Forget I Told You This by Hilary Zaid is the winner of the Barbara DiBernard Prize in Fiction in which Amy Black, a queer single mother and an aspiring artist in love with calligraphy, dreams of a coveted artist’s residency at the world’s largest social media company, Q. One ink-black October night, when the power is out in the hills of Oakland, California, a stranger asks Amy to transcribe a love letter for him. When the stranger suddenly disappears, Amy’s search for the letter’s recipient leads her straight to Q and the most beautiful illuminated manuscript she has ever seen, the Codex Argentus, hidden away in Q’s Library of Books That Don’t Exist—and to a group of data privacy vigilantes who want her to burn Q to the ground.
Let Our Bodies Change the Subject by Jared Harél is a poetry collection that dives headlong into the terrifying, wondrous, sleep-deprived existence of being a parent in twenty-first-century America. In clear, dynamic verses that disarm then strike, Harél investigates our days through the keyhole of domesticity, through personal lyrics and cultural reckonings. Whether taking a family trip to Coney Island or simply showing his son snowflakes on Inauguration morning, Harél guides us toward moments of intimacy and understanding, humor and grief. Winner of the Raz/Shumaker Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry, Let Our Bodies Change the Subject is a secular prayer. “I will try,” he admits, “to be better than myself, which is all / I’ve ever wanted and everything I need.” Hoping against hope, Harél works to reconcile feelings of luck and loss, of living for joy while fearing the worst.
Boundless Deep, and Other Stories by Gen Del Raye, winner of the Raz/Shumaker Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction, is a portrait of a family that holds together despite everything. At the funeral of her old boss, a grandmother confronts the legacy of the draft letters she delivered as a girl during World War II. Facing the loss of his job, a father becomes the caricature strangers have always believed him to be. A graduate student living far from home is worn down by the reality of what it takes to save even a small piece of the world. Along the way, we meet communist revolutionary Shigenobu Fusako hiding out in a Tokyo hotel, submariner and war criminal Nishina Sekio in his tortured dreams, and Edwin, a half-dolphin friend, wreaking havoc in a public pool. Written in the compressed style of Amy Hempel and Lucia Berlin, these stories examine characters whose struggles submerge them, weighing them down from every angle, until they can finally float free.
Jody Keisner’s Under My Bed and Other Essays explores the ritualistic aspect of fear, the summoning of anxiety’s ghosts, and what it means to be a woman living under the promise of male violence. Although Keisner speaks truth to power on what it is like to live with anxiety, it is the exploration of fear and her grandmother that ties the themes of womanhood, illness, and survival. Keisner’s three-section arrangement (Origins, Under the Skin, and Risings) plays an intricate role in how the work is both read and experienced. The reader could interpret the three sections as a balanced academic and creative essay of the Genesis of anxiety, the kinesthetic journey of a disabled body, and the resurrection of Self, which are all ideas Keisner studies deeply about herself.
In “Origins,” the opening essay, Keisner explores her fear as her partner asks, “Why does your mind go down such dark corridors?” This is the premise of the collection of essays in which Keisner, while realizing her own body has an autoimmune disorder, is also realizing that the world is constantly telling women that there is always a threat. Learning how to coexist with this notion, Keisner offers an exploration of female-bodied anxiety through beautifully curated pieces with profound research that both enriches and empowers the reader. Always paying respect to queer and disabled bodies, Keisner unites her voice as part of a symphony of those trying to survive in an increasingly antagonistic world.
To offer a counter point to the deeply embedded fear, Keisner devotes beautiful moments and lyrical prose to speak of her beautifully messy and human grandmother, Grace. Always studying the power behind language, Keisner speaks of her paternal grandmother with admiration and fondness, “My grandmother protected my joy-filled childhood, but to do so, she had to keep a part of herself from me: her pain and suffering.” It is through Grace, ironically, that the readers find a form of respite and the goal that, regardless of how much this world tells us we’re not welcomed, there are ways to not be afraid.