University of Georgia Press

Association of Writers and Writing Programs Award for Creative Nonfiction

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Association of Writers and Writing Programs Award for Creative Nonfiction

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Riots

Danielle Cadena Deulen

Constantly surprising, these personal essays explore the attractions and dangers of intimacy and the violence that often arises in close relationships. Deulen’s artful storytelling and dialogue also draw the reader into complicated questions about class, race, and gender.

In “Aperture,” she considers how she has contributed to her autistic brother’s isolation from family and from the world. “Theft” investigates her mother’s romantic stories about conquistadors in the context of the Mexican heritage of her biracial family. Throughout the collection Deulen experiments formally, alternating traditional narrative with “still life” essays and collages that characterize a particular time, place, and sensibility.

Deulen is remarkable in her ability to present her own confusion and culpability, and she also writes with compassion for others, such as her own suicidal and unpredictable father or a boy in her class who sets the teacher’s hair on fire. In part because she herself so poorly fits the identities she might be assigned—white in appearance, she is in fact half Latina; raised in a poor neighborhood, she has acquired an education associated with the middle class—Deulen sees “otherness” as a useless category and the enemy of intimacy, which she embraces despite its risks.

The Riots seeks to create what Frost called “a momentary stay against confusion,” and Deulen investigates her own act of creation even as she uses the craft of writing to put parentheses around the chaos of continuous living.

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The Small Heart of Things

Being at Home in a Beckoning World

Julian Hoffman

In The Small Heart of Things, Julian Hoffman intimately examines the myriad ways in which connections to the natural world can be deepened through an equality of perception, whether it’s a caterpillar carrying its house of leaves, transhumant shepherds ranging high mountain pastures, a quail taking cover on an empty steppe, or a Turkmen family emigrating from Afghanistan to Istanbul. The narrative spans the common—and often contested—ground that supports human and natural communities alike, seeking the unsung stories that sustain us.

Guided by the belief of Rainer Maria Rilke that “everything beckons us to perceive it,” Hoffman explores the area around the Prespa Lakes, the first transboundary park in the Balkans, shared by Greece, Albania, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. From there he travels widely to regions rarely written about, exploring the idea that home is wherever we happen to be if we accord that place our close and patient attention.

The Small Heart of Things is a book about looking and listening. It incorporates travel and natural history writing that interweaves human stories with those of wild creatures. Distinguished by Hoffman’s belief that through awareness, curiosity, and openness we have the potential to forge abiding relationships with a range of places, it illuminates how these many connections can teach us to be at home in the world.

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Study in Perfect

Sarah Gorham

Study in Perfect is an exploration of perfection. In “Moving Horizontal� a Victorian house loses its charm over time, especially when compared to a modernist contemporary filled with light. Family life is dense with pleasure, as in the perfect vacation described in “Marking Time in Door County,� and in “Neriage, or What Is the Secret of a Long Marriage,� where an ancient Japanese ceramic technique has much in common with shaping a close relationship. There is such a thing as a perfect cup of tea, depending on who is preparing and drinking it (“Perfect Tea�). And schmaltzy show tunes flowing froma black-lacquered piano in a Chinese restaurant can be genuinely moving (“Sentimental a la Carte�).

Naturally, Gorham must embrace imperfection. The poisonous mushrooms in “Darling Amanita� lead to a consideration of our darker impulses, like obsessive love, even murder. And there is pain: “The Shape of Fear� relates the story of a child stricken with a deadly staph infection, as it considers the function and form of fear. And alcoholism, the family disease no one wants to talk about, is poised against The Cat in the Hat, a story everyone has read and enjoyed.

Study in Perfect winds its way around and through the many permutations of this most hermetic and exalted concept and proceeds with the full consciousness that perfection’s exact definition is subjective, reliant on who is speaking, and easily unmoored by time, geography, and the vagaries of taste.

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Surrendered Child

A Birth Mother's Journey

Karen Salyer McElmurray

Surrendered Child is Karen Salyer McElmurray's raw, poignant account of her journey from her teen years, when she put her newborn child up for adoption, to adulthood and a desperate search for the son she never knew. In a patchwork narrative interwoven with dark memories from her childhood, McElmurray deftly treads where few dare--into a gritty, honest exploration of the loss a birth mother experiences.

The year was 1973, a time of social upheaval, even in small-town Kentucky, where McElmurray grew up. More than a story of time and place, however, this is about a girl who, at the age of sixteen, relinquished her son at birth. Twenty-five years would pass before McElmurray began sharing this part of her past with others and actively looking for her son.

McElmurray's own troubled upbringing and her quest after a now-fully-grown son are the heart of her story. With unflinching honesty, McElmurray recounts both the painful surrendering and the surprise rediscovery of her son, juxtaposed with her portrayal of her own mother, who could not provide the love she needed. The dramatic result is a story of birthright lost and found--and an exploration of the meaning of motherhood itself.

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Vanished Gardens

Finding Nature in Philadelphia

Sharon White

New to living and gardening in Philadelphia, Sharon White begins a journey through the landscape of the city, past and present, in Vanished Gardens. In prose now as precise and considered as the paths in a parterre, now as flowing and lyrical as an Olmsted vista, White explores Philadelphia's gardens as a part of the city's ecosystem and animates the lives of individual gardeners and naturalists working in the area around her home.

In one section of the book, White tours the gardens of colonial botanist John Bartram; his wife, Ann; and their son, writer and naturalist William. Other chapters focus on Deborah Logan, who kept a record of her life on a large farm in the late eighteenth century, and Mary Gibson Henry, twentieth-century botanist, plant collector, and namesake of the lily Hymenocallis henryae. Throughout White weaves passages from diaries, letters, and memoirs from significant Philadephia gardeners into her own striking prose, transforming each place she examines into a palimpsest of the underlying earth and the human landscapes layered over it.

White gives a surprising portrait of the resilience and richness of the natural world in Philadelphia and of the ways that gardening can connect nature to urban space. She shows that although gardens may vanish forever, the meaning and solace inherent in the act of gardening are always waiting to be discovered anew.

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