Creative Writing Prizes 2021

Top, from left: Amber L. Carpenter, Ceci Hernandez Monjaras, and Mialise Carney. Bottom, from left: Caleigh Camara, Aidan Castro, and Gaoyong Yang-Vang.

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 2021 award recipients.

Fresno Creative Nonfiction Prize (graduate)

Judge: Ashley Wells, author of The Cowgirl and the Racehorse: A Recovery

Recipient: Amber L. Carpenter, for the essay “The Cartography of Shame and Womanhood”

Judge’s comments: “Amber’s essay on the ‘magnificent burden of motherhood,’ shame, and sexual assault is well rendered—a heartfelt narrative about the bonds and rifts between mother and daughter. The primal scream is palpable and echoes powerfully throughout the piece, grabbing and holding the reader’s attention.”

Honorable mention: Jer Xiong, for the essay “Flaws”

Prize supported by: Friends of the Creative Writing Program

Fresno Creative Nonfiction Prize (undergraduate)

Judge: Ashley Wells, author of The Cowgirl and the Racehorse: A Recovery

Recipient: Ceci Hernandez Monjaras, for the essay “Mujeres de la nubes”

Judge’s comments: “Ceci’s powerful storytelling offers a poignant look at the human cost of U.S. immigration policies. It’s a beautiful essay on the depth of her abuelita’s love and care, as well as the deep sense of loss when that connection is severed.”

Honorable mention: James Thomas Morrison, for the essay “The Sinner’s Prayer”

Prize supported by: Friends of the Creative Writing Program

Fresno Fiction Prize (graduate)

Judge: Navdeep Singh Dhillon, author of Sunny G’s Series of Rash Decisions

Recipient: Mialise Carney, for the story “The Hydrangea Fairy”

Judge’s comments: “The winner is the wonderfully written ‘The Hydrangea Fairy,’ which uses a terrifying fairy and mundane factory work to explore themes of existentialism, grief, and belonging. Mialise writes with a matter-of-fact style that keeps the reader connected to the tension and discomfort, and yet remains hopeful throughout. A beautifully written story that evokes an uneasiness hours and days after reading. Definitely don’t read this at night!”

Honorable mention: Carolina Mata, for the story “Death Loved, Death Abandoned”

Prize supported by: Friends of the Creative Writing Program

Fresno Fiction Prize (undergraduate)

Judge: Navdeep Singh Dhillon, author of Sunny G’s Series of Rash Decisions

Recipient: Caleigh Camara, for the story “Ugly-Shaped Tomatoes”

Judge’s comments: “Caleigh’s perfectly titled ‘Ugly-Shaped Tomatoes’ was the clear first-place winner because of the heartbreaking subtext behind the sparse writing style and the ever-present grief. In the story, we meet Lola, who is dealing with the loss of her grandmother in a strange way: by stealing misshapen tomatoes from the grocery store, as a reminder of a tomato-shaped pin cushion her grandmother owned. Caleigh convincingly captures the fragility of life with realistic dialogue and an emotionally complex story.”

Honorable mention: Sadie Gleason, for the story “Pushing Daisy”

Prize supported by: Friends of the Creative Writing Program

Mireyda Barraza Martinez Prize for Social Justice Writing (graduate)

Judge: Anthony Cody, author of Borderland Apocrypha

Recipient: Aidan Castro, for the poem “The Revision of Section 1557”

Judge’s comments: “Aidan’s poem reminds us that there is a need to continue to dismantle the oppressive structures of government that prevent basic human rights from being given to our most vulnerable. On the surface, ‘The Revision of Section 1557’ confronts the attempts of the federal government to pass discriminatory regulations and the access to the Affordable Health Care Act centered around transphobia. Yet, using an outline structure, Aidan provides the reader with an opportunity to see the dehumanization that the trans community faces when seeking medical care. At moments incredibly visceral, at others entering the realm of a magical realism rooted in the hate and shallow religiosity of the transphobic, Aidan has written a poem that explores what is justice and liberation, if not the ability to cross the street and seek healing without the specter of death and violence burdening the body.”

Prize supported by: Friends and family of Mireyda Barraza Martinez

Mireyda Barraza Martinez Prize for Social Justice Writing (undergraduate)

Judge: Anthony Cody, author of Borderland Apocrypha

Recipient: Ceci Hernandez Monjaras, for the poem “Roma / City Limit / Pop 9765”

Judge’s comments: “In ‘Roma,’ Ceci examines the tension and ache that occurs along the Mexico/U.S. border on a daily basis. In an experimental structure, Ceci asks the reader to make the decision on what text to read and which order to read it in, which allows the poem to steadily reveal itself. This sprawling poem weaves the trilingual of found, English, and Spanish languages into the reality confronting those who cross and exist in the face of empire. More than a testament, the poem (and the poet) requires more from the reader, to ‘listen the way a river is supposed to listen,’ to see the fullness of the lives that are continually at the margins, and place these voices, rightfully, before each of us.”

Prize supported by: Friends and family of Mireyda Barraza Martinez

Soul Vang Prize for Poetry

Judge: Anthony Cody, author of Borderland Apocrypha

Recipient: Gaoyong Yang-Vang, for the poem “My Will”

Judge’s comments: “In ‘My Will,’ Gao explores her own mortality, examining what it means to traverse into the spirit realm as a Hmong American who struggles with negotiating her ties to traditional practice. Cognizant of the weight of grief on her own loved ones, Gao seeks to rebuild the traditions that liberate those around her. Meditating upon such a colossal topic, Gao adeptly provides the reader a hope that imagines a path that honors her and others in a ‘chanting / singing / voicing’ toward the future.”

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

Ernesto Trejo Poetry Prize (graduate)

Judge: Steven Kleinman, author of Life Cycle of a Bear and winner of the 2019 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry

Recipient: Aidan Castro, for the poem “I anesthetic back from ten”

Judge’s comments: “Aidan’s poems — including my choice for winner of this prize, ‘I anesthetic back from ten’ — spark with energy and music from their first words. They fight against easy declarations of argument. Though this may lead to murky waters, creativity and imagination are the engine of these powerful and beautiful poems.”

Runner up: Angel Gonzales, for the poem “This Body, If Not Holy”

Honorable mention: Andrea A. Marin Contreras, for the poem “Calmness”

Prize supported by: Friends of Ernesto Trejo, through an endowment with the Academy of American Poets

Larry Levis Poetry Prize (undergraduate)

Judge: Steven Kleinman, author of Life Cycle of a Bear and winner of the 2019 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry

Recipient: Caleigh Camara, for the poem “A Story from My Father, Age 16, as Told While Sitting in the Hot Tub Drinking Coffee”

Judge’s comments: “I love that this poem is really found art. I love that about Caleigh’s other poem submission, ‘An Erasure,’ taken from Zadie Smith, who I am a huge fan of. I think there is an incredible eye here, but also knowledge that we are collectors and retailers, and that in doing so we are creators of worlds. In ‘A Story from My Father,’ I am struck by the final moment, the father in the hot tub, the idea that his survival is what matters, but that in a way he is still back on the motorcycle. It’s really a startling image, masterfully kept to the end of the poem. A great surprise.”

Runner up: Tony Vang, for the poem “Juan Felipe’s Harvest Festival”

Honorable mentions: Michelle Ferrer Alvarez, for the poem “St. Clare’s Response”; and Sadie Gleason, for the poem “if clothes make the girl.”

Prize supported by: Friends of Larry Levis, through an endowment with the Academy of American Poets

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