Few things make us happier at the Writers’ Program than celebrating the hard work and talent of our students. The James Kirkwood Prize, established by benefactor Andrew Morse, a friend of the late Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning author, acknowledges and supports emerging and talented fiction writers. Former Kirkwood finalists have gone on to top MFA programs, published New York Times bestselling novels, and seen their nominated work published in literary journals.

This year our first and second round judges—Cecilia Brainard, Mary Jones, Anne Sanow, Ron Darian (a former Kirkwood winner himself), Francesca Lia Block, and Steve Sohmer—read the 35 short story and novel excerpts nominated by our intermediate and advanced fiction instructors, and narrowed it down to three outstanding finalists.

“I was delighted that this year’s excerpts all possessed a tremendous amount of credibility,” says Andrew, who determines the final placement. “Whether it was the world of boxing in Mexico, a boarding school in the jungle of India, or the twisted mindscape of a predator/kidnapper on America’s roads, each of the settings and characters came through loud and clear, showcasing the ability of the writer to surprise in unconventional ways.”

Without further ado, here are the winners of the 2015 James Kirkwood Literary Prize, each of whom share what receiving the prize means to them.

1st Prize ($3,000): “Indios Verdes,” by Eric Nusbaum

Nominating Instructor: Lou Mathews

“I signed up for the Writers’ Program looking to learn a few things about storytelling, and improve as a writer. What I found—in my classmates, and in my instructor Lou Mathews—was something greater: a community. There are so many talented writers in LA, and so many of us really have to work hard to make room in our lives for fiction writing. It’s great to have that hard work validated.”



2nd Prize ($1,500): “Kodaikanal,” by Lara Palmquist

Nominating Instructor: Charles Wyatt

“This award offers breathtaking validation rare to the writing life, steeped as it is in solitary hours, abandoned drafts, and self-doubt chimed by rejection letters. My selection as a finalist offers an abiding source of energy and encouragement, for which I am profoundly grateful.”




3rd Prize ($500): “The Date,” by Laura A. Zink

Nominating Instructor: Adam Prince

“Placing as a finalist is very humbling. It is wonderful to have academic recognition of my potential as a writer.”





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

Jorge Alvarado

Margaret Aston

Laura Bess

Valerie Borey

Stephanie Clayton

Alyssa Colman

Catherine Elsworth

Prudence Fenton

Branden Frankel

Kenneth Freeman

Karen Germain

Thomas Hendrich

Blair Jockers

Michael Jortner

Michael Kolinski

Natalie Lima

Amy Lyons

Cheryl Manning

Ruthie Marlenee

Garret McKay

Annie Osburn

Jessica Page

Jessica Parra

Linda Pasachink

Laurie Peebler

Kathryn Pickford

Leslie Pray

Allyson Shames

Deborah Spera

Roy Tanabe

Aurelie Thiele

Tamika Thompson

Katy Flaherty is the Program Representative for Creative Writing (Onsite). 

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