• 2020 Fiction, Poetry, and Nonfiction Contest Winners

    The Sewanee Review

    Fall 2020

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

    Judge Garth Greenwell selected Becky Shirley’s short story “Poppy” as the winner for the fiction contest. Greenwell calls it “a cannily structured story that balances the bewildered experience of childhood with the greater understanding of an adult. The voice is winning and fresh, both vulnerable and irreverent. But what’s masterful is the density with which the story imagines a family’s privacy, the sense it gives of a deeply inhabited, lovingly seen world. The story never stopped surprising me: not through narrative hijinks, but by the turns its very moving compassion takes, the sudden, unexpected sympathies it draws. ”

    “Omnipotence” by Brandon Haffner was named the runner-up. Greenwell writes, “This elegant, spare story takes sensational elements of melodrama—adultery among brothers, drunken family scenes—and treats them with such subtlety they become the material of art. A remarkable emotional intelligence is buttressed by an equally remarkable faith in suggestion and the unsaid. The final scenes are extraordinary for the powerful silences they allow.” 

    Finalists for this year’s contest in fiction were: Kate Finegan, Karen Gu, Patricia King, and Kate Severance.

    Semifinalists: Caroline Burke, Hurmat Kazmi, Stephanie Kopylov, Kate Marra, Lara Palmqvist, Wilhelm Sitz, and Alanna Schubach.


    Donika Kelly selected “Last Night” by Kara Olson as the winner of this year’s poetry contest. “The layered intimacies of ‘Last Night’ build until they fold over, overcome,” Kelly says. “Sensuous and compact, the poem explores the longing housed in a closed mouth. The unfired horse, the kiln of the speaker’s palm, the clay still soft enough to bend, evokes the transformative tension between artist and creation, the lover and beloved.”

    “Palinode” by Michael Prior was chosen as the runner-up. Kelly writes, “What strikes me most about this poem is the intimation of what came before, what needs to be retracted. There is the space that opens between a parent and child as they age, here meticulously charted and staggering, and the speaker realizes ‘There are no equivalencies, / only echoes.’”

    Finalists for the poetry contest were: Will Brewbaker, Micaela Bombard, Lupita Eyde-Tucker, AE Hines, Vikesh Kapoor, Corey Miller, Jamila Osman, Catherine Rockwood, Honor Vincent, Clare Welsh, and Hannah Yoest. 


    Melissa Febos selected “Amongst Reasonable Men” by Margot Parmenter as the winner of this year’s nonfiction contest. Febos writes: “I couldn't stop thinking about this essay. Its dry humor, erudition, and coiling logic works together in an unexpected harmony. Its subject matter is somewhat ordinary: the everyday humiliations and double-binds of a woman working at ‘a large international law firm,’ but the careful prose and its underlying fury held me rapt in a pleasurable but unsettling hypnosis. It is a subtle work, but like the tick of a bomb. There is no explosion, but I can still hear it inside me.”

    “The Lost Essay” by Beth Bachmann was chosen as the runner-up. Febos writes: “Like a riddle, I read this essay over and over, looking for its speaker. They emerged, but only in brief, searing moments, in lines that I can still remember verbatim, and will for a long time: That mountain I wanted to bury my mother and father at the base of?  Or: Summer again, my bones showing more or less under my skin. Reading and re-reading its careful but playful exfoliations of language and meaning, I found myself full of an inexplicable longing, in a state that only a lyric could induce.”

    Finalists for the nonfiction contest were: Miles Griffis, Sofia Groopman, Christina McCausland, Melanie Simonich, Nicholas Snider, and Caroline Tracey. 

    Seminfinalists: Marilyn Abildskov, Lisa Argrette Ahmad, Harrison Hill, Carol Keeley, Resham Mantri, Grace Prasad, Lee Price, and Sara Wigal.


    In addition to receiving $1,000 each, the winners will be published in our upcoming Winter 2021 issue along with nonfiction from Ross Gay, fiction by Brandon Taylor, poetry by Nikky Finney, and more. Subscribe today so you don’t miss any of this incredible work.

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