Literary Arts

2024 Literary Arts Prize Winners

The Literary Arts Department is proud of all its winners and applicants. Under each winner's name is the corresponding feedback from the judges. 

Academy of American Poets Prize

For the best poem (up to 10 pages) by an undergraduate or graduate student currently enrolled in the University.

Judge's comments: 


I feel hailed by something ancient in “Selected Flowers.” Each title draws from the Latin index of names for species, yet the poems seem less interested in the clarity of precise identification, and more invested in the feeling of words, how they pass through the voice box and out of the mouth. Say it aloud:  Euphorbia polygonifolia, and suddenly we’ve slowed into oneiric, botanical time. These poems are presented alongside archival pages of desiccated and flattened herbs, flowers, so that the reader senses an energetic loop between poet and plant. It's a cellular exchange:

       wounded inside,
glabrous, now

sink roots down in Cape:
        floral kingdom
                  sink vascular, breathe, boy

Research and Eros are the two guides who light and shade the poet’s path through this gorgeous sequence, where each poem revivifies the pressed flowers, versing them back into their rooted places.  

Kim Ann Arstark Memorial Awards

Two awarded to Graduate Students. Two awarded to Undergraduate Students. For the best poem or poems written in celebration of life by an undergraduate or graduate student currently enrolled in the University.

Judge's comments: “Looking With Her” by Gianna Dyer is a formally innovative and conceptually daring poem that explores the trajectory of a coming-of-age narrative reflective of our present moment. Dyer’s syntactical surprises and rhythmically engaging craft create for a joyful oscillation and steady movement throughout the poem that gives new life to an age-old topic.

Judge's comments: Joanne Lee’s grouping of poems demonstrates a wide aesthetic range and an engagement with language at myriad levels. From the playful lyric to fast-clipped prose, the poems here demonstrate a speaker intent on finding meaning beyond the surface of things. With a critical eye towards image, memory, and the ways our interior reflections illuminate the everyday of our lives, these poems seek a contentment and celebration of that quotidian life. As Lee herself says, with assurance and ease, “I am what my body was made for.”

Judge's comments: There is an understated elegance to these poems, a haunting that keeps them running over their own boundaries. They are constrained and riotous at once, singing “an unbent song” that feels full of quiet grief and generosity.

Judge's comments: These poems are rhythm-snares, their own response to upheaval. Unbridled and feathered with pleasure, both linguistic and visual.

The Alex Barry '20 Prize for Speculative Fiction

One awarded to an undergraduate for a manuscript that excels in this form, in memory of Alex Barry, an undergraduate of singular imaginative energy and joyful and unconstrained humor, who brought much to the Literary Arts at Brown during a time of personal hardship, making clear in the process the meaning and purpose of literary writing, not only as personal expressive endeavor but as a gift to the community.

Judge's comments: "The Doorway" offers a melancholy view of the last strains of human life on earth -- life does not go out with a bang or a whimper, but rather with a malfunction. An indefatigable ice-cream-making machine continues to churn out ice cream in an increasingly depopulated earth -- an earth abandoned by those with the stature or financial wherewithal to flee. While the ice-cream maker has the "mind" and drive to keep serving a population, even when that population has died out, it too faces extinction, ruin, immateriality. This dystopia brings together various contemporary threads and binds them into a dismal future: the commodification of data, the fragility of our planet for supporting life, the class-based stratification in the face of existential threat -- and leaves us reminded that any action can be read as heroic -- or as disposable.

The Alexander Micheel Finkelstein Barry '20 Prize for Humor

The Alexander Michael Finkelstein Barry '20 Prize for Humor is awarded each year to one undergraduate for a manuscript that excels in this forms, in memory of Alex Barry, an undergraduate of singular imaginative energy and joyful and unconstrained humor, who brought much to the Literary Arts at Brown during a time of personal hardship.

Judge's comments: "Dear Jerry (After Mark Baumer)" is a series of letters, all addressed to the titular figure, Jerry. The epistolary form starts out in the mode of the ridiculous -- "I'm writing this message from inside my refrigerator" and builds from there. In the tradition of Wolfgang Bauer's "The Feverhead", these letters carry us ever deeper into a world of illogic, and one in which the speaker serves as a spur (or is it a burr?) for the reader's incredulity. While in "The Feverhead" there are two correspondents, always writing just before the other receives the letter (so always at cross-purposes), this work is more of a pummeling -- the ever-silent Jerry (or so we assume) absorbs letter upon letter of curious entreaties: "I would be a fair employee / I would tickle each rabbit equally." There's a gesture toward William Carlos Williams' poem, (This is just to say) that carries on what can only be described as a lovely and ever-building collection of "takes" on the Williams "apology." No apologies necessary -- unless one is deeply attuned to the blank interior of the well-read recipient, Jerry.

