Personal Essay Judge: Adriana E. Ramírez is the author of Dead Boys, a nonfiction novella and winner of the 2015 PEN/Fusion Emerging Writer’s Prize. A Mexican-Columbian nonfiction writer and poet based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Ramírez is “Critic At Large” for the Los Angeles Times’ Book Section, co-founder of Aster(ix) Journal, co-founder the Pittsburgh Poetry Collective, and a VONA alum. Her writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of BooksLiterary HubConvolutionHEArtApogee, Guernica/ PEN America, and She has two collections of poetry, The Swallows and Trusting in Imaginary Spaces. Ramírez is currently at work on The Violence (forthcoming, Fall 2017), a book about her death fantasies, the War on Drugs, and the way we tell stories around violence.

Narrative Journalism Judge: Ted Conover‘s Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing won the National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His latest book is Immersion: A Writer’s Guide to Going Deep. Conover is also the author of Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails with America’s Hoboes, Coyotes: A Journey Across Borders with America’s Mexican Migrants, Whiteout, and The Routes of Man. He contributes to the New York Times Magazine, Harpers, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and other publications. Recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, he teaches at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute of New York University.


Theme: WORK
Judge: Adriana Ramírez

Winner — “How to Burn Shit” by Joseph S. Pete

“In ‘How to Burn Shit,’ Joseph S. Pete presents the reader with the visceral and unpleasant realities of war. In this brief and haunting essay, though, the unpleasant tasks of survival take on a greater, more important metaphorical quality. The language is sparse and clear, while the themes at its core remain complex. ‘How to Burn Shit’ is a powerful and brief reminder of the privileges we take for granted.” ~Adriana E. Ramírez

First Runner-up —Apology” by Hannah Craig

In ‘Apology,’ a young woman works on a factory line the summer before college. In this narrative essay, the author examines the perils and lessons that come with white, college-bound students taking on working-class jobs for a short amount of time. Resisting the urge to see line workers as simply another part of the machine, the author works to humanize her colleagues as well as to complicate her own privilege.” ~Adriana E. Ramírez

Second Runner-up — “New York Nanny” by Gabrielle Montesanti

“In ‘New York Nanny,’ the author explores the art and act of care-giving for another’s child. As the narrator struggles to find direction (or perhaps definition) for her life, she weighs the burdens and joys of childcare. Underneath the narrative are larger ruminations on the different choices that parents make, and how those choices change and govern the lives of all involved.” ~Adriana E. Ramírez


HANNAH CRAIG is the author of This History That Just Happened (Parlor Press, 2017) which was the winner of the New Measure Poetry Prize. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in journals including Fence, Mississippi Review, the North American Review, Prairie Schooner, and Smartish Pace. She lives in Pittsburgh, PA.
KRISTINE JEPSEN is a writer and farm business owner in Northeast Iowa. For 10 years she built and ran a grass-fed beef company with her husband, selling the brand by luck and leverage to the largest meat corporation on Earth. Her memoir in progress tells the story of this bloody business and the growing up required to survive it, a project that earned her a spot in the 2017 AWP Writer-to-Writer mentorship program. Her writing also appears in the Driftless Region’s Inspire(d) Magazine and in the grant applications she assembles on behalf of other ag businesses and non-profits.
E.C. KELLY is a writer, teacher, and performer living in Austin, TX. She has an M.A. in Liberal Arts, which is a fancy way of saying she’s studied teaching, acting, and creative writing a lot. What motivates her writing is the queer kid born to an unaccepting family. She wants to reach that kid.
KIM K. McCREA attended the Robert D. Clark Honors College and received her BA in English from the University of Oregon. Kim worked as a Systems Analyst in IT for over 20 years before returning to literature and letters. Kim recently won the Silver Creek Writers Residency/Treefort Wild West Prize for Creative Nonfiction and was twice named a finalist for the Oregon Quarterly Annual Essay Contest. Kim lives in Eugene, Oregon.
GABRIELLE MONTESANTI is currently a nonfiction MFA student at Washington University in St. Louis. She received her BA from Kalamazoo College in mathematics and studio art, and spent terms in New York City working for visual artists and in Rome writing her senior thesis. She is a competitive swimmer turned roller girl and is currently at work on her first book-length manuscript about roller derby.
RACHEL PARSONS is a Brooklyn-based educator and writer. After teaching math for almost a decade in the New York City public school system, she decided to do something completely different and earn her MFA in creative nonfiction from Sarah Lawrence College. She served as editor-in-chief of the LUMINA journal and is currently an editorial fellow with Guernica magazine. Her work has appeared in or will appear in Bleu Magazine, Z Magazine, Schools: Studies in Education, and the upcoming anthology Nasty Women and Bad Hombres: Historical Reflections on the 2016 Presidential Election. She is a voracious reader and sees writing as an important tool for social change.
JOSEPH S. PETE is an award-winning journalist, an Iraq War veteran, an Indiana University graduate, and a frequent guest on Lakeshore Public Radio. He has done live lit on the iO Chicago stage, was a reader at the Underground Lit Fest and was named the poet laureate of Chicago BaconFest 2016–a feat that Geoffrey Chaucer chump never accomplished. His literary or photographic work has appeared or is forthcoming in New Pop Lit, The Grief Diaries, Gravel, Perch Magazine, Lit-Tapes, Synesthesia Literary Journal, Chicago Literati, Dogzplot, shufPoetry, The Roaring Muse, Prairie Winds, Blue Collar Review, Work Literary Magazine, Lumpen, Stoneboat, The Tipton Poetry Journal, Euphemism, Jenny Magazine and elsewhere.
NICOLA WALDRON‘s essays and poems have been featured or are forthcoming in Assay, Post Road, Agni, Your Impossible Voice, The Common, California Quarterly, and Sonora Review, among others. Her essay on the postpartum body, “My Thick Waist”, was a Best American Essays‘ Notable Essay in 2015, and her poetry manuscript, Girl at the Watershed, was winner in the South Carolina Poetry Initiative chapbook competition, and published in 2013. Recipient of Jasper Project’s 2014 Broad River Prize for Prose and Britain’s Bridport Prize for poetry, Waldron holds degrees from Cambridge University and the Bennington Writing Seminars, and currently teaches writing at the University of South Carolina.
German-born CHILA WOYCHIK has bylines in journals such as Silk RoadStorm Cellar, and Soundings East, and was awarded the 2017 Loren Eiseley Creative Nonfiction Award (Red Savina Review) & the 2016 Linda Julian Creative Nonfiction Award (Emrys Journal/Foundation). She craves the beautiful and lyrical, and edits the Eastern Iowa Review.

