“The careful weaving of this narrative—and the subsequent unraveling of it—took my breath away. I was deeply invested in the relationships between the characters in this beautiful story. Wife and husband, mother and child, the living and the dead. The author did an amazing job of tugging the threads of the past and present, twisting everything together seamlessly. This is a story of grief, which means it’s about how memories of loss continue to shape the characters; regret sits immediately alongside anger and denial, but there is also hope and love. How do we move forward when the past sits inside us, lodged like a fist in the throat? The story is bodied, messy, tender, and impressively written. It stayed with me long after I finished reading.” – Kristen Arnett, guest judge
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I write because I try to understand life; I search for answers within the complexities, intricacies, and beauty of the characters I imagine. Their stories center on the meaning of home, identity, family, love, loss, racism, and everything in between. I owe my ability to convey these stories to my family and friends, to my education, and to Waguih Ghali’s Beer in the Snooker Club. Ghali wrote his only novel in 1964; it astounded me that I only discovered him post-university, post-immigration, post-motherhood, post-floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. His novel opened a door that I never knew existed. He made me realize that I could be a writer, that I’m allowed to be a fiction writer, and that I could be an Egyptian writer who wrote in English. He taught me the importance of storytelling, what it means to live in exile, what it means to be part of a failed revolution and to live in a constant state of in-betweenness.
After Ghali, many others showed me the way: Jhumpa Lahiri, Ahdaf Soueif, Elif Shafak, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. As an Egyptian-Canadian, I feel at home among diaspora writers and inside stories of transition like Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance; they are my air, my escape, my erotic pleasure, even. I believe in reading stories of the marginalized, particularly those of women, and I’ve never been more inspired than when I read Black feminists like Toni Morrison, Audrey Lorde, bell hooks, and most recently, adrienne maree brown. As a lifelong feminist, I am so grateful to all the women before me who have paved the way, and I am incredibly thankful for the women who continuously surround and support me. After the Egyptian Revolution, I wanted to pay that support forward and give a voice to Egyptian writers, so I founded Rowayat, a magazine showcasing Egyptian literary talent. It is relaunching this year in Canada as a non-profit.
My MFA from the University of British Columbia has enabled me to work in multiple genres. One of my CNF essays was shortlisted for the 2018 Event Nonfiction Contest and later published in The Malahat Review. An excerpt of my WIP graphic novel was published in Room Magazine, and my translations were published in Arablit. I was extremely blessed to have Night Stencils win The Masters Review 2021 Summer Short Story Award.
When I write, I inhabit the world of my characters; I read the books they might have read, carry a map of their neighbourhood in my pocket, and populate their world with incidents and details that never make it into the story, but are there nevertheless, in my character’s memory, informing their thoughts and actions. Hoda, the main character in Night Stencils, is a character from my first novel and one of my most beloved. Because of all the effort I put into my characters, many have outgrown the novel and, like Hoda, have continued their lives outside it, splintering off into their own storylines, too limited by the novel and the complex life of Hagar, the titular character and main protagonist.
Hagar is a story of how faith, freedom, and memory blend. After moving from post-revolutionary Cairo to Montreal, Hagar unexpectedly falls in love with Adam, another Egyptian immigrant, but the relationship forces her to grapple with her past and her complex connections with her estranged brothers and with a homeland and a faith that have both suffocated and liberated her in turn. Spanning three continents and numerous lives, Hagar is a richly told story of love and expectation set in today’s globalized Islamophobic world. I’m currently revising the manuscript, and I hope to start sending it out to publishers after the summer.
Interview with the Author at The Masters Review
SECOND PLACE – “Wish You Were Here” by Carlee Jensen
“The way this author chose plant life to shroud the passing of a dearly missed friend was remarkably well done. The structure of the story became like the scraggly yard that needed tending: overgrown, barren in places, scored with thorns and weeds. Different varieties of loss sit neatly inside of each other in this work, like nesting dolls that the author skillfully reveals one at a time. The work here is queer and intimate, showcasing how vulnerable grief makes people. How we close up at the end of a season, as though dead, yet miraculously alive – still managing to green and bloom once spring comes around again. Conversational and deeply tender, this was a story that tapped at my heart.” – Kristen Arnett, guest judge.