The Mark Baumer Prize for Language Art

There are two prizes -- one for undergraduates, one for graduate students. Submissions in any media are welcome, provided they can be read as language art. Cross-disciplinary or digital work is welcome, but any work of language art that engages compositionally with its media will be considered.

Judge's comments: The “Dear Jerry” series resides uncannily close to the spirit of Mark Baumer. In fact, if the world were to boldly spawn yet another Mark Baumer, it could very well be the case that we would discover him in the dark bowels of a humble refrigerator, valiantly longing for a meaningful life in the corporate world. (Not!) To quote the first entry: “Dear Jerry, I’m writing this email from inside my refrigerator. It is pretty cold but not as cold as you might think. I want to be your first refrigerated employee. Thanks, Julian.” We feel the spirit of Mark Baumer as the letters to Jerry continue – all 31 of them, all beginning, “Dear Jerry,” and all closing with a goofy and fitting sign-off – to accrue pathos and delight, biting social critique, while revealing an earnest, frivolous, generosity of spirit. May Jerry’s wishes come true – one, if not all.

Judge's comments: By turns witty and heart-wrenching, by turns documentary and fantastical, by turns an image that says it all and then someone talking that can't express anything, the translation of time and the language of memory become very mysterious and yet this piece feels oddly universal.

Feldman Prizes in Fiction

Two awarded to Graduate Students. Two awarded to Undergraduate Students. For the best story or stories (up to 20 pages). Open to all undergraduate and graduate students currently enrolled in the University.

Judge's comments: When a young man goes to visit his aunt and her new, older husband, he finds an upending of the conventional power dynamic that unsettles the surrounding sociological milieu. Damilare Abiodun’s writing conjures a spell, not just of an exquisitely drawn place, but of a narrative trajectory so unpredictable and yet wholly inevitable that the reader is left ringing.

Judge's comments: When a British expatriate begins working at a café in Harvard Square, they meet Patricia, a woman whose life story will leave him, by story’s end, with startling clarity about the world around him. Issa Quincy’s characters are so tenderly drawn, and yet so extraordinarily built. The narrative voice projects through time to leave us both frontloaded and backended with poignancy.

Judge's comments: This highly perceptive narrative fulfills the promise of its title, delivering passage after passage of intelligence and wit. The energy of the narrative premise drives the narrative via the author’s controlled release, creating sophisticated channels of genuine emotion, amusing family dynamics and sharply drawn individual characters. Nothing is broad here. Nuance rules. 

Judge's comments: There are some narratives that demand to be read aloud and this is one of them. The poetry of the language is rooted in the details of the fictive world, each named thing bringing with it new sonics. Character and point of view are managed with notable sophistication. Let us praise this writer for the pleasures of this text.

Beth Lisa Feldman Prize in Children’s Literature

For the best story or stories written for children 4 to 8 years old (up to 50 pages). Open to all undergraduate and graduate students currently enrolled in the University.

Judge's comments: "The Bright Side of the Moon" is a cheerful exploration of how to take every pleasure from our surroundings. The moon -- associated with dark skies, seeks to gain access to the daytime glow -- when the world is bustling with activity. The sun points out to the moon that there are wonders to be found in the dark sky as well -- shooting stars, for instance. Providing the moon and the sun with human attributes is a clever way to bring attention to the capacity to find wonder everywhere. The intersection of text and image affords the young reader with interlocking pathways for exploring their own feelings -- and encourages us to be mindful of how they can learn from another's point of view, and that there are wonders to be found wherever we turn.

Frances Mason Harris ’26 Prizes

For a book-length manuscript of poetry or prose fiction by a currently enrolled undergraduate or graduate woman.

Judge's comments: This wonderfully realized excerpt from “A Day or Part of a Day” chronicles with clarity, empathy and abundant skill resistance in the face of oppression and implacable onslaught. “A Day or Part of a Day” is an investigation of memory and of language and of the power of literature to conjure lost worlds and convey vanishing thought and commemorate human life and human dignity. The very hardest truths the excerpt metabolizes with such skill onto the page do great credit to their author while offering the reader access to an archive of endurance, tenderness, care for others and hard-won hope. If the whole is anything like this excerpt, as of course it must be, then future readers are in for something very special.

