From a crowded field of intriguing essays, The Tusculum Review is pleased to announce the winner of the 2020 Nonfiction Prize. Judge David Lazar has chosen Jamie L. Smith’s essay, “Mythology Lessons.” Lazar praised Smith’s work:

“‘Mythology Lessons’ is a deftly choreographed and deeply felt essay. The essayist uses a tripartite structure and a combination of tones and dictions to fully exploit the possibilities of the essay—to create a moving exploration of how ideas and experience intertwine, how thinking about the past is an obsessive activity, thinly concealed by the forms of intellection and apparent arrangement, which may help us move towards what is difficult to consider, but will not, in the words of James Agee, ‘tell me who I am.’ Still, the attempt, which in this case is considered, offered with both the risk of revelation and the efforts of discretion. The result is a poetic acceleration at the end which is moving and earned.”

Smith wins the $1,000 prize, publication in the Review, and the creation of a limited edition chapbook of her essay.

Judge David Lazar also selected two essayists for honorable mention.

He recommended Robin Storey Dunn’s “Gimme Shelter,” describing it as “an autobiographical essay that is willing to unsentimentally look at the details of the past and question what, if anything, has changed.”

Robin Storey Dunn is a high school dropout and a community college graduate. Her writing has appeared in Gertrude, Pigeonholes, The Windhover, and Rue Scribe. Additional work can be found at her website. She lives in Austin, Texas with her wife and children.

Lazar also took notice of “Shopping at Target while Muslim,” by Margaret A. Johnson. “The narrator of this essay manages to remain balanced and intimate while instigating questions that are charged and essential, no small achievement,” Lazar wrote.

Margaret A. Johnson, Ph.D. is an award-winning author, sociologist, business owner, and interfaith activist. Her memoir essays have been published in The Fountain Magazine and online at MuslimGirl, AltMuslimah, and Thrive Global. She has numerous academic publications from her former career as a university professor. As a business owner, she is the managing director of Transfirex, Inc., a global language translation company. She serves as the president of her mosque board and as the co-lead of the Washington DC Chapter of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom. She is writing her memoir, My American Pilgrimage: From Southeast Texas to the Ka’ba in Mecca. She can be found online at www.coexistmarge.com and on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @coexistmarge.

All three of these essays will be published in our 2020 issue, which will be illustrated by a printmaker we’ve commissioned. In addition, “Mythology Lessons” will be produced as a limited edition chapbook. Both the issue and the chapbook go to press in September. Congratulations to these exemplars in the field of nonfiction. We look forward to sharing your work with readers of The Tusculum Review.


David Lazar, 2020 Judge

David Lazar, 2020 judge

David Lazar’s books include the forthcoming Celeste Holm Syndrome (Nebraska) and the anthology Don’t Look Now (Ohio State), co-edited with Kristen Iversen, as well as I’ll Be Your Mirror: Essays and Aphorisms, Who’s Afraid of Helen of Troy, After Montaigne, Occasional Desire: Essays, The Body of Brooklyn, Truth in Nonfiction, Essaying the Essay, Powder Town, Michael Powell: Interviews, and Conversations with M.F.K. Fisher. Nine of his essays have been “Notable Essays of the Year” according to Best American Essays, including 2016-18. He is Professor of Creative Writing at Columbia College Chicago. Lazar is founding editor of the literary magazine Hotel Amerika, now in its nineteenth year, and series editor, with Patrick Madden, of 21st Century Essays, at Ohio State University Press. He was a Guggenheim Fellow in Nonfiction for 2015-16.





Tanya Paperny, Winner of 2019 Chapbook Prize

Tanya Paperny is a writer, editor, and translator in Washington, D.C. Her journalism, essays, poetry, and literary translations have appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Washington City Paper, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, The Literary Review, and elsewhere. Her poem “Prababushka,” about her revolutionary great-grandmother, was selected as Split This Rock’s “Poem of the Week” in 2018, and Tanya is at work on a literary nonfiction book about the same badass great-grandmother. Tanya is the recipient of fellowships from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the Vermont Studio Center, and OMI International Arts Center. The child of Soviet Jewish refugees, Tanya’s work deals with the aftermath of atrocity.



Bhanu Kapil, 2019 judge

Bhanu Kapil, 2019 judge

Bhanu Kapil is an English rose, not that you’d know it at first glance. Born in the UK to Indian parents, she now lives and works in the US, where she is a professor at Naropa University and Goddard College. She maintains an exciting and beautiful blog, The Vortex of Formidable Sparkles, which recently passed its “million point” and is also the author of five spectacular yet relentlessly grim books, most recently Incubation: a space for monsters, which is to be re-published in a new edition, with a preface by Eunsong Kim, by Kelsey Street Press.  Bhanu is is also currently writing a new work, an inversion of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. This is not going well. Will Bhanu ever become a widely read British novelist? Please send practical advice on how to become a British novelist and/or a note of encouragement to thisbhanu@yahoo.com. In better news, in summer 2018, Bhanu had her first solo European exhibition, curated by Harry Burke during Art Basel, at S.A.L.T.S. In summer 2019, Bhanu, a devotee of Hanuman, will be launching The Hanuman Institute, an art school for writers, both online and off, in venues that include Loveland, Rishikesh, Edinburgh, Malmo, Johannesburg and Oakland.  You can find her on Twitter at @thisbhanu.


Stella Reed, winner of 2018 poetry chapbook prize Photo credit: Laura Star

Stella Reed, winner of 2018 poetry chapbook prize
Photo credit: Laura Star

Stella Reed is the co-author of We Were Meant to Carry Water, forthcoming from 3: A Taos Press in 2019. She teaches poetry to women in domestic violence and homeless shelters through WingSpan Poetry Project in Santa Fe, NM. She’s recently published in The Bellingham ReviewAmerican Journal of Poetry, and Tahoma Literary Review and has a piece forthcoming this summer in the Black Lawrence Press anthology, They Said.



















Emilia Phillips is the author of two poetry collections from the University of Akron Press, Signaletics (2013) and Groundspeed (2016), and three chapbooks, most recently Beneath the Ice Fish Like Souls Look Alike (Bull City Press, 2015). Her poems and lyric essays appear widely in literary publications including AgniBoston ReviewPloughsharesPoetry, and elsewhere. She’s an assistant professor in the MFA Writing Program and the Department of English at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her third book, Empty Clip, will be published by the University of Akron Press Spring 2018.

Emilia Phillips, 2018 judge. Photo by Tracy Tanner.

Emilia Phillips, 2018 judge. Photo by Tracy Tanner.


Previous contest judges for The Tusculum Review include: Mary Jo Bang, Aimee Bender, Kate Bernheimer, Jericho Brown, Amy Gerstler, Jaimy Gordon, Allison Joseph, Michael Martone, Clay Matthews, Sara Pritchard, Nate Pritts, and Wayne Lee Thomas.