2020 Miller Audio Prize Runner-Up in Prose: “End of the World” by Rachael Cerrotti
Today’s 2020 Miller Audio Prize feature is Rachael Cerrotti’s “End of the World.” Cerrotti’s project was selected by 2020 Miller Audio Guest Judge Alex Sujong Laughlin as the runner-up for the prize in our Prose category. We are thrilled to be able to share it with you below.
Rachael Cerrotti is an award-winning photographer, writer, educator and producer whose work explores the intergenerational impact of migration and memory. She has been published and featured by NPR, PRI’s The World, WBUR, WGBH, amongst others, as well on podcasts such as Kind World and Israel Story. In the fall of 2019, she released a narrative podcast, titled We Share The Same Sky, about her decade-long journey to retrace her grandmother’s Holocaust survival story. It was listed as one of the best podcasts of the year by HuffPost and as a “Show We Love” by Apple Podcasts; it is now being taught in high school classrooms around the country. Rachael has a forthcoming memoir set to be published in the fall of 2021 and works as a creative producer for USC Shoah Foundation.
Listen to “End of the World” below:
In 2009, I asked my grandmother, Hana, to tell me her story. I knew she was a Holocaust survivor and the only one in her family. I knew she survived because of the kindness of strangers. It wasn’t a secret. She spoke about her history publicly and regularly. But, I wanted to record it as she would tell it from grandmother to granddaughter. So, for a year we did exactly this. She talked and I wrote. After she passed away in 2010, I discovered a most beautiful archive of her life. It was everything she had told me, curated and edited. There were preserved albums and hundreds of photographs dating back to the 1920s. There were letters waiting to be translated, journals, diaries, deportation and immigration papers. There were pieces of creative writings from various stages of her life—some marked up with line edits. There were repeated stories—some written at age fourteen and others at age eighty. There were anecdotes and memories that contradicted each other, bringing in the question of memory to all of her stories.
I digitized and organized it all, plucking it from the past and placing it into my present. Then, in 2014, I began retracing my grandmother’s story across Europe. I tracked down the descendants of those who helped save her life during the war. I went out in pursuit of her memory.
We Share The Same Sky is the story of this journey. Presented by USC Shoah Foundation and co-produced with Erika Lantz, the podcast is an intimate portrait of family history. It is the first narrative podcast to be based on a Holocaust survivor’s testimony (and my first experience producing audio storytelling). This piece, “End of the World,” is the fourth episode in the seven-episode series and tells the story of my visit to Sobibor extermination camp.
2020 Miller Audio Prize Runner-Up in Poetry: “Complete” by Troy Varvel
This week begins our featuring of the runners-up in each category of the 2020 Miller Audio Prize. We’re so excited to feature Troy Varvel‘s “Complete” today, which was selected by 2020 Guest Judge Alex Sujong Laughlin as the runner-up this year in the poetry category.
Troy Varvel is the author of the forthcoming chapbook Licking the Splinter (Kelsay Books). He earned his MFA from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and his work has appeared or is forthcoming in Crab Creek Review, Dialogist, Iron Horse Literary Review, River Styx, and Yemassee, among others. Troy lives and teaches in the Texas Hill Country. Find out more at www.troyvarvel.com.
Listen to “Complete” by Troy Varvel below:
A lot of the poetry that I write comes from my experience with a speech impediment—a stutter—that I’ve had ever since I could speak. In this way, poetry is a place for me to examine fluency, disruptions, full-blocks and starting over on the page to see what sounds and rhythms arise from this sort of frustration.
Toward the end of my second year in the MFA program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, I was sitting in the office that I shared with one of my good friends and closest readers, Ian Moeckel (who appears as the second voice in this poem), and he looked up at me and said something along the lines of, “You should try writing your stutters the way that they occur in real life. As line breaks. It’ll force the reader to hear them.”
My mind was blown.
Later that day I sat in the library and drafted out what would become “Complete.” Dialogist was kind enough to publish the poem and the recording in January 2020. As for the recording itself, Pinckney Benedict, a fiction professor at SIU, has championed integrating audio and sound into the MFA program and into our own writing. He has worked hard to provide for writers at SIU the resources needed to produce quality work.
2019 Miller Audio Prize Runner-Up in Prose: “How to Survive a Fire” by Rachel Ann Brickner
We are so excited to share with you the 2019 Miller Audio Prize Runner-Up in Prose: “How to Survive a Fire” by Rachel Ann Brickner, selected by 2019 Guest Judge Cher Vincent. The Miller Audio Prize is a Spring contest that recognizes winners and runners-up in the four genres of poetry, prose, humor, and audio documentary.
