In thinking about how to introduce this issue, I couldn’t help but take note of its placement in the BLR canon. This volume, featuring the winners of the eighteenth annual BLR Literary Prizes, comes on the heels of a theme issue on Recovery and before the forthcoming issue on Taking Care. In light of what we have been through—collectively, individually—over the past few years, it’s very likely that many of us are still on a path to recovery, in one fashion or another. And we all can use a bit more care, always.
Literature can help with this healing. That has always been the mission of BLR, to explore life’s shared vulnerabilities through storytelling and poetry. We hope this issue contributes to this ongoing conversation.
This year’s winner of the Goldenberg Prize for Fiction is “In Another Life” by Lara Palmqvist. Selected by judge Toni Jensen, the story paints an intimate portrait of a couple facing the staggering changes war has brought into their lives. It’s at once contemporary and timeless. “The dreams and possibilities that once dwelled within her, now forced to evacuate—what have become of those? Perhaps, she reasons, they’ve fled to a parallel universe and taken up with another life….”
Karen K. Ford’s Honorable Mention story, “Aspen,” tells of a young woman’s relationship with an older, married lover, looking back at a pivotal trip through the lens of experience: “That’s one of the things you don’t realize when you’re young. That you will run out of do-overs. That you will run out of time. I’m happy to say this is something I’ve learned, however late in life.”
“Lost Vessels,” by Jehanne Dubrow, was selected by Rana Awdish as the winner of the Felice Buckvar Prize for Nonfiction. This braided essay is a blend of personal quest, hazy memories, and a journalistic eye, exploring the opioid epidemic through both the author’s own family and a well-known family whose name, to many, has become synonymous with the crisis.
Honorable Mention goes to “Your Cane,” by Sabah Parsa, a moving essay about the loss of a beloved grandparent, and how comfort can be found in even the simplest of memories. “The nurse said you had a beautiful cane. She was right…. Whenever I heard it, I knew it was you.”
The John and Eileen Allman Prize for Poetry, judged by Phillip B. Williams, was awarded to “Etymology of Chlorophyll” by Caroline Harper New, a stunning play on language that creates a dialogue between the world of plants and the human experience of illness: “If fingernails could dig you like lichen / from my lexicon. In illness, I lop what is left / of you from my tongue….”
“There Is No Time Here” by Karan Kapoor, which was selected as the Editors’ Choice Honorable Mention in poetry, vividly describes the fluidity of time in the face of illness: “no time simply suggests / time’s stopped and she is stuck / in her disease, a fly in honey.”
Family is at the core of many pieces in this issue. We see mothers fighting for their children—whether advocating for an ill child or pushing through their own acute psychosis to show how deeply they care. We see children—of all ages—caring for their parents, and losing their parents in both natural and devastating ways. There is loss and there is joy, as in life.
In Tyriek White’s story “Mushroom Death Suit,” a young teen grapples with the invisibility and frustration of a sickle cell crisis. “My blood was turning against me,” the narrator says, while Mama was “filed down to the raw from the stress of me.”
In the harrowing essay “Mad Love,” Acamea Deadwiler describes children struggling to figure out the adult world of family, mental illness, love, and hunger. “You don’t know hunger that surpasses pain,” the narrator says. “When you don’t even have energy to fuel the aching. I’ve been there.”
Martha Silano’s moving poem “Letter to a Dead Mother” is a mix of regret and hope “that it’s never quiet where you are, / that there’s always someone to share that joke about having 105 offspring / and not one of them comes to visit!”
Several pieces create fanciful worlds, including “The Lonely Runner Conjecture”—author Pons Monto’s first published fiction—a mesmerizing and unusual story that is reminiscent of the myth of Sisyphus. In Efrat Rapoport’s allegorical tale, “Be’er Gehenna,” a retired physics professor seeks to escape death. “I feared death so much that I barely lived my life,” he says. “But in Be’er Gehenna, the death record stands at a comforting mathematical zero.”
Others address some of today’s most pressing issues.“Revolutions in Time,” a story by Elizabeth Lee, portrays Korean and Chinese families grappling with an uptick of anti-Asian violence. In D. Liebhart’s essay “Frontline,” a nursing administrator abruptly finds herself in the clinical maelstrom during Covid, but the frontline is her mother, who has just suffered a stroke. And Michael J. Galko’s poem “Flirting With Atropos” dances with darkness and recovery: “you can always brush her hand, / approach the edge of any cliff— / another step and your thread / flaps easy in the breeze.”
We are deeply grateful to our prize sponsors: the Goldenberg family for fiction, the Buckvar family for nonfiction, and board members Lin Lombardi and Lesmah Fraser for poetry. And we are so appreciative of this year’s judges—Toni Jensen for fiction, Phillip B. Williams for poetry, and Rana Awdish for nonfiction—for their time and care in selecting this year’s prizewinners.
Within each issue, perhaps readers encounter an image that lingers, a character that resonates, a turn of phrase that beckons. I hope you find something to take with you from these pages. (And we’d love to hear about your takeaways, from this or any issue…) Thank you for reading.