Congratulations to the winners of the Fifth Wednesday Journal 2018 Editor’s Prize in Poetry and Fiction

Each year we ask an established artist in his or her field to select the recipients of our Editor’s Prize in Fiction and Poetry. The field is limited to work published in Fifth Wednesday Journal. The author of the selected work receives a modest monetary award. The winners this year were chosen from work published in the fall 2017 and spring 2018 issues.


Our judge for poetry is Jared Smith, author of thirteen published volumes of poetry. His work has appeared in hundreds of journals in this country and abroad over the past forty-five years. He has served on the editorial boards of The New York Quarterly, Home Planet News, The Pedestal Magazine, and Turtle Island Quarterly as well as on the board of directors of arts and literary non-profits in New York, Illinois, and Colorado. He has worked as a door-to-door salesman, Associate Director of a research laboratory, Advisor to several White House Commissions under President Clinton, and Special Appointee to Argonne National Laboratory.

Jared chose Nickole Brown’s “Rothko Confessions” (FWJ, Spring 2018). He wrote: “Nichole Brown’s extraordinary “Rothko Confessions” is a superbly crafted work. Each one-couplet stanza flows into the next seamlessly and without apparent effort, while containing supremely complex and conflicting philosophies about the arts, religion, media, and life itself as the author battles a cancer within her. The Rothko Chapel, in which the author’s wife prays for her, is a dimly lit, windowless box-like building outside Houston. The vast canvases displayed within are literally swathes of blues, blacks and gray hung in what might be seen as a glorified sensory deprivation chamber. While Rothko himself claimed the paintings he designed for this chapel gave reference to the Christian religion, for the poet the “walls of blackblue” are more the color one’s flesh becomes when one is beaten down by life. While these painted walls lead the poet’s wife toward “God, crying, feeling sacred”, for the poet they are the shadows that obscure life and draw her away, erasing her. In having to leave the building and her wife, she flees what she sees as “overrated art” to seek the brighter colors and energy of unrefined life in order to have any chance of survival. Experiencing this poem, the reader witnesses this, but enters a profound argument and discussion contrasting a painter’s art and a poet’s art — and also between an inner passively transcendent art formed from the dark shadows one meditates upon within oneself, and the bright world of action outside, where colors and motions and images are the direct cause of creation.

Both approaches to the arts have had many excellent and strong proponents, and have brought profound insight to many. Both approaches work with visions and insights that transcend commercial social language and lead to new words and lines of thought opening up — and yet they are diametrically opposed to each other. (Or are they? Would the “still point” spoken of by a past generation lie in the middle, one wonders.) And does it matter in the end which position or argument or belief one follows? It’s hard to say. Certainly, the journey of self discovery and examination is what matters most within this context — for the reader and for the poet. The brightness of the outside world, and the blackblue inside are what saves one person and destroys another. It is a twist of irony that both erase the poet and her wife “into lines, making me/into a poem.” Those words in effect bring together the concept of the poem as being bigger than life, and smaller at the same time — containing anger, passion, conflicting observations on art and humanity, and opening into the unknown.

Nickole Brown is the author of Sister, first published in 2007 with a new edition reissued by Sibling Rivalry Press in 2018. Her second book, Fanny Says, came out from BOA Editions in 2015. Currently, she is the Editor for the Marie Alexander Poetry Series and teaches at the Sewanee School of Letters MFA Program. She lives with her wife, poet Jessica Jacobs, in Asheville, NC.

Jared chose as runner-up Leila Chatti’s “Learning Again to Hunger” (FWJ, Fall 2017). He wrote: “Learning Again to Hunger” is a strong runner-up for the skill with which the poet blends multiple timelines and locus points within tightly wound organic poetry of a very high order, exposing the interplay of youth’s promise, the yawning spaces between ourselves and the cosmos, our interdependence on others as we grow, and the vulnerabilities and weakness that even then fill our lives with the grit of survival.