About “How to Survive a Fire“:
Trauma can be one of the most isolating experiences we have as human beings despite it being something that touches us all. I wanted to find a way to tell a story about moving from that isolation to connection–with self, nature, and others. As I explored audio as a medium, I experienced it as whole-body–visual, auditory, linguistic–physical and intellectual. Audio allows me to feel in ways that the page can’t quite achieve. Working with sound allowed me to intimately communicate feelings and experiences I never thought I’d be able to express in a way that finally felt true and real to me.
Listen to “How to Survive a Fire” below:
Rachel Ann Brickner is a writer and multimedia artist from Pittsburgh. Most recently her work has appeared at Joyland, Kenyon Review Online, and Columbia Journal. Her audio essay, “How to Survive a Fire,” first appeared at The Talking Book. Currently, she’s at work on her first novel. You can see more of her work at rachelannbrickner.com.
Miller Audio Prize Runner-Up in Humor: “8 Missed Calls” by Will Holcomb
We are so excited to share with you the 2019 Miller Audio Prize Runner-Up in Humor: “8 Missed Calls” by Will Holcomb, selected by 2019 Guest Judge Cher Vincent. The Miller Audio Prize is a Spring contest that recognizes winners and runners-up in the four genres of poetry, prose, humor, and audio documentary.
About “8 Missed Calls“:
“8 Missed Calls” has its roots in a nightmare of mine I’m fortunate to have only had the once, and grew up through several dense strata of private anxieties about negative space, sizes of infinity, and the weight the two may or may not bear on human ethics. Also, leaving messages for someone you aren’t sure will ever answer felt like the ideal genre for an audio story about trying to reckon with cosmic terror. All of this, in turn, is superb fuel for Jokes.
Listen to “8 Missed Calls” below:
Will Holcomb, also known as O. Hybridity, is the author of Shop Talk (as seen in Daily Science Fiction) and Teratoscope, a serial, digitally-published bestiary. They are also a freelance editor, most notably for the Seven Seas release of Toradora. They were born in Kirksville, MO in the summer of 1994, completed the Truman State University BFA in Creative Writing, and are concluding the MFA Fiction program at SIUC. Their national bird is the lammergeier, and their primary exports are rare earth elements and conspiracies against rational paradigms.
Miller Audio Prize Runner-Up in Audio Documentary: “The Story of the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ ‘Oh Happy Day,’” by Alex Lewis
We are so excited to share with you the 2019 Miller Audio Prize Runner-Up in Audio Documentary: “The Story of the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ ‘Oh Happy Day,’” by Alex Lewis, selected by 2019 Guest Judge Cher Vincent. The Miller Audio Prize is a Spring contest that awards winners in the four genres of poetry, prose, humor, and audio documentary.
About “The Story of the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ ‘Oh Happy Day’”:
Edwin Hawkins, a Grammy Award-winning gospel singer and arranger, passed away in 2018 at the age of 74. He left behind an unmatched legacy, revolutionizing what it means to be a gospel artist. His crowning achievement was bringing his arrangement of “Oh Happy Day,” originally an 18th Century hymn, to wide audiences. The song debuted 50 years ago in 1968 and became the first gospel song to hit the secular charts.
Hawkins’ use of contemporary sounds — a Latin groove, synthesizers, a soul-influenced lead vocal performance — created a new model for gospel music. It opened the door for artists like Aretha Franklin, The Winans and Richard Smallwood to bring the Good News into the secular realm. “Oh Happy Day” has become a gospel standard. It’s been covered by hundreds of artists across genres.
This piece brings together music, archival sounds – including interviews with Edwin Hawkins and radio air checks from the late 1960s and early 1970s – with interviews I recorded last year to highlight the history and legacy of this monumental moment in American music history.
I wrote and produced this audio documentary as part of WXPN’s Gospel Roots of Rock & Soul project. You can listen to the full documentary series hosted by CeCe Winans at xpngospelroots.org.
Listen to “The Story of the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ ‘Oh Happy Day,’” below:
Alex Lewis is a Philadelphia-based independent radio producer and musician. He produces radio stories, audio documentaries, podcasts, & public radio programs.
