2019 Fiction and Poetry Contest Winners

The Sewanee Review

Fall 2019

This past July, the Sewanee Review held its second annual Fiction and Poetry contest. This year we received nearly six hundred submissions. Today we are pleased to announce the winners.

Judge Roxane Gay selected Valerie Reed Hickman’s short story “The Song of the Sirens” as the winner for the fiction contest. Gay calls it “a story rife with an inexorable tension that builds from the first word to the last. There is a couple, two people in the same yet entirely different relationships, their dog, their mysterious neighbor and nothing, exactly, is wrong while everything is wrong. This writer tells this story slowly, carefully, forcing the reader to stew in the narrator's dissatisfaction and what is so striking, so compelling, is the way this writer allows the narrator to be flawed, to want more than she has, and to do so without apology.”

“Dermatology” by Marilyn Abildskov was named the runner-up. Gay writes, “this story’s finest moment comes in the shape of the final image. How the writer gets us there makes that moment all the more remarkable because of the subtlety of the prose, the elegance. There is also the structure, nesting narratives of a woman dealing with adult-onset acne, the newness of divorce and dating once again, the mundanity of motherhood, the gravity of family, a pull that is difficult to resist. And still, it is the lovely ending that truly reveals how masterful this story is.”

Finalists for this year’s contest in fiction were: Matthew Bucknor, Leslie Campbell, Megan Evershed, Kate Finegan, Peter Fish, Kathleen Gibbons, Esther Hayes, Craig Pearson, Jessica Smith, Michele Suzann, and Jane Walton.


Carl Phillips selected “Dislodgings” by Alan Nadel as the winner of this year’s poetry contest.

“I admire so much about this poem,” begins Phillips, “not least of all the steady patience with which its argument unfolds, from the risk of an opening stanza of almost pure abstraction—which nevertheless wins my trust immediately—to the tempering second stanza of concrete information that takes the different risk of plain speech. The third stanza makes of salvage something talismanic about loss and what’s possible to see not only past lost, but through it.”

“Snaketime III” by Caroline Goodwin was chosen as the runner-up. Phillips writes “the particular strength of ‘Snaketime III’ is how it moves from the ordinary life of putting kettles on into the—seemingly inevitable—action of the girl “tapping her hands / into fins.” From there, the poem opens up into transformation, which I think is what’s at stake, finally: the need to be in readiness for change, also the place of the will when it comes to change: “Open it up, ‘you’ll see. You’ll let it in’. As if we had the power all along, for better and possibly worse.”

Finalists for the poetry contest were: Jessica Barksdale, Janine Certo, Robert Franklin, Brittany Leitner, Margaret B. Ray, Christopher Spaide, Yerra Sugarman, and Regina Walton.

In addition to receiving $1000 each, Hickman and Nadel’s winning work will appear in our upcoming Winter 2020 issue along with nonfiction from Garth Greenwell, fiction by Myla Goldberg, poetry by Evie Shockley, and more. Subscribe today so you don’t miss any of this incredible work.

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