I’m in a memoir workshop right now and it’s been a revelation to realize how much I haven’t understood about what I experienced as an immigrant kid growing up in Milwaukee, and how those experiences, many of them still deep wells that I haven’t yet plumbed, continue to shape me. Or in your words, “the mysteries of childhood experience, the wonder of adult reflection, and how the two connect over a lifespan.”
When I began writing memoir, I worried that my stories would be too dated or unrelatable. Now I understand that it’s not when something took place that matters; it’s the imagination and sensibility that one can bring afterwards to what happened in childhood that can transform it into a story that can open your mind, and others as well. To my delight, the Barnhill Prize honors this kind of writing.
Growing the Longridge Review family of writers, editors, readers, and artists is a perpetual joy, and it is truly with joy that we welcome Thea and Semein as 2021 readers (they will be joining, not replacing, our current band of five editors) for The Anne C. Barnhill Prize for Creative Nonfiction. Check them out, and consider submitting your work beginning June 1.
Thea Princewill has written for magazines, newspapers, television, advertising agencies, and corporations for over 25 years. In fact, when she isn’t writing, she is usually reading. Or copy-editing. Or proofreading. Thea lives in South Florida and is currently working to improve her French language skills.
Semein Washington is a poet whose published work can be found in Light, Eye to the Telescope, Sijo: An International Journal of Poetry and Song, Sonder Midwest, and is forthcoming in Hawai’i Review. Semein’s work is ecstatic poetry discussing topics of nature, science, religion, music, comic books, and human experience. He currently lives in Richmond, Virginia, and teaches as an adjunct professor of English at John Tyler Community College.
If you’re new here: In 2010, a little idea for sharing essays on childhood got a big boost when Anne Clinard Barnhill submitted “Winter Solstice” to an unknown fellow West Virginian. I wanted to pursue the idea there is a lot to say about how our early experiences shape the world. Anne later sent “Melungeons and Mystery,” as well as “Staying.” It is because of Anne’s belief in Essays on a West Virginia Childhood that the project became something so much bigger, an online literary journal that publishes writers from coast to coast in the USA, and beyond.
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.
This issue has a bully thread running through it; the essays range from humorous to painful, and remind the reader that childhood is often a rollercoaster of dodged threats, unwanted pursuits, emotional crises, and coming to terms with how to best situate what other people put us through so we can move on with our whole lives.
Childhood can be funny, heartbreaking, and dangerous; and some parts of it are unforgettable.
In The Bibliosquatter, Glassman confesses her childhood secret life at the library; and by secret we mean secret. You can’t help but be impressed and awed by the lengths she goes to while escaping her personal bully. What were 1970s parents doing again?
Halscheid’s flash piece recalls the meanness of boys who waited for her daily, harassing her and mocking her appearance as she tried to best cover her starving body during her father’s illness. The narrator’s loneliness becomes something we can’t un-feel.
Jacobson’s haunting memories of a girl he loved and her unexplained disappearance from his life linger like salty air or soft flowers; the entire narrative feels like something evoked from a mysterious scent, something that triggers a sense of loss but exchanges what it takes for something beautiful.
In Breaking Character, Kovac’s childhood ballet takes a Lord of The Flies turn that, while bringing a laugh, also owns up to how we feel deep desires and rages even when very young — emotions and wants on a level that feel familiar from an adult perspective. (Her recounting of a teacher’s memories of winters in Germany is not to be missed. You’ll appreciate The Nutcracker on a new level.)
Waters tries to make peace with her mother’s obsessions with what other people think of her and her family. Many readers will recognize the experience of trying to please a parent who cannot be satisfied, and spending years seeking the best way to accept that parent and to love oneself.
Finally, Williams explores a relationship that spans childhood to adulthood, and that reveals some uncomfortable truths about competition, judgement, and control in unexpected places. Readers no doubt will recognize some version of this evolution in their own lives. The reappearance of the rabbit (What is the rabbit, in fact?) towards the end of the essay is a brilliant touch.
Come read and enjoy!
The writers have worked hard to bring you their experience, wisdom, and places for empathy and understanding. Our team of readers and editors are privileged to assist.