He’s written and produced longform audio documentaries including Saturday Night & Sunday Morning: The Gospel Roots of Rock & Soul – with WXPN and NPR Music – and Going Black: The Legacy of Philly Soul Radio (winner of a 2015 National Edward R. Murrow Award). He also produces The Dig, a podcast from Jacobin Magazine.
Miller Audio Prize Runner-Up in Poetry: “Moses Boys” by Rohan Ayinde
We are so excited to share with you the 2019 Miller Audio Prize Runner-Up in Poetry: “Moses Boys” by Rohan Ayinde, selected by 2019 Guest Judge Cher Vincent. The Miller Audio Prize is a Spring contest that awards winners and runners-up in the four genres of poetry, prose, humor, and audio documentary.
About “Moses Boys,” Ayinde told us:
These three poems are connected by where I grew up and the stories that ground my experience there in a plethora of ways. What I try to communicate through these pieces is the complexity of experiences that are, too often, framed as singular and/or monolithic. What does it mean to add fragments to the stories we tell, to be able to talk about the mandem as boys, as young men, as malleable subjects whose lives are in process, no different from anyone else other than the contexts out of which they come into being? I think of these poems as moving tableaus, unfixed from the moments that reveal them and emblematic of the ways that we struggle through and come to understand ourselves and the people around us. They are for young black boys who still have to fight for recognition as subjects – caught in the space between ideology and reality and the manifold ways in which that leaves an imprint on their/our lives.
Listen to “Moses Boys” below:
Rohan Ayinde is a Chicago based artist, writer and curator. A recent Masters graduate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago he is the recipient of the New Artist Society Scholarship and The MA Visual and Critical Studies Graduate Fellowship Award. His interdisciplinary work is centered around creating “otherwise” potentials (Ashon Crawley) and in so doing breaking down and simultaneously reconfiguring the ideological architectures that shape our daily and generational lives. Most often the landscapes he explores are rooted in questions about quantum physics, black radical aesthetics and architecture. Rohan is a 2020 Curatorial Fellow with ACRE and has work forthcoming in a publication by Green Lantern Press.
Miller Audio Prize in Poetry: “Doncellas” by Leah V. Gonzalez
This week, we are delighted to share with you “Doncellas” by Leah V. Gonzalez, which was selected by 2019 Guest Judge Cher Vincent as the Poetry Winner in the 2019 Miller Audio Contest. The Miller Audio Prize is open to artists composing in the genres of Prose, Audio Documentary, Humor and Poetry.
Of “Doncellas,” Gonzalez says:
The moment I scribbled the final “Clean” at the end of my first draft of Doncellas, I knew it was a sacred piece. Doncellas is different from anything I had ever written. It’s full of pride as opposed to pain, power in the form of assurance, culture in the form of universal existence. It’s a play on a lifelong stereotype: Latina women as housemaids.
All of the maids in Manhattan siamese twinned together and robotically moving in unison…only they compare. The language used in that first verse is pure wordplay, used in order to introduce the immense magnitude that is women in my family. Watch the divinity of fabuloso all over crooks and crevices, miraculous miracles as unmesses. I’m celebrating this stereotype, this act of cleaning.
As the poem proceeds, I introduce the players: my mother and sister and the men who celebrate them. My father worships the woman he wed! Slowly, Doncellas is defying not just one stereotype, but all of the ones I face as a Puerto Rican American. But, there can be no defiance without an understanding of history. This is precisely why the tale of my ancestors has to be spoken. The shortest of summaries of my island’s history explains to the listener why this celebration is significant. You hear about the seemingly endless colonization, the difficulty of assimilating to a new country: when they struggled with the sounds of uncertain, closed curtain, illogical ingles / when they began to change the way they dressed / when they didn’t realize as citizens they remained oppressed.
The poem comes to a close by declaring that my family and our people have risen, and will continue to rise despite all obstacles. Including that of my own, experienced today: [they] compared me to Sofia Vergara and I scrubbed that / my tongue contains multitudes / my linguistic skill is overused. Finally, Doncellas circles back to my mother and sister, this time not as women cleaning but instead as vital aspects of nature, of growth. My mother the sun, my sister the water… watch as I blossom into my ancestors wildest dreams. The final line quotes the infamous song about the Puerto Rican flag, a final declaration of pride: Que Bonita Bandera.
Doncellas was written to be heard. I used both alliteration and assonance, and strategically placed emphatic pauses throughout each verse. My good friend and audio engineer Max Rice put together an introduction mash-up mix of island oceans, shouting vacuums, and a dream-like echo to set the stage for the journey that is Doncellas. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I have. Visual coming soon!
