American Literary Review

2012 Fiction Contest

Here is what Hannah Tinti, who judged the fiction contest blindly, thought of the winning story, Dustin Parsons' "What Magic I've Saved" and the runner-up, Lydia Kann's "The Sweetness of the Vine."

I DID MY READING for this contest where I do nearly all of my reading these days: on the New York City subway system. It's a very different place from Denton, Texas, where these stories were created, but a perfect spot to give any piece of writing a trial by fire. On any given day I'm surrounded by pan-handlers, broken speakers squawking announcements, kids selling candy, teenagers break-dancing in the aisles, people eating falafels and fried chicken, children crying, traveling mariachi bands, religious nuts proselytizing, and tourists speaking Swahili. There is every possible distraction to lift my eyes from the page, and if a story keeps my attention through all of that chaos, it's a great sign.

I'm happy to say these two pieces both made it through the "New York City Subway" test. "The Sweetness of the Vine" is a heart-wrenching first person account of an older woman, overcoming two "endings": the death of her mother, and her own divorce. The language is what stood out the most to me in this piece--there were so many beautiful sentences--and the way the author jumped around in time, to flash into different memories, was an interesting structure. Both worked very well to capture the narrator's emotional state and felt very authentic and true.

"What Magic I've Saved" reminded me of Raymond Carver's "Why Don't You Dance?" But this piece takes the yard-sale divorce story to another level. The narrator is selling all of his magic tricks--including the box that his wife disappeared into and never returned from. Was it magic, or did his wife simply leave him? The reader is kept on tenterhooks until the very end.

Each of these stories was unique and had its own special qualities. I wasn't sure how I was going to choose between them, and so I put them away and then a week later, thought about them again. Which story did I remember most vividly? Which one had dug its hooks into my consciousness? When I asked myself these questions the winner nudged ahead, and won by a nose: "What Magic I've Saved." Out of the two stories, this one hit home the most. I was entranced by the detailing of the magic tricks, as well as the emotional punch as the "magic" of the couple's relationship drains away.

Congratulations to the winner, and to the runner-up. Thanks for writing these wonderful stories.

Hannah Tinti's first novel, The Good Thief, was published in 2008, received the American Library Association's Alex Award and the John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize. She also published a short story collection, Animal Crackers, which was among the runners-up for the PEN/Hemingway Award. The editor of One Story magazine, she received the PEN/Nora Magid Award for Magazine Editing in 2009.

2012 Creative Nonfiction Contest

Here is what Abigail Thomas, who judged the creative nonfiction contest blindly, thought of the winning piece, Robert Long Foreman's "Carlo."

CHOOSING WAS HARD. Each essay had something to offer, whether it was the fooling around with form, or the originality of the voice, or the subject matter. But I pay attention when a piece of writing makes me laugh out loud and I'm still laughing two days later over "Carlo." The voice is wonderful, poignant and witty and laugh out loud funny. Every sentence is worth reading twice, but the style doesn't call attention to itself, it's not showing off. It's natural, all of a piece, and a pleasure to read, even if it does bring back one's own memories of how hideously hilariously uncomfortable it was to be an adolescent.

Abigail Thomas, the daughter of renowned science writer Lewis Thomas (The Lives of a Cell), is the mother of four children and the grandmother of twelve. Her academic education stopped when, pregnant with her oldest daughter, she was asked to leave Bryn Mawr during her first year. She's lived most of her life on Manhattan's Upper West Side, and was for a time a book editor and for another time a book agent. Then she started writing for publication. Her memoir, A Three Dog Life, was named one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. She is also author of Safekeeping, a memoir, and Thinking About Memoir.