2020 Miller Audio Prize Runner-Up in Audio Documentary: “Going Home: Voices of the Condemned” by Pinckney Benedict

This week, we are so excited to feature “Going Home: Voices of the Condemned” by Pinckney Benedict and Anthony Nalker, which was selected by 2020 Miller Audio Prize Guest Judge Alex Sujong Laughlin as the runner-up this year in the Audio Documentary category.

Pinckney Benedict grew up on his family’s dairy farm in West Virginia. His stories have been published in, among other places, Esquire, the O. Henry Award series, the Pushcart Prize series, the Best New Stories from the South series, and The Oxford Book of the American Short Story. He is a fiction professor in the creative writing program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where he has recently originated a podcasting lab, a virtual reality lab, and a game design lab for student writers.

Anthony Nalker performs widely in Washington, D.C., currently serving as jazz pianist with the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra Pops. From 1989-2016 Tony was the pianist of the premiere jazz ensemble of the U.S. Army, the Army Blues, and served as the group’s enlisted leader. Nalker played for the highest levels of the U.S. government and military and performed on USO tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as State Department sponsored musical diplomacy tours to Russia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. Nalker has also composed several works for various settings, including a commission by The National Gallery of Art for a children’s multimedia work about Henri Matisse and a musical adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. He received his undergraduate degree from James Madison University and an M.A. from the University of Iowa.

Listen to “Going Home: Voices of the Condemned” below:

Artist Statement – Pinckney Benedict

I spend a good bit of time reading epitaphs, elegies, NTSB transcripts of aircraft accidents, and the last words of famous, infamous, and non-famous people. When I spoke about this habit with my friend and long-time collaborator, the composer Tony Nalker, he suggested that we should create a musical piece using verbatim the words of people who were facing imminent execution. We’ve attempted to create out of this stark material something both dramatic and factual, without polemic. Tony’s music is fluid and beautiful, and with any luck the piece evokes both sadness and surprise.

Artist Statement – Anthony Nalker

Pinckney and I are long-time collaborators, going back to our teen years growing up in rural West Virginia. This project, made at his suggestion, seemed like an interesting and new way for us to combine our disciplines using cutting edge technology. Utilizing the 19th century American folk song “Going Home” for the underscore of the work, I first recorded a virtual choir as a bed, slowly morphing through different keys, trying to not overshadow the text. I then added a jazz-influenced piano line, adding some audio processing to help create the distant and ethereal nature of the piece. “Going Home” is often sung/played at funerals and is a theme used in Antonin Dvorak’s New World Symphony.

2020 Miller Audio Prize in Audio Documentary: “Climb When Ready” by Arlie Adlington

Arlie Adlington’s “Climb When Ready” was selected by 2020 Miller Audio Prize Guest Judge Alex Sujong Laughlin as the winner of this year’s Miller Audio Prize in Audio Documentary. We’re so excited to feature Adlington’s winning submission in its entirety below.

Arlie Adlington is an audio producer based in London. He has worked on documentaries and podcasts for people like BBC Sounds,VICE, Tate, BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio4, Scottee and The Dig. He says, “I’m especially passionate about making queer radio, working with young people and trying to help the audio industry become more diverse and accessible to everyone. A couple of my favourite projects have been co-producing the podcast series ‘NB’ (which aimed to ‘dismantle the gender binary, one big question at a time’), and making podcasts with 16-20 year olds from Brent as part of the London Borough of Culture programme for 2020.”

Here is Adlington’s winning submission, “Climb When Ready”:

Artist Statement

This piece is about climbing and being trans, and how I think those two things go together in a unique and special way. It features my friends Cass Adair and Martha Bennett.

When I made this, I’d been thinking a lot about how stories about trans people – when they’re made by people who aren’t trans themselves – are often very reductive, and sometimes quite objectifying. I think when trans people talk about our lives in our own words, what we have to say is usually much more interesting, and not necessarily what cis people are expecting us to say. So I wanted to make a piece about some stuff that had been on my mind at the time, so there’d be a tiny bit more trans radio in the world.

The piece first aired on the “Sports” episode of Short Cuts, on BBC Radio 4 in November 2019.

2020 Miller Guest Judge in the Spotlight: Alex Sujong Laughlin

2020 Miller Audio Prize Guest Judge Alex Sujong Laughlin shares her journey to becoming an audio producer, the lens through which she sees the world, and how TikTok makes her laugh.

The Missouri Review: To start, could you tell us a little about how you came to be an audio producer? Was this something you always thought you wanted to pursue? What drew you to the medium?

Alex Sujong Laughlin: I’ve been in love with radio since I was little — I would sit in my bedroom floor and listen to NPR while I made collages out of garbage. I discovered my first podcast (The Ben Lee Podcast, RIP) when I was in ninth grade, and I listened to its six episodes on repeat on my iPod during gym class that year. Later on, I discovered This American Life (classic gateway), then RadioLab, and that was it for me. I took a little detour in college and post-grad to work in social media, but I always felt like audio was my home base.

