Teppola Creative Writing Prize winners announced

Contact: Scott Nadelson

Congratulations to the winners of this year's Mark & Melody Teppola Prizes in Creative Writing.

Congratulations to the winners of the eighth annual Mark and Melody Teppola Prizes in Creative Writing at Willamette University:

Poetry, judged by Jasminne Mendez, author of City Without Altar:

First Prize: "Breathing Room" by Milo Maltz

Judge’s comments: “Breathing Room” is a visually stunning concrete poem that meditates on what it means to live and love and experience the world as a nonbinary person. The language, line breaks and use of white space and the right margin exemplify and enrich the reader's experience and understanding of the poem's subject matter in a way that draws you in and holds you throughout the poem.

Second Prize: "Rooted Through the Pain” by Ari Torres

Judge’s comments: “Rooted Through the Pain” is a lyrical and deeply moving poem that sinks us deep into a body broken and yearning to be set free. Stark imagery of splintered wood, bloodied leaves and paper organs along with powerful lines about a "treacherous body/folding into its own rotting frame" echoed in my mind and stayed with me long after I had finished reading the poem.

Third Prize: "Hormone Therapy Request Form” by Spencer Fiden

Judge’s comments: Using the questions from an actual hormone therapy request form, this hermit crab poem uses vivid sensory details and a poetics of the body to share with us the intimate thoughts and emotions that could run through the mind of a patient seeking hormone replacement therapy. I loved how the form informed the content of the piece. 

Prose (Fiction & Nonfiction), judged by Matt Young, author of Eat the Apple

First Prize: “Waves” by Jess Kimmel

Judge’s comments: The brevity of this story, set against its expansive temporal scope and intricate world-building, kind of blew me away. It boasts deep characterization, diverse geography, and a richly woven mythology--all meticulously realized and explored. The writer's adept management of narrative distance kept me immersed in Mala's journey--her struggles, her ghosts, her demons--and it all cohered through this circular narrative structure and explorations of complex themes like identity, heritage, and fate. The ending (which gave me all the feels) stands out with its hauntingly beautiful imagery and reflective depth that intertwines those complex themes and brings a resonant sense of closure to Mala's tale. Plus: queer witch pirates in a dystopian fantasy. What's not to love?

Second Prize: “Visitation of the Worm” by Montegomery Remer

Judge’s comments: Dystopian exploration of technology? Check. Cronenbergian body horror? Check. Disturbing religious rites and rituals? Check. Both philosophical and spiritual, this piece explores trauma, isolation, death, and existence. Jianming's struggle with his sense of identity and reality throughout the story struck a chord with me--the literal dismemberment of the physical self coupled with a ritual that attempts to realize the necessity--and maybe even agency--of each part in hopes of bringing everything back together made me think of how an identity can schism in the wake of a trauma and how it often feels impossible to be whole again. It's a poignant metaphor about the continual process of attempting to craft a coherent mosaic of our fragmented identities in a world that is often disorienting and unknowable.

Third Prize: “Mosquito Bites” by Arlo Craft

Judge’s comments: Give me all the stories about kids doing weird kid stuff. This is a vivid and atmospheric piece that interweaves themes of nature, childhood, family, and the passage of time. Rich, descriptive settings and images, round and dynamic characters, and dialogue throughout that's--*chef's kiss*--just wonderfully rendered and engaging. The pacing here captures the languid, dreamy tempo of childhood summers while also interspersed with moments of keen perception and sharp insight. It's a rhythm that mirrors the ebb and flow of the swamp setting itself. The story excels in its portrayal of a child's perspective, exploring the world in a way that is both fantastical and grounded in reality that had me thinking about innocence and experience and the cyclical nature of life.

Please congratulate our winners!

 We are grateful to Mark and Melody Teppola for the generous gift that makes these prizes possible.

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