Fifth Wednesday Journal Announces the Editor’s Prize Winners for 2013

FWJ does not sponsor contests or offer prizes based on reading fees. Each year we ask an established artist in his or her field to select the recipient of our Editor’s Prize in Fiction, Photography, and Poetry. The field is limited to work published in Fifth Wednesday Journal. The author of the selected work in each genre receives a modest monetary award and recognition in our pages, as well as on our website. The winners this year were chosen from among works published in the fall 2012 and spring 2013 issues. We are proud to recognize them here.


Our judge for the prize in fiction is Elizabeth McKenzie. Her choice for the Editor’s Prize is Breja Gunnison’s “Time Machine” (FWJ, spring 2013). Gunnison’s short stories have appeared in Prairie Schooner and Roanoke Review. She is a recipient of the Glenna Luschei Prairie Schooner Award, the Lois Mackey ’45 Creative Writing Award, the White-Howells Prose Prize, and the David and Marion Stocking Prize for nonfiction. She is a graduate of Beloit College and lives in Beloit, Wisconsin. McKenzie writes about this story: “‘Time Machine’ is beautiful and funny and hugely moving, fresher than anything I’ve come across in some time. The story shimmers with feeling and nuance and moves by intuitive leaps; unexpected turns of phrase startle and delight from start to finish. A brave and modest creature, the narrator responds to her life with mordant humanity. This is what it means to be a sentient being in pain of the most recognizable and primal kind.”

McKenzie chose for honorable mention Marge Piercy’s “Ring Around the Kleinbottle” (FWJ, spring 2013), about which she writes: “This is a terrific, clever story, full of interpersonal folly and wonderful deadpan humor.”

Elizabeth McKenzie is senior editor of the Chicago Quarterly Review and Catamaran Literary Reader. She has published two novels with Random House — Stop that Girl and MacGregor Tells the World, a Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, and School Library Journal best book of the year.  In 2012 she edited My Postwar Life: New Writings from Japan and Okinawa as a result of an NEA Japan-United States Friendship Commission Fellowship. She has received a Pushcart Prize, and her writing has appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times, Best American Nonrequired Reading, and other publications.


Our judge for the Editor’s Prize in Poetry is Ralph Hamilton. After evaluating fifty-one poems by internationally recognized poets he chose two poems by Kevin Stein, “Workers on the Fifth Street Overpass” (Spring 2013) and “Is Beautiful” (Spring 2013) for the 2013 Editor’s Prize. Kevin Stein has published eleven books of poetry, criticism, and anthology, including his new collection Wrestling Li Po for the Remote (Fifth Star Press). Recent books include the essays Poetry’s Afterlife:  Verse in the Digital Age (University of Michigan Press) as well as the verse collection Sufficiency of the Actual (University of Illinois Press). He teaches at Bradley University and currently serves as Illinois Poet Laureate.

Here is what Hamilton wrote about the poems he read:

So many wonderful poems in these two issues: From the vernacular majesty of Luis Urrea’s poem, “Dear Phyl,” about a July in his childhood quickened by the discovery of a cache of old love letters sent to his mother, to Jason Koo’s seesawing, Carrollian fugue, “Self-Installation (after The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh),” both in Issue 11; and from Jesse Mikhail Wesso’s guilelessly knowing rumination on strippers, tomatoes, moths, floss, and memory, “There’s a Line Somewhere, I Don’t Remember,” to the loopy, bitter-sweet poignancy of Robert J. Levy’s hard-earned memoir, “Skin(the runner-up, if there were such a category) in Issue 12. But my choice for the prize is a linked pair of shrewd, tart, painfully ironic poems by Kevin Stein that touch on contemporary race in America. Together they recall a line in John Berryman’s “Dreamsong 271,” “to make laugh, & to hurt, / is and was all he ever intended.” A seemingly simple narrative, “Workers on the Fifth Street Overpass explores a fleeting lyric moment of sight (and insight) as a white driver of a car spies a black worker above through his sunroof.  Without leaving the physical event, the poet’s vision abruptly takes in issues of hierarchy, of difference and distance, the nature of work, and finally of the subtle and complex history of black-white race relations. In the second poem — the oracular, provocative, and darkly humorous, “Is Beautiful” — Stein weaves together jokes, racial epithets, stories, pronouncements, and direct address to readers. As did “Workers,” “Beautiful concludes with the persistence of history’s legacy (despite equally persistent fantasies that that legacy has been resolved).  If my description makes these poems sound narrow, schoolmarmish, or like pc-police essays for the self-flagellating set, I do Stein a great injustice. Their wit and subversive power comes from a mix of formal sophistication, brilliant tonal control, near inflammatory candor, biting burlesque, and utter delight in language. In Bakhtin’s famous study of Rabelais, he observed:

Laughter has a deep philosophical meaning, it is one of the essential forms of truth concerning the world as a whole, concerning history and man . . . Certain essential aspects of the world are accessible only to laughter.