Theme: WORK
Judge: Ted Conover

Winner — “It Takes a Boom” by Blaire Briody

“This vivid portrait of a woman trying to work oil fields during the fracking boom rings totally true—we seldom meet people like Cindy Marchello in narrative journalism, but I don’t doubt for a second they’re here. I love the frankness and the matter-of-factness. Both Blaire Briody and her subject won my heart, and admiration.” ~Ted Conover

First Runner-up — “That Day at Joe’s” by Richard Gilbert

“This piece is writerly, playful, and winningly creative, with meditations on the nature of journalism, writing as a calling, and how our imagination handles people we fear. It’s not exactly narrative journalism but it is vividly remembered, beautifully detailed, and told by a sophisticate who lets us see his inner boy; I was happily transported to another place and time.” ~Ted Conover



BLAIRE BRIODY is a freelance journalist who has written for The New York Times, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Fast Company, Glamour, among others. Her first nonfiction book, The New Wild West, about North Dakota’s oil boom will be published in September 2017. The book was the 2016 finalist for the Lukas Work-in-Progress Award from Columbia Journalism School and Harvard University, and she received the Richard J. Margolis Award for social justice journalism in 2014. She graduated from the University of California–Davis with a degree in international relations and now resides in Sonoma County.
KRISTINA GADDY believes in the power of narrative nonfiction and history. She writes for OZY‘s Flashback section, and has written for The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, and historical publications, and recently co-produced a radio story on the Lee-Jackson Monument and Confederate legacy in Baltimore. She loves digging in archives and discovering obscure history, and came to writing after working in museums, where she co-curated and designed exhibits, digitized and archived local history collections, and produced a CD of field recordings of a ballad-singer and banjo-player Currence Hammonds. She has a MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Goucher College and B.A.s in History and Modern Languages from UMBC.
RICHARD GILBERT is the author of Shepherd: A Memoir, about the decade he and his family farmed in Appalachian Ohio. An adventure story of loss, dreams, place, and fatherhood, Shepherd was a 2015 Ohioana Book Award in Nonfiction Finalist. An essay adapted from it, “A Dry Year,” was nominated by Chautauqua for a Pushcart Prize. His recent essay “Why I Hate My Dog” was named a “Best of 2016” by LongreadsProximity published his essay “Don’t Call Me Dick” in 2015. Other work has appeared in Orion and Utne Reader. Gilbert has taught at Ohio University and Otterbein University. Previously, he worked in book publishing for Indiana University Press and Ohio University Press. In earlier years, he was a journalist, honored for feature writing and public service.
PAMELA KELLEY worked for more than thirty years as a reporter at the Charlotte Observer, where her awards included honors from the National Press Club, National Education Writers Association and the Society for Features Journalism. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from Goucher College and a BA in journalism from UNC Chapel Hill. She’s at work on a narrative nonfiction book, tentatively titled Money Rock: A Story of Cocaine, Race, and Ambition in the New South, to be published by The New Press. The book explores Charlotte’s legacy of racism through the story of one cocaine dealer and his family. She lives with her husband, Trent Foley, in Cornelius, NC.
BRENDAN O’MEARA is the host of The Creative Nonfiction Podcast, author of Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year, and the 2016 winner of Proximity‘s Narrative Journalism Prize. He lives in Eugene, Oregon.
ERICA WESTLY is an author and journalist currently based in Chicago, Illinois. Her writing has appeared in Slate, the Smart Set, and the New York Times, among other publications. Her book Fastpitch: The Untold History of Softball and the Women Who Made the Game was a finalist for the 2017 PEN/ESPN award for literary sports writing.


“Millennial Paperweights” by E.C. Kelly

“Kelly’s voice is fresh, humorous, and quietly, satisfyingly biting. Though she writes candidly about her own doubt and mistrust, it is clear she writes from a place of profound resolve. And what she writes about is essential — the moments so small we often feel we shouldn’t speak of them, but that have a deep and echoing effect on the course of a life. I’m excited to see what this writer does next.” ~Carrie Kilman