It is our great pleasure to announce that Mary J. Mahoney is the first winner of The Anne C. Barnhill Prize for Creative Nonfiction. Her essay, Suburbs Plagued by Foraging Deer, captured our editors’ eyes early in the submission process, and was named the best of the best by contest judge Randal O’Wain. O’Wain writes:

“What initially drew me to ‘Suburbs Plagued by Foraging Deer’ was the confident narrative voice. I felt at once that I was in the hands of a complicated storyteller, a storyteller that understands how necessary it is to consider the complexity of the human condition without relying on easy answers.

The voice is curious yet anguished with a great amount of humor and all of this together deepens the insights the writer gains about place and family, especially in the nuanced ways in which the parents and sisters are balanced with regards to the new suburban home.

In the end, however, what drew me to this essay out of all the very self-assured and talented writers I was lucky enough to read for The Barnhill Prize was the impressionistic style of “Suburbs Plagued by Foraging Deer.” Where the situation of the essay—a Catholic family moves from Brooklyn to a Long Island suburb called Deer Park—is simple enough, the subterranean story of longing and economic advancement, the story of tradition and generational shifts, is written with compelling subtlety.”

Named as notable by O’Wain are The Imaginary Writer by Elizabeth Lantz, and The Fence by Dorian Fox.

Congratulations to these writers, and to each of our finalists. On behalf of our editorial team, we are humbled and grateful to have the opportunity to read your work; most of all, you contributed to the dream of honoring Anne Barnhill by offering poignant and powerful narratives from your childhood experience.

Thank you!

Mary J. Mahoney earned an MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College and a PhD in literature and creative writing from the University of Houston. She is an associate professor of English in New York. Her work has been published in many literary venues, including The Paris ReviewThe Kenyon ReviewPrairie Schooner, and more. She is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and the National Endowment of the Humanities. 

Elizabeth Lantz holds an MFA degree in creative nonfiction from The Ohio State University and currently teaches creative writing at Columbus State Community College. Her work has been published in Kenyon ReviewAmerican Literary ReviewSouth Dakota Review, and others.

Dorian Fox is a writer and freelance editor in Boston, where he teaches courses at GrubStreet, a non-profit creative writing center. His essays have appeared or are forthcoming in The RumpusGay Magazine, Atticus Review,  decemberUnder the Gum TreeGastronomica, and elsewhere.

Congratulations to our finalists for the Anne C. Barnhill Prize for Creative Nonfiction!

Neema Avashia (Boston)
Rochelle Harris Cox (Northwest GA)
Dorian Fox (Boston)
Jenna Korsmo (Tuscon)
Jessica Langlois (Atlanta)
Elizabeth Lantz (Columbus)
Mary Mahoney (New York)
Elizabeth Muller (New Jersey)
Laura Stanfill (Portland OR)
Lisa López Smith (Central Mexico)

We are exceptionally proud to present these writers and their outstanding essays. Out of over 120 submissions, our editors chose these 10 to forward to contest judge Randal O’Wain. Randal has made his choice, and we will announce the winner on Friday, October 11; on that date we will also post links to each essay, along with bios of these talented writers.

Thank you for your support and patience as we developed this contest. Our goal is to keep the spirit of Anne Barnhill alive in the writing world she loved so much, as well as to offer recognition and reward opportunities for writers who “present the finest essays on the mysteries of childhood experience, the wonder of adult reflection, and how the two connect over a lifespan.”

M. Randal O’Wain


We are over-the-moon excited to announce that M. Randal O’Wain will award the first Anne C. Barnhill Prize for Creative Nonfiction.

Randal holds an MFA from Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program. He is the author of Meander Belt: Family, Loss, and Coming of Age in the Working Class South (American Lives Series, 2019) and Hallelujah Station and Other Stories (Autumn House Press, 2020).

His essays and short stories have appeared in Oxford American, Guernica, The Pinch, Booth, Hotel Amerika, storySouth, among others.

Randal lives in Alderson WV and lectures at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His knowledge of place via WV and NC is a wonderful gift to this work; both states were special to Anne. 

Things to do today:

Special thanks to Jessie van Eerden and Wiley Cash for their encouragement.