P.S. Submissions open soon for our next issue: February 1, 2021-April 2, 2021.
It is our great pleasure to announce that Marsha Lynn Smith is the 2020 winner of The Anne C. Barnhill Prize for Creative Nonfiction. Her essay, 4 Generations of Black Hair Matters, was an early favorite in the submission process, and was named the best of the best by contest judge Carter Sickels. Sickels writes:
“I was impressed by all of the wonderful essays I read for The Barnhill Prize, and I want thank the writers for sharing their work.
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 memories of her mother working over her hair with a hot comb or getting her first natural at a barber shop in Chicago, or keenly examining why generations of Black women embraced or rejected particular hairstyles, the narrator of this essay is smart, supple, and 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.”
Congratulations to Marsha, 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.
Marsha Lynn Smith is completing a memoir highlighting a rocky romance with a jazz musician, juggling single motherhood and her surprise career as a Hollywood publicist. Her work has or will be published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, River Teeth, and Rigorous. Also, her essays will appear in the print journals of Genre: Urban Arts’ Femme Literati Mixtape No. 2, and Madville Publishing’s2021 essay anthology,Being Home. She likes to read historical fiction novels, and admits to binge-watching international TV dramas. Follow her on Twitter: @real_marsha
Desi Allevato lives in central Virginia with her husband, where they are raising one child, two cats, and a hundred tree saplings in a suburban backyard. She has a brain tumor, ADHD, and an unfinished dissertation about Russian history, and assumed her life was pretty ordinary until a friend told her should write about it. She is a contributing writer to Grow Christians. Follow her on Twitter, @desirosie.
Elana Margot is a writer of poetry, autofiction, and creative nonfiction based in the Bay Area. Her writing has been published in The Goose: A Journal of Arts, Environment, and Culture in Canada, and Undercurrents: A Journal of Critical Environmental Studies. Her work centers the practice of writing into grief, embodiment, childhood subjectivity, queerness, and animality. Follow her on Twitter: @ElanaMargot
Vanessa Remmers is a former journalist who is now working to tell her own stories. You can find more of her work on Twitter @RemmersVanessa or at vanessaremmers.journoportfolio.com
Cheryl Skory Suma launched her writing career with a YA fantasy novel, Habitan, which made the longlist of the 2019 Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Awards. She won Blank Spaces 2020 (March) Flash Fiction Contest, was longlisted for both Pulp Literature’s 2020 Bumblebee Flash Fiction Contest & Hummingbird Flash Fiction Prize, received an Honorable Mention for Spider Road Press 2020 Flash Fiction Contest, was a finalist for Exposition Review’s Flash 405 (April 2020), and her second novel, gods Playground, was a ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Competition semifinalist. Her poetry has appeared in La Piccioletta Barca and Public Poetry’s Enough Anthology. In 2019 she was also a semifinalist for Ruminate Magazine’s VanderMey Nonfiction Prize and shortlisted for Hippocampus Magazine’s Creative Nonfiction Contest, Blank Spaces Flash Fiction contest and the Erbacce Prize for poetry. Cheryl has a Masters of Health Science in Speech-Language Pathology and a B.Sc. in Honors Psychology. Her website is cherylskorysuma.com. Follow her on Twitter: @cherylskorysuma
The Barnhill Prize honors Anne’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.
Selection process: Editors determine the pool of up to 10 finalist essays. Finalist essays will be read by an outside judge who selects one winning essay. The author of the winning essay receives a cash award of $250. The winner has ten days to accept the award. More information about this year’s judge, Carter Sickels, can be found here: #BarnhillPrize judge 2020.
Eligibility: The competition is open to writers in English, whether published or unpublished. Previous winners of this award are not eligible to win again. Writers must be residents of North America.
Current or former students of the contest judge should NOT submit their work to this contest; the same goes for anyone who personally knows the judge in any regard.
Essays should be double-spaced and no more than 3,500 words in length.
The award recognizes outstanding creative nonfiction that reflects our mission: (See About)
Essays are only accepted via our Submittable online platform. No paper, please.
Please be sure essay pages are numbered and that your name is NOT on the document that is your essay.
Please use a standard, easy-to-read font such as Times New Roman in twelve-point size.