Listen to “Doncellas” below:
Leah Vanessa is a Puerto Rican performance poet born and raised in the Bronx, New York. She began writing at the tender age of seven, having been drawn to Shel Silverstein and entranced by other New York City poets. After receiving her degree in English and Professional Writing, she began to submit for publication to various literary magazines. When faced with rejection, Leah began to experiment with spoken word poetry. She initially began her performance career by relentlessly attending open mic’s throughout New York City, most notably the historical Nuyorican Poets Cafe. As she continued to challenge her comfort zone, she experimented with collaborations with hip hop artists and musicians. Eventually, she discovered the organization she is currently Resident Poet for: the Inspired Word. Most recently, she’s headlined three shows at the Triad Theater. Leah’s work reflects upon the female identity, culture shock, eroticism, and generational history. You can follow her everywhere @LeahVspeaks and LeahVspeaks.com.
The Miller Audio Prize – Currently Accepting Submissions!
Our 11th Annual Miller Audio Prize is now open! $4000 in prizes across four categories: prose, poetry, humor, and audio documentary. Enter today! Deadline: March 15, 2018.
Announcing the Winners of the 2014 Audio Contest
Please join us in congratulating the winners and runners-up of this year’s audio competition! Winners were selected in collaboration with our guest judge, independent producer, engineer, and musician Brendan Baker. Stay tuned for these pieces to be released as featured podcasts on TMR‘s Soundbooth in August and September.
1st place in Poetry: “Diary of Collected Summers” by Sam Roderick Roxas-Chua
Runner-up in Poetry: poems by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie
1st place in Prose: Steve De Jarnatt’s short story “Eggtooth”
Runner-up in Prose: Joshua Wheeler’s radio essay “Ugly Pew”
1st place in Audio Documentary: Abby Wendle and Sarah Geis for “To be Normal”
Runner-up in Audio Documentary: Diane Hope for “Lonely Nights”
Special thanks to judge Brendan Baker; Contest Assistant Editor Tyler Talbott; our amazing contest interns Anne Barngrover, Morgan Denlow, and Brandon Grammer; and the rest of the TMR staff. It was another great year for submissions, and they were a pleasure to listen to. If you didn’t place this year, we hope you will consider submitting in 2015, and again, a big congratulations to our winners!
Interview with the Contest Editors
*Everything you always wanted to know about the Missouri Review Editor’s Prize Contest–super-intern Alex interviews Claire McQuerry and Mike Petrik*
It’s the contest season for TMR. For a few months there were near daily tweets and status updates about the contest throughout TMR’s social media network, and a little over a month ago we even interviewed the Contest Assistant about what differentiated the contest from normal submissions. As the Contest Editors for the magazine, can you tell us what makes TMR’s contest special, or why authors should submit their work to the contest opposed to the normal submission process? What rewards and prestige accompany winning TMR’s contest?
Well, for one thing, the $5,000 isn’t bad. Thanks to our generous donor, Jeffrey Smith, this contest has one of the largest prizes of any literary journal contest in the country. We also fly our winners out to Columbia for an awards gala and reading, and of course feature their work in our prize issue each spring. Additionally, the Editor’s Prize has been around now for 22 years, so it’s well-known—a prestigious contest to win. I know the contest has helped to kick-start a few writers’ careers. Winners range from first timers (last year’s winning story was a first publication for Yuko Sakata, for instance) to more established writers. Many of our winners, in fact, are emerging writers. And lastly, all entries are considered for publication in TMR, so even if a piece doesn’t place in the contest, it still may wind up as a feature in the journal. (Claire)
It has also been said, and tweeted quite frequently, that TMR’s contest is great for new writers:
Why is this, or why would the contest be a good place to start for newer authors? What sort of credentials accompany winning that can carry a new author into the world of literary publishing?
This contest is great for newer authors for a few reasons. The first is the exposure it comes with. Not only do winners get their work distributed in the Editor’s Prize Edition of TMR to all our subscribers (which include all their fellow contest entrants), but TMR also pays for the winning authors to travel to Columbia, MO to read their work and be celebrated for a few days.
In addition a number of TMR’s contest winners have gone on to have their work anthologized in places like the Best American and Pushcart anthologies. Further, we believe that by winning our authors works are joining the ranks of a group of fantastic previous winning poets, essayists, and fiction writers. (Mike)
Would winning carry the same prowess for already established authors? Should established authors still submit to the contest?