Judge's comments: Written in sharp, descriptive prose, rich in lyrical flourish, and interspersed with photographs and drawings, this excerpt from “See What I See” paints a brilliant portrait of the fraught relationship between its narrator and an avant-garde film director in the Itaewon district of present day Seoul. As the narrator navigates alleyways that “often branched in strange, elliptical ways, connecting and disconnecting from one another like pulmonary veins,” a vivid sense of what is at stake for her emerges over the course of these pages with indelible urgency. Expertly paced, full of surprises in language and structure, extremely convincing in its characterizations, the excerpt both satisfies in its own right and makes one most eager for more.

Judge's comments: Jenny Hu is exploring authenticity. She is also exploring prose as a series of strategies for staging identification, revulsion, pity, jealousy, and surprise in the reader, among other affective modes that have to do with how people deal with what they take to be belief. I admire the intelligence of Hu's work and its epistemological nuance. As the critic Carrie Lambert-Beatty writes in an essay on "parafiction," history is only a step away from gossip, and Hu seems to suggest that the same is true of both philosophy and the law. This is daring writing—daring not because it engages in exposure (although, perhaps that, too), daring because it does not flinch from unstinting examination of what we cherish and the inevitable entanglements of passion and harm.

Angela Qian’s prose is ahead of the curve. Toying with sentimentality and other weird feminized energies, Qian creates protagonists who have knowingly taken on love and sex as a kind of work and who seem simultaneously aware that they are protagonists of parables about love and sex and work. Normally, we’d be asking ourselves a question like, “Will these people find a way out of their predicament?!?” But that isn’t the point in these brief, deftly written, very funny, and sometimes terrifying stories. The point is that language itself is awesome. Language itself—along with cabins upstate, Adobe Suite, secret kisses, the GOP, and the estate of Georgia O’Keeffe—holds all the power. There is no getting around the compromising and absurd allure of politician boyfriends or Hello Kitty ASCII art; these clichés are full of awe, just like the words that compose them. It’s recognition of this potential for awe that allows Qian to formulate so many images that shouldn’t work but end up impossibly brilliant: Snow “blanket[s] the farmland like association.” Beer arrives in “beautiful, affective green bottles.” “A wonderful gray animal walk[s] over and beg[ins] communing.” Qian has the infernal gift of making even vagueness seem vivid and deeply bizarre. She does this, in my estimation, in order to inform us of the current state of our aesthetic categories, no easy mission. Watch this highly original writer. She is going to do great things.

John Hawkes and Robert Coover Prizes in Fiction

This contest honors the memory of John Hawkes, the internationally-recognized author and dedicated professor of creative writing at Brown University, along with Robert Coover, TB Stowell University Professor and esteemed pracitioner of innovative fiction. The contest is open to all students currently enrolled in the Graduate Program in Literary Arts. The submission must be a work of fiction (up to 50 pages).

“I’d abuse my brain by letting it taste the edge of the unknown,” writes the narrator of the unsubstantiated methods to proving you’re awake, and in this romp through the remembrance of an Upstate winter, against a background of maternal frost, the reader meets Maggie. As Maggie becomes both receptacle and provider of misplaced emotion, the language of this story proves itself syntactical marvel.

(recipient of the John Hawkes Prize)

Judge's comments: The microfiction in this collection sparkles with brilliance; the body is made at once microscopic and macromaterial as this parade of characters confronts its stance against the world. “A Botched Body of Shorts” is an unspooling of delight.

(recipient or Robert Coover Prize)

When Weigu, the protagonist of “The Squirrels,” loses his divorcing ex-wife and his college-bound daughter in one fell swoop, he falls off a cliff and into the absurdity of managing his various landline telephones along with a scurry of intruding squirrels. This piece cycles through surreal psychology to land with incredibly real emotional resonance.

Judge's comments: In this second person choose-your-own-adventure, the author moves us through realms both real and metaphysical. “You spent your life blinking in and out of existence,” the reader is told. “You wanted to stay here, you wanted to stay present, please stay–this, you could not do.” In refusing itself to stay still as a piece of fiction, “If This Matters” skillfully connects disparate themes and a network of seemingly unconnected circumstances in order to create one masterfully overarching ache. In breaking all rules, this piece abides by the most important rule, that of dazzling its readers.

(recipient of Robert Coover Prize)

Edwin Honig Memorial Award

One awarded to a Graduate Student. One awarded to an Undergraduate Student. For the best poem or poems (up to 10 pages) in honor of poet, translator and founder of Literary Arts, Edwin Honig.

