Iowa Short Fiction Award

John Smith, Will Wordsworth

Published by: University of Iowa Press

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All That Work and Still No Boys

How do we survive our family, stay bound to our community, and keep from losing ourselves?  In All That Work and Still No Boys, Kathryn Ma exposes the deepest fears and longings that we mask in family life and observes the long shadows cast by history and displacement. 

Here are ten stories that wound and satisfy in equal measure. Ma probes the immigrant experience, most particularly among northern California’s Chinese Americans, illuminating for us the confounding nature of duty, transformation, and loss. A boy exposed to racial hatred finds out the true difference between his mother and his father. Two old rivals briefly lay down their weapons, but loneliness and despair won’t let them forget the past. A young Beijing tour guide with a terrible family secret must take an adopted Chinese girl and her American family to visit an orphanage. And in the prize-winning title story, a mother refuses to let her son save her life, insisting instead on a sacrifice by her daughter. 

Intimate in detail and universal in theme, these stories give us the compelling voice of an exciting new author whose intelligence, insight, and wit impart a sense of grace to the bitter resentments and enduring ties that comprise family love. Even through the tensions Ma creates so deftly, the peace and security that come from building and belonging to one’s own community shine forth.

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The Company of Heaven

Stories from Haiti

Marilène Phipps-Kettlewell’s award-winning stories transport you to Haiti—to a lush, lyrical, flamboyant, and spirit-filled Haiti where palm trees shine wet with moonlight and the sky paints a yellow screen over your head and the ocean sparkles with thousands of golden eyes—and keep you there forever. Her singular characters mysteriously address the deeper meanings of human existence. They also dream of escape, whether from themselves, from family, from Vodou, from financial and cultural difficulties and the politicians that create them, or from the country itself, but Haiti will forever remain part of their souls and part of the thoughts of her readers.

 Some characters do achieve escape through the mind or through sea voyage—escape found by surrendering to spectacular fantasies and madness and love, bargaining with God, joining the boat people. Marie-Ange Saint-Jacques’s mother sacrifices everything to ensure her daughter’s survival on a perilous boat trip, Angelina waits to fly away to Nou Yòk, Vivi creates her own circus with dozens of rescued dogs, Gustave dies a martyr to his faith. Throughout, the “I” who moves in and out of these dream-filled stories embraces the heavenly mysteries found in “the room where all things lost are stored with grace.”

We begin our journey to Haiti with images of a little girl in a pink bedroom reading by candlelight a book about the life of Saint Bernadette, surrounded by the bewitching scents, sounds, and textures of a Caribbean night. Each story stands by itself, but some characters can be followed from one story to another through the transformations they undergo as a result of their life experiences. In this way, the collection can be read as one story, the story of a family trapped in a personal and cultural drama and the story of the people with whom the family interacts, themselves burdened by the need to survive within Haiti’s rigorously class-determined society and blessed by their relationship to the company of heaven in which they live and for which they are destined.

 

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Dancing in the Movies

Robert Boswell

Encompassing a vast gamut of personalities, situations, and emotions, these stories penetrate our motives for doing what is right. Often there is no right or wrong, and the characters' motives for the choices they make are as diverse as the childhood memories they cherish and abhor. In the end, this book probes individual impulse and responsibility, creating stories so unerringly authentic that they become—irrepressibly—part of everyone who reads them.

"The Darkness of Love" narrates three days in the life of a black policeman, distressed by his inner fears of racism and irresistibly attracted by his wife's sister. In "Dancing in the Movies" a college student returns to his hometown, where he finds his girlfriend—a heroin addict—and tries to convince her to overcome her habit. There are stories of men at war, of lovers trying to begin a relationship, of others trying to sustain their love. Each story revolves around characters with a choice to make, and Robert Boswell renders these characters in all of their fine, vulnerable, and relentless attributes.

With this prize-winning collection, Boswell proves himself a mature craftsperson, weaving stories both poignant and profound. Each story is a vision of life, alternately dark and joyous, gritty and hopeful.