Leila Chatti is a Tunisian-American poet and the 2017-2018 Ron Wallace Poetry Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has received fellowships and awards from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Tin House Writers’ Workshop, The Frost Place, Dickinson House, and the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, and prizes from Ploughshares’ Emerging Writer’s Contest, Narrative Magazine’s 30 Below Contest, and the Academy of American Poets. She is the author of the chapbooks Ebb (New-Generation African Poets, forthcoming 2018) and Tunsiya/Amrikiya, the 2017 Editor’s Selection from Bull City Press (forthcoming 2018), and her work appears in Best New Poets, Ploughshares, Tin House, New England Review, The Georgia Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Narrative, The Rumpus, and elsewhere.


Photo courtesy Pamela Frame

Our judge for fiction is Rachel Hall, author of Heirlooms (BkMk Press) which was selected by Marge Piercy for the G.S. Sharat Chandra Prize. Winner of the Phillip McMath Post Publication Award, Heirlooms was also the runner-up for the Edward Wallant award, and finalist for the Balcones Prize for Fiction, the Montaigne Medal, and the Eric Hoffer Award. Rachel’s short stories and essays have appeared in a number of journals and anthologies including Black Warrior Review, Crab Orchard Review, Gettysburg Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Guernica, and New Letters, which awarded her the Alexander Cappon Prize for Fiction. She has received other honors and awards from Lilith, Glimmer Train, Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers’ conferences, Ragdale, the Ox-Bow School of the Arts, and the Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts. Hall is a Professor of English in the creative writing program at the State University of New York at Geneseo.

Rachel chose Pauline Kaldas’ “A Good Marriage” (FWJ, Fall 2017). She wrote: From the first moment in which Amra burns herself removing a hot dish from the oven, we feel Amra’s discomfort in her marriage to an older man whose work has brought them to the United States. Though she initially accepts the limited opportunities afforded a traditional Egyptian woman, she is too curious and observant a character to be happy living with these limitations forever. Kaldas beautifully reveals Amra’s awakening to the idea that there is more to life than cooking, cleaning, and childrearing. Because Amra has been such a good student, learning all her mother’s recipes and household tricks, she has also learned to set aside some of the monthly money her husband gives her for the household. This money, growing in a secret bank account of her very own, allows Amra to begin to imagine and then pursue a life of her own: “She couldn’t quite capture the reality of what she imagined, but she knew she wanted something that she could claim for herself.”

The story is told in a limited third-person point of view, from Amra’s perspective, but in the final paragraph, we move into her husband, Farid’s POV, and this shift, which the reader may experience as somewhat jolting, is a brilliant way to show the disconnect between husband and wife. Farid is shocked to find his home empty, his wife gone, her wedding ring left on the night table. This is an impressive ending — surprising, yet inevitable. Of course, the reader thinks, Amra must go. The surprise of this ending is the compassion we feel for Farid. Ultimately, the restrictive gender roles aren’t working for him either. I love the way this ending opens up the story and leaves us wondering.

Pauline Kaldas is the author of Looking Both Ways, a collection of essays, The Time Between Places, a collection of short stories, Letters from Cairo, a travel memoir, and Egyptian Compass, a collection of poetry.  She also co-edited Dinarzad’s Children: An Anthology of Contemporary Arab American Fiction.  She is Professor of English and Creative Writing at Hollins University.

Rachel chose as runner-up Gary Pedler’s “A Second Troy” (FWJ, Spring 2018). She writes about this story: Leah from Gary Pedler’s “A Second Troy,” is a character I won’t soon forget. She’s a wonderfully complex character — independent, insightful, sharp-tongued, and witty. Through her eyes, we see Tel Aviv and its suburbs, where she is “a reluctant immigrant,” uprooted from New York City, which was her promised land. I appreciate her observations about family, aging, and the state of the world.

Gary Pedler, raised in Napa Valley and a resident of San Francisco for many years, qualifies as a true Bay Area denizen. Yet after escaping from his wage slave job several years ago, he’s spent most of his time exploring the world and, of course, writing about everything he sees.

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