I love a garden in early spring: the ground growing softer as the days lengthen, dried skeletons of perennials shedding their dead leaves to make way for new growth. I love the warmth inside a new bag of soil conditioner, the first blister from a shovel on my softened palm. Alicia steered me around the raised beds, their wood bloated from rain and snow, reciting names I could tell she had worked hard to remember. Bleeding Heart. Tiarella. False Indigo. Cardinal Flower. The garden had never really been her thing but now, she laid into each word like it was sweet on her tongue.
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I was born in southern Utah, the daughter of two lapsed Mormons, awkwardly positioned from the start in a community organized around sacrament meetings and family home evenings. My mother moved our family to Los Angeles in 2001, and the resulting admixture of regional, religious, and class cultures defined my young life, creating a sense of internal incongruity and a stubborn hunger for self-definition that continues to shape my creative work.
After graduating high school, I studied English at Yale University and earned a master’s degree in childhood education at Bank Street College in New York City. I have spent nearly a decade working in elementary and middle school classrooms, and my identity as a teacher is ever-present in my writing. On the page, as in the classroom, I am guided by deep interest in the lives of young people and their families; an appreciation for absurdity; and a commitment to plain-speaking, emotional authenticity, and intellectual honesty.
As a lesbian for whom self-knowledge has been a slow and nonlinear process, queerness is both a subject of my work and an indispensable narrative lens. My own experience bears little resemblance to the pat “coming out” narratives that dominate popular culture, and fiction has always offered a platform to explore and complicate dominant narratives around desire, identity, and family relationships. I write almost exclusively about queer women and girls, always seeking to locate them within a larger social and emotional context, and see my work in conversation with other chroniclers of queer messiness: Dorothy Allison, Torrey Peters, Kristin Arnett, and T Kira Madden, among others.
I am currently at work on a short story collection, tentatively titled Sometimes We Drown Together. I have published two of the stories intended for this collection: “Wish You Were Here,” about a young woman’s attempts to connect with her best friend’s widow in the wake of his death, and “The Visible Spectrum,” which follows two teenage girls on an ill-advised swim across Skaneateles Lake. Other stories in the collection depict a fifth-grade teacher struggling to care for her students through the fog her own heartbreak; a teenager coping with her classmate’s recent suicide; and a young mother holding her family together in the midst of her divorce. I am also working on a novel about a queer woman’s return to her Utah hometown, where she confronts family and personal history, grapples with her faith, and reignites a relationship with her first love.
This fall, I will begin an MFA in Fiction at Johns Hopkins University. I look forward to developing these projects—and embarking on new ones—during my two years in the program.
Interview with the Author at The Masters Review
THIRD PLACE – “All This is Yours to Lose” by Marcus Tan
“I was deeply impressed by the way this author chose to use time in this story. Generally I would be wary of taking the reader so far out of linear time in a piece of short fiction, but here, it works perfectly. Every moment between the husband and wife sets us up for what’s going to happen at the end of the work. I found myself rolling along with the movement, reading for the moments of intimacy and frustration rather than what would happen at the climax of the work. I very much enjoyed the way this writer was able to make me understand the different threads that connected these characters. By the time I reached the end of this story, I felt as though I had a greater knowledge of the ways that people unconditionally support each other.” – Kristen Arnett, guest judge
His mother Huichen first brought it up a year into their marriage, when they visited over the Lunar New Year. It seemed innocent enough at first, just a flask of homemade herbal soup placed in her son’s hands for him to take home. Then she said: “It’ll be good for Leanne. It helps generate heat in the womb.”
Contact Information: firstname.lastname@example.org
Two cities form the backdrop of most of my writing: Singapore, where I grew up, and Hong Kong, where I currently live and work. My fiction is concerned with class structures, generational divides, and the immigrant experience. I’m especially drawn to character-driven narratives which explore the internal friction that comes from trying to balance the pursuit of modernity with traditional family values.
