Recently, a group of students, instructors, and staff met for a luncheon in Westwood Village to honor the recipients of the 2014 James Kirkwood Literary Prize: R.T. Jamison, nominated by David Borofka; Ella Martinsen Gorham, nominated by Colette Sartor; and Greg Watkins, nominated by Robert Eversz.

The Kirkwood luncheon is one of the Writers’ Program’s favorite events of the year as it’s an opportunity to meet some of our most inspiring, hard-working, talented students in novel writing and short fiction. The annual award, named for the late Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning author James Kirkwood–who got his literary start at the Writers’ Program–is currently in its 23rd year. As founder and benefactor Andrew Morse says of the awards luncheon, “writing can be such a solitary experience, and it’s nice to see a whole gang of these individuals chatting with one another, and receiving a bit of recognition for their excellent work.”

Nominations for the prize were first solicited from instructors of intermediate and advanced level fiction courses, then narrowed down to six semifinalists by first round judges Alyx Dellamonica, Wendy Oleson, Melanie Thorne, and Ben Loory. The six semifinalists’ submissions then went to final round judges Dan Jaffe and Paul Mandelbaum, who selected the three very deserving finalists. Andrew then determined the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners:

1st Place: R.T. Jamison

R.T. was thrilled to not only be nominated, but also selected as the first place winner for his story “Things We Might See from the Parade Grounds,” about a Gulf War veteran struggling with post-traumatic stress.* “Writing fiction is essentially, if we can be honest about it, a crazy exercise in self-imposed isolation infused with equal parts delusions of grandeur and debilitating self-loathing,” says R.T. “Yet those of us who strive to write fiction toil away at our day jobs or domestic commitments, squeezing a few precious moments to torture our few precious sentences, all in the furtive hope that we might have something to say. The Kirkwood Prize is a nod that perhaps some crazy is maybe, just maybe, the right amount of crazy.”

2nd Place: Ella Martinsen Gorham

Ella took second place for the second time (the first in 2012 for her story “I Have Jonah”) for her piece “The Urban Forest,” about a middle-aged man with a tree full of parrots and a lonely heart. “I am so honored to have been named a finalist for the Kirkwood Prize. It has been wonderful to have a story I started in a workshop read and enjoyed by others. I feel a boost of confidence in my writing, and motivation to take the next steps necessary to establishing myself as a serious writer. I am very grateful for all the instruction I’ve received through the Writers’ Program.”

3rd Place: Greg Watkins

Greg, a Master Class student, was our third place finalist for his moving novel excerpt Where there are Walls, about a young Palestinian man coping with the death of his brother. Unfortunately, Greg was not able to make it out to Los Angeles for the luncheon, but was delighted to place in the final three. As he succinctly puts it, “the Kirkwood Prize is a great honor and resume builder.”

Congratulations to this year’s winners and all of our talented nominees:

Anne Belden

Maria Caponi

Lila Carroll/Feldman

Jennifer Carson

Andrea Custer

Brandy French

Alex Howard

Anessa Ibrahim

Tanya Jacob

R.T. Jamison

Jacqueline Lipton

Lisa Manterfield

Ella Martinsen Gorham

Katherine McDonough

Asa Murphy

Neil Navani

Gillian Neiditch

Andrés Reconco

Sarah Skiles

Emily Sperling

Andrea Thamm

Greg Watkins

Jennifer Woldman

Jeffrey Wolf

Mika Yamaji

*More great news for R. T.! A few days after the Kirkwood luncheon, R.T. got news that his winning story will be published by Bellevue Literary Review: BLReview.org.

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