Among the many pleasures of this season is featuring the winning story from our annual Nelligan Prize for Short Fiction. Now in its eighteenth year, the prize was established in honor of Liza Nelligan, a writer, scholar, literary editor, and alumna of Colorado State University’s English Department. This year, that story is Danny Thiemann’s “One Bad Night in San José, Costa Rica,” selected by T. Geronimo Johnson. Of the story, Johnson writes that it is “a panoramic reckoning of loss, yearning, and affection; a story both darkly funny and splendidly sobering, an array of perspectives each of which reminds us that meaning is found in the space between what ought to be and what is.”
Thiemann’s story, like its companion prose pieces in this issue, both fiction and nonfiction, foregrounds an aching inability to say the hard things we want to say—need to say—to one another, something many of us are likely experiencing in these fraught times. In “One Bad Night in San José, Costa Rica,” a mother, her son, and his ex-girlfriend struggle to ask for what they need from each other, relying on translations and celebrity quotations to stand in for meaningful communication. A newly single mother, in Siân Griffiths’s “The Win-Loss Columns,” wrestling with guilt over her divorce, finds her way through the abyss of technology and teenagehood to reach out to her son. In Anu Kandikuppa’s “The Belfort,” a long-neglected wife suddenly becomes the widow of a husband she barely knew and seeks the company of strangers to express her peculiar loss. In Brendan Williams-Childs’s “Lycia,” the daughter of a Turkish ambassador realizes she has more questions than answers about her father when he disappears with the body of her recently deceased brother.
In our first ever graphic nonfiction piece, “Field #1,” an excerpt from her forthcoming book Team Photograph, Lauren Haldeman writes about coming to poetry as a way to explain what haunted her. Megan Baxter, in “Green Thumb,” explores her various attempts to find connection with her family through the practice of gardening. And in “The Spirit Cabinet,” Zack Finch contemplates the relationship between his family’s suppressed Jewish heritage and their tendency toward silence and secrecy.
We welcome you to these conversations and to the fall/winter issue.
There is something delectable about change. The possibility of possibility. The horizon promising and unweaving what I think I know. About a week ago, I noticed the tips of branches yellowing and ambering before my eyes. I often miss this transitory moment from summer into autumnal everything. In a millisecond, the vault of existence revealed its seams to me and I was fully in the present. I believe we are in this perpetual present together, dear reader. What other place for us to commune?
The poets in this issue unweave what I think I know—in the most expanding and visceral ways. What is knowing but stagnancy? What is knowing but a resistance to movement? I look to be undone by the poems this fall. To question knowing in my gut and believe this questioning makes me stronger. To understand that the pursuit of knowing fuels me. In “Blood Flower,” the voice in Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s poem states, “I can’t figure out // the red burst of a flower my gentle neighbor grows / in a ceramic pot on her porch and she has long forgotten // the name so I look it up. The stain of it. The rain of it. / Its name lives inside of me. Inside of you, too.” We commune. We find the holy in the pursuit, in the wonder that brings us together, in inevitable change.
A pulse of us lives in these poems. Our sifting to understand the present, how we arrived here. “I want to hear your story about your story let me hear it let it in let it open,” Diana Khoi Nguyen’s poem “Eclipse” incantates. Our pulse often beats that of a world hard to look at, one in which the voices of bipoc, trans, queer, and marginalized people still claw at survival. In “The Industrial Revolution,” a poem for George Floyd, the voice in April Freely’s poem considers the violence to Black people in this country: “Flying / means we let the body be borne up and then / drop that body again . . . the city as a barren place where we cannot find / the bottom of what we will watch be done.” In our collective pursuits, we must imagine the relentless, active change required so all people may thrive, not just survive. This too is the pulse of us: the ugly and deeply beautiful in tension.
Do you feel that? The quaking already in motion?
Featured in This Issue
Serena Alagappan, Emma Aylor, Megan Baxter, Joshua Bennett, Chee Brossy, Dorothy Chan, Leila Chatti, Anthony Cody, J. David, Steven Espada Dawson, Bryce Emley, Jordan Escobar, Zack Finch, April Freely, Stacy Gnall, J. P. Grasser, Siân Griffiths, Lauren Haldeman, Janice N. Harrington, Anu Kandikuppa, Patrick Kindig, Lisa Low, Yesenia Montilla, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Diana Khoi Nguyen, Cindy Juyoung Ok, Ellen Samuels, Danny Thiemann, Phillip West, Brendan Williams-Childs, and Stella Wong