Essays may not have been previously published.
Authors may submit more than one essay to the competition for consideration as long as no material is duplicated between submissions. Each submission will require a separate entry fee.
Essays under consideration for this competition may be submitted elsewhere at the same time. Please withdraw your essay if it is accepted by another publisher and should no longer be considered for the Barnhill Prize for Creative Nonfiction competition. Withdrawal can be completed via the submissions manager website. Entry fees ($10 per submission) are not refundable.
The final judge will not be aware of the names or publication records of the authors. If he believes he recognizes the work or identity of the writer, he will disclose that to our editors.
Please forward any questions to edg (at) longridgeeditors (dot) com. Thank you!
We are thrilled to announce that Carter Sickels will award the 2020 Anne C. Barnhill Prize for Creative Nonfiction.
Carter’s novel The Prettiest Staris forthcoming from Hub City Press in 2020. He is the author of the novel The Evening Hour (Bloomsbury 2012), an Oregon Book Award finalist and a Lambda Literary Award finalist. His essays and fiction have appeared in a variety of publications, including Oxford American, Poets & Writers, BuzzFeed, Guernica, and the Bellevue Literary Review. Carter is the recipient of the 2013 Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Award, and earned fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the MacDowell Colony. He is an assistant professor of English at Eastern Kentucky University, where he teaches in the Bluegrass Writers low-residency MFA program.
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.”
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.
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 Review, The Kenyon Review, Prairie 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 Review, American Literary Review, South 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 Rumpus, Gay Magazine, Atticus Review, december, Under the Gum Tree, Gastronomica, and elsewhere.
It’s always exciting for us at Longridge Review to get publishing news from one of our essayists. Dorothy Rice’s memoir, Gray Is The New Black(Otis Books, Seismicity Editions, June 2019), is a memoir of ageism, sexism and self acceptance. It’s also a wonderful portrait of an intelligent, beautiful woman struggling to confront her past in order to have the present and future she wants and deserves. Read on for insight into her process!
Q: I find elements of your essay here, Prom and Other Fairy Tales, in your book. Your relationship to your sisters and your mother, feeling trapped by other people’s expectations, being conflicted about your role in the male desires around you. When you go into the past with your writing, what do you find the most difficult? And how do you deal with it?
A: I love writing about the past. Perhaps because these are stories I believe I know. Meaning I know what I remember as having happened and that’s where I start. But what I am always astonished by is how, in writing the scenes that I remember, that are born anew. When I take the time to go deep into memory, I find things I had forgotten or, even better, the past is revealed to me in new ways.
This is a simple truth and goal of memoir writing, of course. When we recount childhood experience as adults, we both remember how it felt as a child and now, years later, we are looking at that experience with very different, ideally more reflective, generous and perhaps even forgiving, eyes.
That is what I love about Longridge Review – your focus on essays that explore exactly this broadening, this expansion, complexity and different understanding that emerges when we re-examine early experience.
This is my wheelhouse, a place I could hang out in for days.
My mother, sadly, is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. If she were cogent, it’s quite likely I wouldn’t have written of her in many of the ways that I have, if at all (she was pretty prickly). As for my sisters, I share any writing that includes them before seeking publication. Over the years, it’s lead to interesting comparisons of our memories of the same event, colored by our differing personalities (I’m the Eeyoreof the three).
Q: You write a lot in this book about struggling to gain control over your weight throughout your life. Many people with a similar struggle say they only gained control over their body’s literal weight by dealing with the hidden weight of some kind of personal trauma. Was that true for you?
A: That was my hope and a main impetus for writing this book. I thought of 2017 as my year to fix whatever it was that ailed me and to write a book about the process. On the most simplistic level, I was dissatisfied with my appearance and my marriage and sick and tired of feeling that way. If not now, when? Edging up on 65, that was the mantra that urged me on.
It’s no surprise that diets and exercise proved no more effective in 2017 than in any prior year. I began digging for the roots of my body dissatisfaction issues and quickly stumbled into old trauma territory (rape at 15 and its lingering aftermath).
