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Guernica’s Pushcart Prize Nominees

December 21, 2010

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So, the Pushcart Prize is kind of important. For thirty-five years, editors from small lit mags and book presses have nominated six authors—be they poets, fiction writers, essayists, etc.—the best of which are featured in a Pushcart Prize reader. We are one such lit mag. Is this a tough process? You bet. So many of our authors are arguably “best” material. But we’re thrilled to announce the following nominations.

Fiction:

Elliott Holt’s “The Norwegians” appeared in Guernica back in February. Deceptively simple, it’s superficially about all of those domestic terrors that come with the various preparations for a dinner party. And yet, it’s about so much more than that:

“Martin wore glasses with thick black frames. He took them off to do an impression of the minister. He spun his eyeballs around with comic flair. I tried not to laugh—to do so felt like a betrayal of my father, whose confidence withered in the company of more successful men—but I couldn’t help myself.”

Randa Jarrar’s “Him, Me, Muhammad Ali” is the story of an old man’s passing, as told by his daughter. We selected this because it’s heartfelt and vivid: after all, the daughter was conceived in a field, somewhere in Zaire during the Ali-Foreman fight. How could one turn away from a story with lines like this?

“As it turned out, six weeks was all it took for my dad to capture my mother’s heart and her prissy Egyptian panties. When I see photos of him at that time, it makes sense: the mustache tricked her. He looked so Egyptian, my father, his nose Semitic and his hair gorgeously corked. And in the photos of my mum her black hair glitters, her dark eyes smile, and her cleavage spills out of seventies jackets. Logically, they fucked in a field and made me.”

Poetry:

Tadeusz Dąbrowski’s poem “The Other Part of Truth” (translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones) stood out this year because of its beguiling combination of humor and wisdom, artfully using a child’s perspective. In this poem, the young speaker describes his grandmother’s religious souvenir shop. Dąbrowski writes exalted lines, and yet it is not too much to believe that a child would explain, “Around Friday heaven arrives; they no longer supply / hell (it stays on the shelf too long), but I’ve got / hell at home, as well as heaven and the saints.”

From Dąbrowski’s precocious child, we move to Sarah Lindsay’s obnoxious ones. “In Angangueo” finds boys trying to make pseudo-snowballs from monarch butterflies. Before their reign of terror, though, the speaker experiences a moment of the sublime, knee-deep in the insects. It is rare to find the sublime in modern American poetry, making the pleasure that much more of a treat. Before being interrupted by the young ruffians and the guide’s platitudes, the woman in the poem changes (physically shivers): “Not from cold; maybe / from acres of crepe wings stiff in a low breeze, / antennae against her shins.”

Non-Fiction:

We chose “By Bread Alone” by J. Malcolm Garcia because it works that weird magic that only the best of nonfiction pieces does—at the moment when the baker hands the cop more money to just stay and talk awhile longer, and then gives him more, and then more, it hits you (well, it did us) that nonfiction, at its best, can have all the narrative force and power to surprise and resonate, and also to delight in reading, that is typically reserved only for the best of fictions.

Lastly, we have “Lucky Girl” by Bridget Potter. After “Hills Like White Elephants” or “Dirty Wedding” or “College Town”—and scores of others—we wonder if the abortion story has become emotionally exhausted as a subgenre. Of course, that’s ridiculous, like saying any type of story that describes an intense experience is exhausted and that we don’t benefit in myriad ways from its continual reshaping and retelling. But still, sometimes we need a reminder. This is a good one. All the more poignant for its having been lived by the author.

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