2014 Winners

Olivia Clare (Fiction)

Olivia Clare received a B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, a master’s degree in fiction from the University of Southern California, an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and is a Black Mountain Institute Ph.D. Fellow in Literature at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. While her first book of poems, The 26-Hour Day, is forthcoming from New Issues in 2015, her Writer’s Award is recognizing her work in fiction. Her stories have appeared in Granta Online, The Southern Review, The Kenyon Review Online, and The Yale Review. Her first published story, “Pétur,” appeared in Ecotone and received a 2014 O. Henry Prize. She has received fellowships from The MacDowell Colony and Vermont Studio Center, among others. Ms. Clare is working on a short story collection and a first novel. Her novel, The Norns, takes place in a small, unnamed town in post-Katrina Louisiana. Clare says, “Three mysterious, mute women wash up on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico. Louis, a sixty-five-year-old Vietnam veteran, discovers the women and takes them in. Without words, they transform a quiet and restrained man into a man of voraciousness and decadence.” Her nominator writes: “I admire Olivia’s ability to evoke mood and atmosphere in her fictional worlds and her deep understanding of how complex and fraught even the closest of human relationships are. She is remarkable in her ability to get that on the page.” Ms. Clare plans to use her Writer’s Award to travel to Germany, where part of her novel takes place, and take time off next summer to devote herself to these projects. She lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Las Vegas, Nevada.


Karen Hays (Nonfiction)

Karen Hays received her B.S. in Geology from New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and her M.S. in Hydrogeology from the University of Minnesota. In 2001, she left her career in the earth sciences to turn her attention to raising a family. Her essays are idiosyncratic and far-reaching and have appeared in The Iowa Review, Conjunctions, Passages North, and The Normal School. She has received The Iowa Review Award for Nonfiction and her essay, “The Clockwise Detorsion of Snails,” was a “Notable Nonrequired Reading” in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2011. Ms. Hays is working on a collection of essays entitled, On Frothy Elegance: Notes of a Show Me State Native. She says of the work, “Both memoir and research-driven, it plumbs the evolution of lore, language, and landscape in its quest to trace a universal home in the heart of Missouri’s Corn Belt. Its essays will tap a range of fields from etymology to gender studies, agriculture, archaeology, and competitive eating. They will grapple with questions of fate and chance and attempt to parse the desperate human impulse to limn the ineffable, to recreate home and identity through words in spite of the well known and maddening insufficiencies of language.” Her nominator writes, “Hays’s work instructs us to be exhilarated with the world again in its infinite complexity and simple beauties.” Her Writer’s Award will allow her to delay returning to the workforce for a year and pay for child care so she can focus on this book. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with her family.


Danielle Jones-Pruett (Poetry)

Danielle Jones-Pruett received a B.A. in English and psychology from Jacksonville State University, and an M.F.A. in poetry from the University of Massachusetts Boston. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Best New Poets 2014, Beloit Poetry Journal, Cider Press Review, Southern Poetry Review, and many others. She recently finished her first collection of poems, and is eager to begin work on a new project. The poems are set in Anniston, Alabama, where she grew up, during the period when a major chemical company’s long history of polluting the area finally came to light. “While Anniston provides a rich backdrop for many of the political topics that plague America as a whole, it is important to me that the poems be more than political manifestos,” she says. “For this reason, I’ve chosen to tell this story through the voice of a young, female speaker, whose personal story—and the tragedy of her own family—converge gradually and subtly with the history of the town.” Ms. Jones-Pruett currently lives in Salem, Massachusetts, with her husband and sons, and is program coordinator for the Writers House at Merrimack College. She plans to use her Writer’s Award to visit Alabama for research, and for child care over the next two years. She writes, “I love my job and spending time with my family, and I am so grateful for all the ways poetry gets me involved in my community. Life is good. But sometimes I need to be alone with the words on the page, and not for an hour, or for a morning, or until something else needs to be done. Your gift means I can find a spot in the dreamy stillness, the daytime stillness, and write word after word after word, until the words are a poem, and another poem, and a whole book of poems. Until I’ve made what I need out of words.”


T. L. Khleif (Fiction)

T. L. Khleif received a B.A. from Brown University, an M.A. in Arab Studies from Georgetown University, and an M.F.A. from the University of Michigan, where she is a lecturer. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The New England Review and The Normal School, and she is the recipient of a MacDowell Colony fellowship. Ms. Khleif is working on a novel tentatively titled The Absence of Layla Halabi. She says, “The novel, set in Damascus, takes place in the late 1960s and early 2000s—both periods when, in different ways, the forces leading up to the present conflict were gathering energy. The narrative centers on three point-of-view protagonists: Abu Nashid is a revered musician who, at the height of his stardom, falls out of favor with the regime; Ismail is a gifted college student struggling to reorder his life after spending time in prison for telling a political joke; and Layla is a young woman striving to avert an unwanted marriage who develops a clandestine relationship with Ismail.” Her nominator writes: “This is powerful, and (tragically) urgent material, and Tricia addresses it movingly via a real flair for character and narrative. Her figures seem intimately alive even as the book itself promises a sweeping, authoritative examination of Syrian society and politics.” Ms. Khleif will use her Writer’s Award to take time off from teaching next year to focus on this novel full time. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Mara Naselli (Nonfiction)

Mara Naselli is working on a collection of essays, Bodies in Motion, about power and inversions of power, notably expressed in representations of the horse in art and culture. The essays explore the nature of leverage, control, and privilege through subjects such as the Chicago Police Department Mounted Unit, the complexities of motherhood, the work of painter George Stubbs, among others. She has a B.A. from St. Olaf College, an M.A. from Loyola University Chicago, and an M.F.A. from Bennington College, and has been an editor for nearly twenty years. Her essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Ninth Letter, The Kenyon Review, Agni, The Hudson Review, and elsewhere. Her nominator writes, “Mara wire-walks between divergent roles—philosopher, critic, journalist—and in having aspired to specialty in none of these she distills the best of each and becomes, in the end, a unique form of authority, capable of roaming freely between a dispassionate intelligence capable of concise analysis, and a passionate subjective presence reminding us at every turn that what matters in the end is what art and writing make us feel.” Ms. Naselli will use her Writer’s Award to reduce her editing work to help pay for living expenses and child care so she can complete this project and begin new work, including a collection of essays on reading and art and a biography of editor and writer William Maxwell. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with her husband and two young sons.


Solmaz Sharif (Poetry)

Solmaz Sharif received her B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, and her M.F.A. in poetry from New York University. She was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and is now a Jones Lecturer at Stanford. Her work has appeared in The Kenyon Review, Poetry, Black Warrior Review, and Gulf Coast, among others. She received an NEA fellowship in 2014 and has been a Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Scholar on three occasions, as well as a Fine Arts Work Center fellow. Ms. Sharif is working on finishing her first collection of poems, Look. Her nominator says, “Look is envisioned as a poetic rewriting of the Department of Defense dictionary. The DOD dictionary does, in fact, exist as a supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary, and Sharif’s undertaking not only rights the military’s Orwellian misappropriation of language, but uses those very misappropriations to locate the hauntingly personal and specific endpoints of policies. These poems wrestle with dual concerns: the violence against people that is sanitized through language, and the violence against language itself.” An Iranian-American, she hopes to begin a second collection, “a longer documentary lyric,” about revolution. She will also use her Writer’s Award to travel to Iran to interview and translate current poets working in the country. She plans to use the rest of her Award to reduce her work obligations in order to spend more time writing. She lives in Oakland, California.