I still struggle with weight and body acceptance. Revisiting and reflecting on the trauma didn’t “cure” me. But it moved the dial and sharpened my focus. I hadn’t realized the extent to which I harbored shame, guilt and embarrassment over mistakes made in adolescence. Those uncomfortable feelings are closely aligned with how I’ve long felt about my body, sexuality, and desirability as a woman.
In other words, writing about it wasn’t a quick fix (I don’t believe there is such a thing), but I’m more conscious now. When I’m beating myself up, I can often stop the shame/eat/repeat cycle before its hooks are into me. I work at being kinder, gentler and more forgiving with myself, which I hope makes me the same with others.
Q: Anyone writing creative nonfiction has to grapple with the reactions of those we write about. Sometimes others even question the veracity of your memories. Have you had this happen, has anyone said, “That’s not the way it happened”?
A: If anything, it’s been illuminating rather than divisive. My sisters laugh when I recall a scene with dark and dreary overtones that for them was happy, or neutral.
I am often asked about the general veracity of memory. How am I comfortable recreating dialogue (which I love to do)? How on earth do I know what Dad said when I was six? There are some conversations I remember (or believe I remember) verbatim, but I don’t claim to have total recall. I go for the emotional truth and work from there. I also believe in “method writing” (akin to “method acting” where the actor really climbs inside the character’s skin). I create a little movie in my head, immerse myself in whatever the scene is, press “play” and start writing.
In all the essays I’ve written with family-member and other’s dialog, no one has yet complained, “I never said that.” I don’t believe it’s because they ever said exactly those words, but rather the writing captured enough of where they were coming from emotionally and what they intended to communicate or accomplish.
My parents found my memory for the details of every awful thing anyone ever did or said to me pretty irritating. To quote my dad,”Your mind is like the Roach Motel (a cockroach bait device that was featured in TV ads when I was a kid). Whatever makes it inside that head of yours, never comes out.”
Of course, these traits have proven useful as a writer, or perhaps they explain why I write. I have to get it all out of there somehow or my head might explode.
Q: You write a lot about what I would call the way things appear, the way things feel, and the way things are. That’s a lot of angles! Where do you think that comes from, those conflicts that you seem to always be trying to resolve?
A: That’s an interesting question! Thank you for that.
On one level, that’s what the book is about. How one’s thinking about self and others–the various perception lenses through which life’s experiences are filtered–impacts everything. Our appreciation and enjoyment of life. The ability to experience joy and gratitude. The ability to be in the moment, living life, rather than dissecting what it might have been, could or should have been, and wasn’t. The ability to accept love and affection, to believe in it.
Deciding to write this particular book post-60, I had a sense of if-not-now-when, both in terms of the writing itself, but also in tackling what I perceive to be my personal demons head on. I wanted to bring my own awareness to the mental contortions I put myself though on a daily basis and to, to the extent possible, make peace with myself, who I am and how I am.
The mind is a noisy place. Writing down some of what’s rattling around in there can bring a moment’s peace. It feels like tidying up, making some sense of a vexing or irksome memory.
Q: You write about writing itself. What was the most helpful piece of advice you received that influenced your writing process for this book?
A: Before beginning Gray Is The New Black, I had enrolled in a write-a-book-in-a-year class with NYT best-selling author Ellen Sussman. Both the structure of the class and the accountability provided by having deadlines and others to report to periodically were huge in terms of writing this book.
I really needed that.
As for specific advice, Ellen was great at several junctures. Within the first month of beginning the memoir, I tapped into the material about my high school trauma and how that experience colored all my future interactions with boys and men. Once I’d turned the spigot, I couldn’t stop the flow. I literally spewed words, something like 150,000 in a matter of six weeks or so. I worried it was all garbage and that I was on the wrong track. Ellen reassured me by saying something along the lines of, “Just keep going. Get it all down. This is the stage you should be in. The generative stage.”
Legitimizing what I was experiencing helped me a lot, as my tendency is to self-edit as I go. If I’d stopped to judge the value of recording these painful memories and impressions, I might have been mired down for months or years. Much of it got cut way back or eliminated during the various edits of the draft manuscript. But I needed the freedom to let it rip and not worry about form, shape, narrative thread or anything but the words that, after so many years, were finally finding their way out of me and onto the page.