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:

Artist Statement

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 in Prose: “The Bird I Held in My Hand: Claudia, 41” by M.D. Reynolds

“The Bird I Held in my Hand: Claudia, 41” by M.D. Reynolds was chosen as this year’s Miller Audio Prize winner in the Prose category by our 2020 Guest Judge, Alex Sujong Laughlin. We’re thrilled to be able to share with you Reynold’s winning project in its entirety below.

M.D. Reynolds is a writer, filmmaker, and the author of a curious little photobook/public art project called Jetsam. He was born in Washington, DC, educated at NYU and Goldsmith’s College, University of London, and has directed a number of short films that have screened around the world. He spends his spare time gobbling vegan baked goods and supporting Arsenal FC. His home is Los Angeles, CA.

Listen to “The Bird I Held in my Hand: Claudia, 41” by M.D. Reynolds here:

Artist Statement

We all hang onto little totems of past relationships as a kind of symbolic tether to the relationship itself.  Every love letter or photograph or ticket stub secreted away in the back of a drawer rekindles the story of how you came to have it: the day you and X went here, saw this, tasted that, the laughter or tears or raised voices that linger in memory.  They’re a connection to the “who” you were in the wisps of a Capital-Y Yesterday.  But why do we keep them?  What is this “why” that keeps us looking backward?  That keeps us holding onto the past?

Claudia, 41, and the other stories that comprise The Bird I Held in My Hand, are explorations of emotionally resonant, kept objects.  I’m interested in both how their owners acquired them, but also, and more importantly, why they’ve kept them.  The subjects interviewed and the stories they share are of my own invention — they’re scripted and their voices are performed by actors.

To these wider questions, you’ll likely notice I have are no clear answers.  Whether we hold onto the past, believing our memories integral to self and identity, or whether this clinging is part of some unexpressed wish to create a “better yesterday,” I couldn’t tell you.