I look up to writers such as Min Jin Lee, Douglas Stuart, and Tash Aw, who so ferociously and unapologetically tackle the dark and ugly parts of modern society while so delicately capturing the capacity of humans to find and give love in the most difficult of times. More recently, I enjoyed Brown Girls by Daphne Palasi Andreades, which I found uniquely captivating as an anthem for the lived experience of young immigrants in America.
My latest story, All This is Yours to Lose, was shortlisted for the Exeter Story Prize on top of being a being a finalist for the Masters Review Story Prize. The story is intended to be part of a collection of short stories which take place in contemporary Hong Kong and is centred on the everyday people left behind in the wake of the city’s relentless pursuit of modernity and economic prosperity. Other stories I’ve written that fall along these themes are “Harbour,” published in Prime Number Magazine, and “Eight Houses,” published in No Contact Magazine and anthologized in Best Small Fictions.
Link to other work: “Harbour” published in Prime Number Magazine
Interview with the Author at The Masters Review
HONORABLE MENTION – “Degenerate Matter” by Jennifer Galvão
At that time I thought about sex in an abstract, intellectual way. When other girls spoke of it—hushed and laughing, brazenly casual—I knew to laugh in the right spots. I stood before the mirror sometimes and made the appropriate faces, shook my mouth through a series of ecstatic Os, a muted opera singer.
Earlier that year a friend of a friend had asked me if I was a virgin. Over the hum of hand dryers, I told her yes. I wasn’t yet a liar.
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I am a writer from New York currently living in Ann Arbor, where I’m finishing up my graduate thesis and teaching undergrads about ghost stories. I will graduate with my MFA in fiction from the University of Michigan’s Helen Zell Writer’s Program this April.
As a writer, I am drawn to work which grounds itself in character and relationship, particularly the strange ferocity and cruelty of teenaged girls. I love writers such as Emma Cline and Ottessa Moshfegh who burrow into female interiority and allow their characters to be alienating, gross, and outright bizarre. In addition, I am inspired by writers such as Patricia Lockwood and John L’Heureux who explore Catholicism and religion.
“Degenerate Matter” is a story from Home for Future Saints, my collection of literary short fiction. Home for Future Saints is concerned with the intersection of the sanctified and the mundane, the holy and the routine. Its titular story follows an aged cleaning woman working in a hospice for dying saints. My project is interested in the slipperiness of belief, as the stories move between realism and the miraculous. While not all the stories are about religion, they all revolve around faith systems of some kind, rituals of daily life, and the women at the center of this work. My stories are interested in labor, bodies, girlhood, memory, and acts of care.
I am also at work on a historical novel. My novel Water Dogs is set in Murtosa, a northern Portuguese fishing village, in the year following the 1974 Carnation Revolution. The fascist Estado Novo regime has been peacefully overthrown, but change is slow in coming to Murtosa, and fifteen-year-old Amadeu da Silva is restless. His father is a subsistence fishermen working without a license, and his grandmother is falling into dementia, convinced she’s being robbed by the woman next door. Amadeu and his friend Zem catch the attention of a retornado, a wealth plantation owner run out of Angola as the territory gains independence. The retornado hires the boys on a series of clandestine diving trips, seeking the fabled wreck of the Cinco Chagas, a slave ship holding 2000 tones of treasure at the time of its sinking. Amadeu and Zem hatch a plan to scam the retornado in the hopes of using his money to flee Murtosa for good. The novel is partially based on my own family history. As my grandfather descended into Alzheimer’s, the story he told most frequently was about diving for shellfish as a boy. I see this novel as an exploration of memory and stories that get told again and again, as well as an examination of Portuguese roots in colonialism and slave-trade. An excerpt of Water Dogs was recently awarded a Geoffrey James Gosling Novel Prize, as well as the first-place Hopwood Novel Award, as judged by Brit Bennett and Matthew Salesses.