So that people will know more things, or so they will take action (in which case, perhaps your story should focus on prevention strategies)? Is it so they will care?
The students did a terrific job and I think if you visit the exhibit, you will care. You may also be reminded that even tellers of true tales and holders of amazing facts are faced with the same blank page, and myriad choices, when they sit down to write a story, as are those working in the realm of imagination.
Lise Saffran is the Director of the Master of Public Health Program at MU and a writer of fiction and creative nonfiction. In SP16 she will be teaching a course, “Storytelling in Public Health and Public Policy.” http://lisesaffran.com/
A few weeks ago, I blogged about my reading life. I left you, dear reader, when I was young and single in New York City, a halcyon period in my life. In 1998, I married and moved to London. In 2001, I had my first baby.
When it came time to deliver my first child, I packed a novel in my suitcase to take with me to the hospital. It was an Agatha Christie novel—some light reading. I’ll spare you the gory details, but after 44 hours of labor, an emergency c-section, and a baby in intensive care, I discovered I had no interest in reading.
The good news is that my son was absolutely fine and the size of a Christmas turkey. I too was eventually fine although I felt the aftershocks of the event for a long, long time. He’s 14 now and considerably bigger than a turkey. My ten-year-old daughter came into the world in a much gentler fashion than her brother, and I remember resuming reading almost from the very first days, as we shared the silence of late-night feedings on the couch.
But reading as I had known it, a solitary pleasure that I took for granted, became something else entirely with motherhood. Oh sure, I read a lot. I read a lot of baby manuals. I also read to the baby—both babies—from the start. It’s funny how vividly I recall that Goodnight Moon used to sit on the radiator next to the rocking chair in my son’s room. And some of the greatest hits, such as Pat the Bunny, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt can provoke a nostalgic sigh from me and from both kids even today.
We had baskets of books. We had cloth books, books for the bath, books that hooked on the stroller. We had compendia of Curious George, Beatrix Potter, and the blasted Reverend W. Awdry, the prolific author of the Thomas the Tank Engine books, later voiced for British television by Ringo Starr. By the time he was about 18 months old, my son’s favorite game was to stand on the sofa and drop puzzle pieces down the back, solemnly declaiming, “the train plunged down the ravine.”
Of course, babies grow into bigger versions of themselves every day. Suddenly they are learning to read for themselves. That’s a different process for every child, I guess. My son seemed to spend months practicing reading single words with me in the car: “exit,” “stop,” “tiger.” My daughter, in her usual fashion, seemed to study quietly to herself until one day she could just read.
But I always read aloud to them. For a long time, I read to the little one for half an hour before her bedtime and then to the bigger one for half an hour before his bedtime, not to mention at various points throughout the day. Then there was a golden period when they could enjoy, or at least tolerate, the same books before bed. Ramona Quimby was a favorite character, as was Junie B. Jones. Sitting on the porch swing as long as the weather permitted, I read, they listened. In the car, we spent a lot of time with the Smothers Brothers, particularly Aesop’s Fables. (The Smothers Brothers have given us jokes that have stayed with us to this day. It’s not unusual for my daughter to shout in her best Tommy Smothers voice: “MOM ALWAYS LIKED YOU BEST.”)
I don’t recall exactly when each child took over his or her own reading. Probably with the Harry Potter series for my son around the age of eight, and that’s probably about right for my daughter too. And as the children grew older and more autonomous, I got to reclaim some of my own reading life. This was (and still is) usually limited to an hour or so after everyone is in bed. Sometimes I luck out and get an entire airplane trip to myself to read, or a quiet Saturday afternoon.
This summer marked a milestone. While on vacation, my son and I swapped books. I had just finished Station Eleven, which is our local library’s One Read pick, and I handed it over to him to read. He had just finished an Aleksander Hemon novel and he handed that to me. And my daughter and I listened to the audio version of To Kill a Mockingbird together. My children have always been my reading partners in one way or another, and I’ve liked each and every epoch so far. I can’t wait for the next chapter.
Christina Bramon is the Web Editor of The Missouri Review.
In less than forty-eight hours, our Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize contest will close to entries. Two weeks ago we extended the deadline because we know how writers are—they mean to get around to entering; they have it on their calendar, but then suddenly they have forty fiction portfolios to grade; or their freezer dies and they have to go to Big Box to buy another; or the evil naysayer on their back, enemy of all writers everywhere, gets his claws in and convinces them not to bother. We wanted to give those writers a chance to rebound—grade the papers, buy the freezer, shake off the demon and take the chance.
Already, I’ve been dipping into the entries and reading. Each year, I mostly read essays, though I will read some of the fiction as well. Every year I embark on the reading with a sense of expectation. Somewhere in that stack—which used to be a literal pile of manuscripts and is now a primarily digital “pile,”—is a winner. And there are the finalists, several of which we will almost certainly publish.
As with reading the slush pile, it’s a hunt for a mysterious quarry. Not one of us who reads for the contest has any idea what we are going to find or what will win. Every year, subjects and themes are different. One year in the ’90s, there were so many essays about kids dying that I just wanted to stop reading and go to bed. In a more recent year, a striking percentage of the essays dealt with terrible breakups and abandonments: I had to wonder how many seemingly happy adults were walking around with invisible wounds from love gone wrong.
I will never forget the year that the winning essay was first out of the gate. It was a snail-mailed piece, and I picked it off the top of the pile and was instantly charmed. Still, after I read it, knowing how good it was, I read every other essay in the queue—evaluating, reassessing. Sometimes it dropped down a few places as I read other essays that were also stylish, also fascinating. The most pleasurable thing about reading all those essays is the range of subjects: nature, technology, travel, culture, art, prisons, family, health, death, history—you get the idea. And a lot of other less promising, less expected subjects that become marvelous through the exercise of good writers’ imaginations.
A long time ago, I worked briefly as a wedding photographer. I wasn’t suited for it, but it had the great virtue of being a job where I encountered happy people. They were getting married! They were wearing beautiful clothes! They were having a big party for everyone they knew! In the daily sometimes-tedium of what we do—reading so much material and having to send so many rejections—the Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize contest offers a bit of that wedding feel. It makes people happy. When it’s all over, I will be communicating with the winners and finalists. The finalists will be happy to be recognized for their strong work. The winners will be thrilled because they’ve won. They’ll come to Columbia to read to a lot of people in nice clothes, who will be throwing a party for them and giving them a chunk of money.
There will be entrants who are let down that this time it was not their hour. But I like to believe that if you are writing hard, and a lot, and entering your work in competition or sending it out persistently, you are not always going to be a bridesmaid (terribly anti-feminist, that metaphor, isn’t it?)
The contest has always been about writers—finding good ones, helping them with a cash prize that goes above what we can ordinarily afford to pay for deserving work. Giving them some extra recognition to boost a career or the flagging spirits that every writer has to contend with. Once again, we’re excited to see what is going to happen . . . .