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Desert Gothic

This powerful debut collection, set in the light-filled deserts of Nevada and Arizona, introduces a darkly inventive new voice. Like an early Richard Ford, Don Waters writes with skill, empathy, and an edgy wit of worlds not often celebrated in contemporary literature. In Desert Gothic, Waters unleashes a wild and gritty cast and points them down paths of reckoning, where the characters earn the grace of their hard-won wisdom.
     Set in bars, mortuaries, nursing homes, truck stops, and the “poverty motels that encircled downtown’s casino corridor,” Waters’s ten stories are full of misfit transients like Julian, a crematorium worker who decorates abandoned urns to create a “lush underground island,” and the instant Mormon missionary Eli, a hapless divorcé who “always likes people better when they’re a little broken.” Limo drivers, ultra-marathoners, vagabonds, and a distraught novelist-to-be populate the pages of these gritty stories.

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Excommunicados

Charles Haverty

By turns haunting, hilarious, and heartbreaking, Charles Haverty’s debut collection charts the journeys of men, women, and children cast out of familiar territory into emotional terra incognita where people and things are rarely what they seem. These twelve stories are populated with ex-nuns and Freedom Riders, Chaucer scholars and strippers, out-of-work comedy writers and presidents, navigating their way through bedrooms and emergency rooms, backyard burial parties and airplane crash sites, the Piazza San Marco and the post-apocalyptic suburbs of Boston.

A sixteen-year-old boy unearths grisly evidence of his genteel grandfather’s racist past. At his sister’s booze-soaked destination wedding, a recovering alcoholic English professor is finagled into ghostwriting their unreliable father’s nuptial toast. A small town lawyer’s Edenic existence is jeopardized when his wife’s younger brother is arrested for a rash of local burglaries. In the wake of her daughter’s brush with disaster in the Haiti earthquake, a mother finds herself drawn down a dark neighborhood sidewalk toward what might or might not be a dead body. And in the title story—the first of three linked stories—a pious altar boy confronts the twin mysteries of sex and death through the auspices of a classmate’s divorced mother.

There are secrets at the center of each of these daring and original stories—secrets that separate these characters from one another but grow in the mind and the heart, connecting them with all of us.

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Fire Road

Donald Anderson

Stephen Mann-- loyal son, war veteran, divorced father--is the subject of Donald Anderson's contemporary short-story cycle, Fire Road. In this award-winning collection, Mann negotiates life's punches through gain and loss, love and death, and the all too random dangers of being human. Woven between each personal story are poetic vignettes of isolated moments-- the headlines in a morning paper, a political murder--and the century's most violent tragedies--the bombing of Hiroshima, the firestorm at Dresden. Each vingette is a constant, powerful reminder of the human capacity to love and, ultimately, to destroy. A bruising view of one man's tumultuous journey through life, Fire Road explores the small and large crimes we all commit in the name of love and fear, despair and longing.

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Happiness

Ann Harleman

In Ann Harleman's remarkable debut collection, men and women of extraordinary passions look for and sometimes find the hidden heart of ordinary life. Testing themselves and each other, they search for ways to connect. "Understanding," says the troubled voyeur-narrator of "Imaginary Colors," "is the booby prize"; these characters go for experience. Reckless explorers of inner space, they try the limits of their lives.

A gravely ill woman seeks forgiveness from her grown-up daughters for an adulterous past which she does not really regret. A boy watches anxiously—and enviously—while his brother flaunts an interracial love affair in front of their dangerous father. In strike-torn Warsaw during the rise of Solidarity, an American professor and his Polish housekeeper reach toward each other from their respective cages of loneliness. A girl's determined pursuit of her first sexual experience brings her more, and less, than she bargained for.