TMR: You teach journalism at Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, you work at Transmitter Media, you helped to create an alarm clock for Google Alexa, you are very active on social media, and the list goes on, yet, you also find time to write. How do you juggle so much at once and still find time for writing? Do you have any tips for those of us who are also trying to carve time out for our writing?

ASJ: It’s extremely hard!!! I don’t want to understate how hard it is!!! My mentor, Marie Myung-Ok Lee, challenged me last year to carve out at least 15 minutes every day to work on my WIP, and once I started doing that, I found I could get so many more words on the page. Still, there are ebbs and flows. I had a massive deadline at work that took up a ton of time and brain space over the last month, so I haven’t made as much time to write as I did in months prior. It’s been important for me to learn to forgive myself for time not spent being “productive.” Sometimes I just need to sleep, and if I don’t do that first, my art will not be good!

TMR: You’ve done a lot of work that explores the concepts of race and identity, including your podcast, “Other: Mixed Race in America.” How do your thoughts on identity factor into your creative pursuits?

ASJ: I’m a mixed race, Korean and white woman who grew up in a middle class military family of divorce with a Korean immigrant mother. That is the only way I have experienced the world, and even though I read and research and interview folks, everything I make is created through that lens. I try to be aware of the blind spots that arise from that, but I also hope to represent the nuances of this particular intersection of identities. I published “Other” three years ago, but I still get emails from people telling me that it was the first time they’d seen themselves represented in media, and that it inspired them to tell their own stories. That is the best response I could have hoped for from that show, and it’s what I aim for with every piece of work I publish.

TMR: Now we’re going to do the thing that all writers do and ask you to tell us about your favorite books. We know you’ve compiled reading lists for your followers in the past; are there essential books/texts that always make your list?  

ASJ: Oh my gosh, Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel is practically a religious text for me. All of Ruth Ozeki’s work is amazing — I can’t even pick one book. Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing turned my brain inside out last summer. I return to Anaïs Nin’s diaries in between other books — I love reading published diaries and hers are gorgeously written. I also have a deep love for all things Carson McCullers – we went to the same high school in South Georgia, and I always felt a kinship with her. I recently read Reflections in a Golden Eye and was tickled by the extremely accurate descriptions the houses I grew up in on Ft. Benning.

TMR: One of our categories that you will be judging in the Miller Audio Prize is humor, and we love that your social media handles (and website!) are “@alexlaughs.” We’ve got to ask: What makes you laugh, and what makes you laugh in a way that makes you want to hear the bit again?

ASJ: I have a really juvenile sense of humor. I feel like 2008-era Tumblr memes and Spongebob Squarepants are the roots of my humor… which is not cool, but I don’t care. TikTok always gets me laughing to tears. My sister and I discovered this video over Christmas break and it BROKE us for two weeks. Why is it called “pants hair”?!? Why is she standing like that in the picture?! I can’t explain it, and I am sorry.

TMR: A hard reality that all writers and artists have to deal with is rejection and you’re doing this incredible thing by collecting those stories @hellorejection. What is one of the most memorable stories about rejection that you’ve collected? Did it change the way you personally think about rejection?

ASJ: I think just seeing the accumulation of all the stories has been really comforting to me. We all know that everyone experiences rejection, but when you’re in the thick of it, it can really feel like you’re the only talentless reject in the world, and that you should probably give up. It’s comforting to see the feelings I’ve had reflected in so many other people across industries and disciplines. It’s a reminder to keep going!

TMR: And of course, as writers ourselves, we want to know if you have any advice for other artists/writers dealing with their own rejection?

ASJ: Just to remember that it’s part of the process, you’re not the only person going through it — and submit your screenshots to @hellorejection 😉

TMR: We couldn’t sign off without asking some questions about the adorable Pangur Bán that we’ve been seeing a lot of on your Instagram page. Can you tell us about his name? When is he at his most adorable?

ASJ: We usually call him Pong or Pongey, but we named him after a cat in an Old Irish poem written by a monk. My partner is in grad school, and we anticipated that the two of them would spend a lot of their days together in the apartment. Here’s an excerpt of the poem translated by Auden:

Pangur, white Pangur, How happy we are

Alone together, scholar and cat

Each has his own work to do daily;

For you it is hunting, for me study.

Your shining eye watches the wall;

My feeble eye is fixed on a book.

You rejoice, when your claws entrap a mouse;

I rejoice when my mind fathoms a problem.

Pleased with his own art, neither hinders the other;

Thus we live ever without tedium and envy.

Turns out, cats are little terrors, but Pong definitely has his moments when he crawls into bed while I’m reading and snuggles up with me.

Alex Sujong Laughlin is a journalist and writer who works in multiple mediums. By day, she works at a producer at Transmitter Media, and in her spare time she writes fiction and essays about identity and technology. She teaches interactive journalism at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism and collects rejection letters at @hellorejection.

Enter the 2020 Miller Audio Prize on our Contest page here.

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.


Miller Audio Prize