We think that all the same dividends would be equally beneficial for established authors, and our previous winners include both writers for whom this is a first publication and those with multiple well-received books. Again, our prize is able to offer our winners exposure to our subscribers, who we think are pretty great. (Mike)
Considering submissions for the contest recently closed, what happens now?
Well, we’re working hard to judge the entries right now, so our contest entrants can expect to get the results in early January. In the meantime, folks who are interested in entering the 2013 contest can check out the guidelines here: http://www.missourireview.com/tmrsubmissions/editors-prize-contest/ and start working on those winning entries for next year. (Claire)
Are the contest submissions kept separate from the normal TMR submissions? About how many manuscripts are generally received?
Yes—we have a separate email account, reading team (about 8 people), and even office staff for the contest submissions. If I told you how many submissions we receive, I’d have to kill you, Alex, and that would likely get me involved in a feud with Ari, which would slow down the judging of the contest. We get a lot though. What I want to know is why we get submissions from every state except for Hawaii. In my three years of coordinating this contest, I have only ever come across one submission from Hawaii. What do Hawaiians have against The Editor’s Prize? (Claire)
How are the different manuscripts organized once received (e.g., genre, length, etc.)? As the review process starts, how are these manuscripts separated and eventually narrowed down to choose a winner?
We sort the entries by genre first. As we read, we set aside entries that might be finalist/winner potential in a special bin in our office. At the end of the initial screening cycle, we do a reading blitz in which we identify the top 20 or so manuscripts in each genre. These get passed on to Speer, and he selects winners and finalists out of these top contenders. (Claire)
Do you and your Contest Interns begin reviewing the contest submissions before the submission process closes?
Yes—we start reading in early September. However, entering earlier or later doesn’t change anyone’s chances of winning; early entries just make the judges lives easier. (Claire)
To your knowledge, how does editing for contest differ from editing for normal publication?
Well, for one thing, because we’re having to read so many submissions in such a short timeframe, we don’t have the luxury of being able to respond personally to the submissions we can’t take. When editing for regular publication, I like to send comments if there’s something that particularly moves or interests me in a submission, but I don’t have the time to do that when reading contest submissions. Additionally, when considering general submissions, especially towards publication time, editors often begin to think in terms of the issue as a whole—is there a theme emerging, is there a good diversity of voices presented, etc. With the contest, on the other hand, we just want the strongest pieces of work we can find. (Claire)
Speaking of the Interns, while we frequently poke fun at the Intern stereotype on Twitter, in reality how instrumental are they in the contest selection and editing processes? What sort of responsibilities do the Contest Interns hold that differentiate them from other Interns at TMR? What sort of responsibilities do they hold that might simply be surprising to our readers?
Meh, we pretend that they are integral, but really we contest editors do it all. Ok, ok, we foresee a revolt if we don’t take that back. The interns are crucial to the contest process, and we are definitely lucky to have contest interns who are such competent readers in their respective genres. Reading is the main responsibility for our interns, and they do a heck of a lot of it—around 15-25 submissions a week to help us get through the thousands of works we receive.
One surprising aspect of their reading for readers might be that the interns aren’t just first screeners, but pass submissions back and forth to one another and are even passed work by the contest editors to get their opinion. So they are evaluating submissions along with the editors even up until the top 20 or so are being established.
Beyond reading, our interns also help out a lot with the advertising and submission solicitation that happens in the early span of the contest. Maybe a bit less exciting, but just as important in getting us lots of great submissions. (Mike)
Once the winners are finally selected, what happens next? Is there a special publication for them, or an award ceremony?
Yes! We feature them in our contest issue (Spring) and fly them out for our Editor’s Prize Gala, which happens in March or April. (Claire)
Is there anything else involved with the contest that might be surprising to our readers? Anything else that you do as editors that might not be well known?
Shameless plug, but I think many of our readers might be surprised that our Editor’s Prize Contest isn’t the only contest we run here at TMR. We also have an Audio Contest with prizes in Poetry, Prose, and Audio Documentary categories. This contest is run in the Spring, and we are accepting submissions already. If interested, our previous winners can be found here: http://www.missourireview.com/audiovisual/past-winners/.
So that is a major additional task for the contest editors here at TMR. Beyond that (and probably less surprising) we are both writers who are going through the same process of sending work out and submitting to contests, which we hope makes us compassionate and thorough readers of the submissions we receive, and also just makes us excited to read the work of our peers in the literary world. (Mike)