In his two poems, Stein’s dark comedy captures a basal layer of what is essential, contradictory, and disturbingly human about our lives and time.  As with those pivotal homecomings through which we finally recognize what has made us and how it yet abides, to read these poems is to feel liberated.

Robert J. Levy’s work has appeared in Poetry, Paris Review, Georgia Review, Southern Review, Kenyon Review, and many other publications. He has won an NEA Fellowship, fellowships to Yaddo and the MacDowell colony, and several awards from the Poetry Society of America. He has published two full-length collections: Whistle Maker (Anhinga) and In the Century of Small Gestures (Defined Providence), as well as five chapbooks.

Ralph Hamilton is editor of RHINO. He has an MFA in Poetry from Bennington College. His poems have appeared in Court Green, CutBank, Blackbird, and other journals. He is currently working on two full-length collections, Subtle Knot and The Barnyard of Boyage.  He serves on the board of the Ragdale Foundation, and lives in Evanston, Illinois.


Our judge for the prize in photography is José Moré. Here is what he told us about his choice:

It was a hard choice between Artist Working by Rob Shore (FWJ, fall 2012), the cover photograph Look Up by Michael Salisbury (FWJ, fall 2012), and Antique Doll, Florence by Roger Camp (FWJ, spring 2013). Each photograph has its own merit. Artist Working is a canvas within a canvas. The dark line on top of the frame balances with the black lines that surround the artist’s canvas. Look Up has great geometric lines and strong design due to lighting from the window. Antique Doll, Florence has a surreal feel of coming alive from behind the window and its reflections.

These three images stand on their own, even though each image has a different approach by the individual photographer. Each photographer was able to capture a simple, fleeting moment of daily life, but the way it was captured stimulates our thoughts to wonder “what if.”

At the end, I must choose a winner, Artist Working by Rob Shore for its simple, straightforward composition. Look Up and Antique Doll, Florence are definitely honorable mentions.

Rob Shores writing and photography have been featured in Smithsonian Magazine, Fifth Wednesday Journal, and Juked, among other publications.  His essays have been published in Small Key Opens Big Doors: 50 Years of Amazing Peace Corps Stories and Being There: Learning to Live Cross-Culturally (Harvard University Press).  He wrote and directed the documentary film And Many More and the short film The Garden of Steven.  He currently lives in Washington, DC, where he oversees the public presentation of research and new media at the FrameWorks Institute.

Roger Camp’s photographs have been published in over 100 magazines. He is the author of three books, including the award winning Butterflies in Flight (Thames & Hudson, 2002). He has taught photography at the Columbus College of Art & Design, University of Iowa, and the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris. He is represented by the Robin Rice Gallery, NYC. Additional examples of his work may be found at

Michael Salisbury has been a photographer since his early teen years. Shooting mostly architectural images, Michael has flourished in the city of Chicago, where he is constantly surrounded by soaring buildings and remarkable people. See more of his work at

José Moré, formerly a Chicago Tribune staff photographer, has covered news, features, and sports assignments in Chicago and around the world for 28 years. His main focus is photojournalism and social documentary, and assignments have included documenting post-9/11 developments in Pakistan and Afghanistan, civil war in Congo, revolutions in Central America, crises in the Middle East, and earthquakes in Mexico City, Guatemala, and Armenia. He also covered presidential campaigns from the Nixon era to the present and the world trips of Pope John Paul II. He was a lead member of the Tribune’s team that won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism for “Gateway to Gridlock,’’ a series on air-traffic congestion. For exposing a human trafficking network supplying labor to rebuild Iraq, he shared the 2005 George Polk award for international reporting. He also won four Peter Lisagor awards from the Chicago Headline Club and four annual awards for photographic excellence from the Chicago Tribune.

FWJ editors

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