Judge's comments: In the specificity of sly moral replacements of meat for fish, like-broken for life-broken, these poems unfurl their stunning images like fists. They are full of pyrotechnics and heartbreak; they punch.

Judge's comments: Cameron Le’s “IN THE VALLEY, THERE IS AN IRON SUN” is a searing and intimate reflection on the relationships we share with family and familial memory. With an incredible care and attention to the nuances of language, the poem slows the reader and moves them into a vivid and sensorial world that exists in the in-between of past and present, earthly and ethereal. 

Levin-Hokin Premium in Screenwriting:

Award dedicated to Levin-Hokin and given to the best screenplays at Brown University.

Judge's comments: 

Malena Colon’s honors thesis is a script for a 161-page, 6-chapter, first volume of a graphic novel series called “Mommy Bot 2000”. It includes descriptions of each panel, all dialogue, reference images, and a few of Malena’s own beautiful character designs. The story takes place in the middle of the next century, at a moment when a few female bots who have been manufactured and programmed to be perfect wives, mothers and sexual partners, gain consciousness and rebel against their servitude. Mary Jane, and others of the Mommy Bot 2000 series from Rent-Ripper Robotics, have been secretly implanted with weaponry from their “Mother,” a scientist forced to create them under threat of “ascension.” Mary Jane’s transition from consciousness to radicalization is necessarily urgent, in a high-stakes world where problematic female humans and robots are quickly disposed of. With subtle dark comedy and colorful characters, Malena’s story follows Mary Jane’s search for her sisters, and brings to life a palpable extension of our world in which extremes of comfort and danger teeter side by side.

Malena’s stylish work vividly describes a 1950s-retro-futuristic aesthetic that convincingly spans and superimposes eras two hundred years apart, to reflect on the current state and future of feminism. She has employed her terrific skills in imaginative world-building, screenwriting, and visual art to create this blueprint for a work that could be a graphic novel as easily as a filmed series that picks up where The Stepford Wives left off, and is a female-centered relative of Blade Runner or Ex Machina. It is a pleasure to recommend Malena receive the Levin-Hokin Premium for Screenwriting.


Judge's comments: 

If her honors thesis in Production is any indication, Stephanie Stiles may well become a household name in comedy one of these days. “Mom Said No” is twelve minutes of fast-paced sketch comedy that perfectly showcase, and capitalize on, her considerable talents as a writer, director, actor and filmmaker. Two longer sketches are peppered with four microshorts, creating an absurdist and highly entertaining sampling of Stephanie’s distinctive wit and imagination. While the two longer pieces are quite different in content, they both escalate in delightfully madcap fashion, and end by taking us somewhere unexpected that leaves us imagining calamities that lie ahead.

Stephanie’s vision and skills as a writer/director have truly gelled and blossomed. ‘Grandma’s Cooking’, the longest sketch, has superb acting and comic timing. Stephanie’s keen editing and sound design are also essential to its impact. The script for the piece was funny, but I questioned a couple of the jokes, not sure how she would pull them off. The execution is where her magic came in, because these are among the bits that make her comedic voice especially fresh and vibrant. Her style is an appealing combination of broad classic comedy and contemporary satire, with physicality, characters and pacing that are perfectly suited to this medium. Stephanie worked with students she had been collaborating with on other sketch-comedy and film projects, which contributes to her sketches’ assured and unified feel. It is a pleasure to recommend that Stephanie Stiles receive the Levin-Hokin Premium for Screenwriting.

Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop Prizes for Innovative Writing

For literary work, any genre, that best exemplifies the spirit of innovation found in the writings and translations of Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop. Up to 15 pages. Open to all Brown students.

Judge's comments: Written in a prismatic, lyrical prose, “blue was the furthest” stretches the notion of the color blue into a distant expanse, up to and beyond the boundaries gently presented in each uniquely idiosyncratic paragraph. From this simple yet capacious parameter emerges a haunting poetics, sometimes in the quickest, slightest of moments, as in a quick slip of vision, eyeing the knitting needle – “unfolding the vacancy blue between loops until she refocuses, on the city she can see.” Elegant, sonorous language holds a conceptual experiment that shimmers and lingers into an elongated memory. The work weaves itself into a “weatherless window,” and the reader is given passage into a seductive and luminous blueness of thought.

Judge's comments: The playful twists that surpass story, becoming an overall poetry of bodies in relation. This highly readable series doesn't allow for its own digestion, merely a constant appetite.