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Interviews With Our 2016 BLR Prizewinners

July 11, 2016

Meridian Johnson (pictured above)
Winner of the 2016 Marica and Jan Vilcek Prize for Poetry for "The Problem With Anatomical Thinking—"
Selected by Ada Limon

”Behind this poem is my fascination with the simultaneity of experience that is, at once, feeling grounded in human form, feeling present, feeling exuberantly alive, and then, because of some spiritual, physical, emotional or mental distress, addled into a victimhood mentality where we apparently know nothing about our own health and well-being (let alone what we might do to heal). This is the experience of powerlessness that we sometimes feel when we 'don’t know' what’s happening inside of our bodies. But, how often do we stop to ask the body itself, to see and feel what sort of message resides within? And who demonstrates or teaches us how to do such a thing?”

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Lauren Alwan
Winner of the 2016 Goldenberg Prize for Fiction for "The Foreign Cinema"
Selected by Paul Harding

“The challenge for me in drafting a story is to find ways to stay engaged, to stay inside the story, which is what also what makes the writing interesting. One way to do that is to pull in subjects I feel a connection to, or that fascinate, and in this story, it was Curtiz's film, Casablanca. I'd never written about film before, fictionally or otherwise. The prospect was exciting, and quickly brought a new energy to the story. I didn't know where the thread was going, but as the characters responded to the film, I grew to know them better, and as the film came to have greater importance in the action, it echoed important emotional junctures in both sisters' lives. Casablanca quickly became an integral part of the story, which was a surprise, and also a relief. The film turned out to be a useful dramatic vehicle, and had meaning for the characters and their story.”

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Esther K. Willison
Winner of the 2016 Felice Buckvar Prize for Nonfiction for "Askew"
Selected by Mark Vonnegut

”At the time I wrote the book I think this might have been the process: First, when I sat down at the computer Andrea’s presence was clear in my mind. This was both an intellectual and a physical experience. My heart beat more quickly; my body was tense, maybe evident as a stiff neck or a sore shoulder. Sometimes I felt I was typing for my life, for her life. That if I could recall her history and catch up with her I could finally come up from behind her and yell, wait, wait, I’m coming too. So the process of writing was partly not to lose her, or to go with her, or to recreate her—her birth, her childhood, her friends, her lovers, her humor—on paper. But, I feared if I printed it out she would reappear and smile at me, ‘What are you doing, Mom, I chose to go, why are you bringing me back?’”

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2016 BLR prizewinners