What initially drew me 2 ‘Suburbs Plagued by Foraging Deer’ was the confident narrative voice. I felt at once that I was in the hands of a complicated storyteller …that understands how necessary it is 2 consider the complexity of the human condition w/o relying on E-Z 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.
4 Generations of Black Hair Matters explores the changing hairstyles of four generations of Black women, and beautifully exemplifies what the personal essay can do. It’s both intimate and insightful.
By writing about her own life with nuance, intimacy, and specificity, Smith illuminates truths about American culture and history, and about race, gender, and class.
From the first scene, as the narrator considers “detangling” her granddaughter’s “springy hair coils,” I knew I was in confident, skilled hands.
Whether mining her mem0ries of her mother wrking over her hair w/ a hot comb or getting her first natural @ a barber shop in Chicago, or keenly examining why genrations of Black women embraced or rejectd particular hairstyles, the narrator of this essay is smart, supple, & funny.
I was absolutely drawn in by the narrator’s voice, and by the precise, nimble prose. 4 Generations of Black Hair Matters is a personal, perceptive essay that explores Black women’s hairstyles as powerful expressions of identity, beauty, and culture.
How to Make Jeweled Rice (Shirin Polo) @writergirl judged by Mike Smith
“How to Make Jeweled Rice (Shirin Polo),” like a lot of great lyric essays, recognizes alteration—of time and place, of voice, of perspective and language—as a dynamic generator of rhythm.
The steps of the recipe for Shirin Polo, handed down to the writer from her mother, anchors poignant childhood scenes of growing up in the 1960s as the child of Iranian immigrants in Milwaukee to an extended scene of visiting “Tehrangeles” as an adult.
The essay moves between the steps of the recipe to memories of childhood in which the writer comes to terms with the decision to assimilate into American culture.
From the problematizing of the popularization of rice in the United States—through a brief history of Uncle Ben’s, which successfully “stirred the pot” in the second half of the 20th Century—
—to an episode of people-watching on Rodeo Drive, there is a wry, winking humor at work throughout this essay, which grounds us through the movement between times and places as much as it charms.
The Barnhill Prize honors Anne Clinard Barnhill’s generous spirit of support for all who love to read and write; her lifelong empathy with those who mine their childhood experience to understand themselves now; the natural vulnerability in her compelling prose and poetry; and her boundless generosity in sharing her writing passions with the world.
We are thrilled to announce that Mike Smith will award the 2021 Anne C. Barnhill Prize for Creative Nonfiction. Mike is Anne’s son, and we are over the moon that he will be our judge this year.
Mike Smith lives with his family of seven deep in the Mississippi Delta. He’s previously published nonfiction, poetry, and fiction in translation with independent and academic presses. Most recently, his published work is Contemporary Chinese Short-Short Stories (Columbia University Press) and the memoir, There Was Evening and There Was Morning: Essays on Illness, Love, and Loss(WTAW Press), which documents the strange set of coincidences between his first wife’s illness and death and his stepdaughter’s similar illness and recovery three years later. Three years ago, his mother, Anne Clinard Barnhill, named him her literary executor, leaving behind two unfinished manuscripts for him to complete.