Creative Writing Prizes 2020

Top, from left: Jer Xiong, Nohemi Samudio Gamis, Carolina Mata, and Bekah Izard. Bottom, from left: Delaney R. Whitebird Olmo, Ceci Hernandez Monjaras, Yia Lee, and Mariah Bosch.

The Fresno State Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing each spring awards its annual Creative Writing Prizes, supported by the Academy of American Poets, the Department of English, and community donors. Each prize is $100. Here are the 2020 award recipients.

Fresno Creative Nonfiction Prize (graduate)

Judge: Donovan Hohn, author of Moby Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea

Recipient: Jer Xiong, for the essay “Calling”

Judge’s comments: “I greatly admire the way Jer’s essay sifts history, language, culture, literature, and memory, collecting and arranging those details and moments that might illuminate the writer’s conflicted and at times bewildering experiences as the daughter of Hmong immigrants in America. Addressing her younger self in the second person, the writer finds a musically expressive voice with an impressive tonal range. The portrait of her brother and of her struggle to guide him—rescue him, even—lends the essay narrative and emotional force.”

Prize supported by: Friends of the Creative Writing Program



Fresno Creative Nonfiction Prize (undergraduate)

Judge: Donovan Hohn, author of Moby Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea

Recipient: Nohemi Samudio Gamis, for the essay “Skipping Stones”

Judge’s comments: “This isn’t a memoir but an essay about memory and its lapses. Beautifully, the essay’s form enacts its subject: remembering for Nohemi is like skipping stones, each memory a bright splash separated by an interval of forgetting, and so she makes her sentences and paragraphs skip. Forgetting for her is a symptom of exile. It’s her family’s past in Mexico, above all, that she wishes she could recover. She can’t, but in these few pages, she succeeds in burnishing the memories she still has while reckoning the loss of those she’s forgotten.”

Prize supported by: Friends of the Creative Writing Program



Fresno Fiction Prize (graduate)

Judge: Ethan Chatagnier, author of Warnings From the Future

Recipient: Carolina Mata, for the story “The Great Storyteller”

Judge’s comments: “In ‘The Great Storyteller,’ Carolina binds the magic of the fairytale and the magic of motherhood in a deceptively small space. She coils a full cycle of life into a few elegant vignettes, each of which turns in conjunction with the others. The machinery underlying the story is powerful, but a rich lyricism keeps it from ever feeling mechanical. This story is impressive for the way it maintains thematic force from start to finish.”

Prize supported by: Friends of the Creative Writing Program



Fresno Fiction Prize (undergraduate)

Judge: Ethan Chatagnier, author of Warnings From the Future

Recipient: Bekah Izard, for the story “Good Bad Effort”

Judge’s comments: “In ‘Good Bad Effort,’ Bekah displays the most important thing a writer can have: a natural knack for sentence-craft. Her finely honed language allows her to bring humor, discomfort, and pathos into this story, and she sets a hook in the reader that pulls them through to the end. She also shows a mature, nuanced sense of pacing and character development, resulting in a story that feels heartfelt, wise, and expertly written.”

Prize supported by: Friends of the Creative Writing Program



Mireyda Barraza Martinez Prize for Social Justice Writing (graduate)

Judge: Michelle Brittan Rosado, author of Why Can’t It Be Tenderness

Recipient: Delaney R. Whitebird Olmo, for the poem “IV”

Judge’s comments: “In ‘IV,’ Delaney weaves history into a cosmic myth. Through the unexpected beauty of lines like ‘These glass stars / Are new terrain / For me to find,’ Olmo charts a path for women through the lessons of a collective past. This speaker reminds us that we are each part of something larger, ‘sewn / Together by tainted / Hands.’ ”

Honorable mention: Yia Lee

Prize supported by: Friends and family of Mireyda Barraza Martinez



Mireyda Barraza Martinez Prize for Social Justice Writing (undergraduate)

Judge: Michelle Brittan Rosado, author of Why Can’t It Be Tenderness

Recipient: Ceci Hernandez Monjaras, for the poem “i’ve always (been) / hermelinda hernandez / illegal (immigrant)

Judge’s comments: “In Ceci’s poem, ‘i’ve always (been) / hermelinda hernandez / illegal (immigrant),’ the speaker powerfully reveals the dual nature of undocumented life. Using strikethroughs, unconventional capitalization, boldface and italics, her poem bears witness to feeling ‘lost / everything / unreal,’ while also carving a space for the immigrant family to exist in all their complexity and realness.”

Honorable mention: Luis Granados

Prize supported by: Friends and family of Mireyda Barraza Martinez



Soul Vang Prize for Poetry

Judge: Mai Neng Moua, author of The Bride Price

Recipient: Yia Lee, for the poem “Grandmother’s Cross”

No comments from the judge

Prize supported by: Soul Vang and May Yang-Vang, through an endowment with the Fresno State Foundation



Ernesto Trejo Poetry Prize (graduate)

Judge: Mark Irwin, author of Shimmer and the 2018 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry winner

Recipient: Mariah Bosch, for the poems “Memory #8,” “Double Sonnet, Suspended,” and “Sólo en sueños”

Judge’s comments: “Mariah’s moving poems confront both the peril and comfort of subjective memory as it attempts to find truth and resurrect the vanishing present. Her outstanding poems reflect not only personal events, but the trauma of our place in history.”

Runner up: Delaney R. Whitebird Olmo

Prize supported by: The Academy of American Poets, through an endowment made possible by friends of Ernesto Trejo



Larry Levis Poetry Prize (undergraduate)

Judge: Mark Irwin, author of Shimmer and the 2018 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry winner

Recipient: Nohemi Samudio Gamis, for the poem “Afterlife”

Judge’s comments: “It is a great pleasure to select Nohemi’s work for the Larry Levis award. Her poem not only echoes Levis’ powerful 1976 Lamont Poetry Prize selection, but delves further into literary history, reflecting ideas from the work of Emily Dickinson, while securing her own powerful Latina voice.”

Runner up: Caleigh Camara

Prize supported by: The Academy of American Poets, through an endowment made possible by friends of Larry Levis

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