Harleman combines a clear eye with a generous heart, revealing her characters-misguided, selfish, loving, brave—through a compassionate, often humorous probing of their inner and outer worlds. In "It Was Humdrum" a system analyst hires a detective to find the mother who left him as an infant, while his young wife leaves him daily for afternoon trysts with her Puerto Rican lover. A woman assaulted by a teenage gang escapes physically unharmed but forever changed. The past overtakes a woman who has married for love, not of her husband, but of his small daughter. A greeting card poet pursued by stereotyped images of happiness flees from the woman he loves and the brother he never knew he had.

The supple language of these twelve stories—wise, funny, delighting in the sensuous—makes us feel the beauty and terror of a fully lived life. Harleman's characters, whether they succeed or fail, show us the way to a deeper exploration of our own lives.

 

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Her Kind of Want

Set mainly in the small towns of Alabama, the stories in Her Kind of Want ache with the relentless longing of the poor, struggling, usually discarded southern women who tell us their lives—lives that seem to revolve around men whose only presence is their absence.

Bebe, Luna, Melly, Little Hula, Dena. These are just a few of the women we meet in Jennifer Davis's award-winning collection. Women who married too fast, had children too young, and drink too much. Yet beneath their unpolished exteriors, these women are flesh and blood, and their wants and needs are as severe and deep as any.

Davis's characters relate their stories in voices as complex and raw as their southern environment. Each tale may sound slightly familiar—an unwanted pregnancy, a fast car flying down a country road—but Davis moves beyond the familiar stories of the rural South to expose the gaps that connect these women, creating startlingly real and vibrant characters.

Although often bleak and sometimes disturbing, Her Kind of Want is a celebration of southern people, their perseverance, their spirit, and their determination to make the ugly beautiful.

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Here Beneath Low-Flying Planes

The stories in Merrill Feitell’s award-winning collection, Here Beneath Low-Flying Planes, examine the fleeting and unexpected moments of human connection, reminding us of the indelible impact we have on one another no matter how insignificant or anonymous we might feel under our huge, collective sky.

Feitell’s characters deal with shifting dynamics in relationships—whether they be best friends, lovers, family, or even strangers—that consistently leave them torn between two places or commitments. In the title story, Janie has undergone a painful childbirth experience and her group of friends must pioneer new dynamics while she wonders how to bring her old self back. In “Bike New York!” amid thirty thousand cyclists, a man on the brink of marriage meets a young girl who, in a tiny Brooklyn bakery, affirms both who he has been and who he is going to be. On this short detour from normal life he comes to understand “the funny thing about finding your way in the world. There was a place laid out for you . . . and even as you stepped into it, happy for the chance to rest, you wondered how you ever ended up there.”

Funny, big-hearted, and deft, Here Beneath Low-Flying Planes navigates the reader through the life that happens when you’re planning other things. It is a collection of experiences, roads not taken, and the intense and unforeseen sparks of connection we hope for.

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How to Leave Hialeah

United in their fierce sense of place and infused with the fading echoes of a lost homeland, the stories in Jennine Capó Crucet’s striking debut collection do for Miami what Edward P. Jones does for Washington, D.C., and what James Joyce did for Dublin: they expand our ideas and our expectations of the city by exposing its tough but vulnerable underbelly.

Crucet’s writing has been shaped by the people and landscapes of South Florida and by the stories of Cuba told by her parents and abuelos. Her own stories are informed by her experiences as a Cuban American woman living within and without her community, ready to leave and ready to return, “ready to mourn everything.”

Coming to us from the predominantly Hispanic working-class neighborhoods of Hialeah, the voices of this steamy section of Miami shout out to us from rowdy all-night funerals and kitchens full of plátanos and croquetas and lechón ribs, from domino tables and cigar factories, glitter-purple Buicks and handed-down Mom Rides, private homes of santeras and fights on front lawns. Calling to us from crowded expressways and canals underneath abandoned overpasses shading a city’s secrets, these voices are the heart of Miami, and in this award-winning collection Jennine Capó Crucet makes them sing.

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