This is the second year for the Literary Honors Award and we were fortunate enough to receive 80 submissions from all over the world. Made for a lot of reading for us Naked Girls, but we narrowed it down to 5 finalists. We then sent the finalists’ works to our judges and they picked the winner. We held the award gala on Nov. 18th at the Everleigh Social Club. We had the pleasure of meeting one of the finalists, Valya Dudycz Lupescu, author of ‘Everywhere Silks’, an excerpt from her book, ‘The Silence of Trees‘. Her piece was very emotional and had us ladies crying. There’s something extremely vulnerable about sitting naked in front of an audience and crying and becoming very aware of the tears hitting your breasts. Oh, we’re just softies, I guess.
We then used Skype to allow the winner to hear her story read (she didn’t know she was the winner yet). When I was finished reading her work, I announced that Elizabeth McClellan, author of ‘Razor Hair Girls’ had won the Literary Honors Award! I’m so happy that we used technology to capture her surprise. It was so gratifying for us to hear her reaction. So sincere and grateful. It was a nice treat for the audience too.
I wanted to know more about this writer from Memphis, TN. Here is my interview with Elizabeth:
What drew you to writing?
Reading. I have been a reader since almost my earliest memories, and writing came soon after that. Loving words can express itself in a lot of different ways. More recently, a writer’s workshop I did a couple of years ago really challenged me to produce a quality poem after a couple decades of dabbling. The practice is addictive, and here we are.
What authors, past and present, inspire you?
So many, and for so many different reasons. Here’s a brief cross-section: C.S.E. Cooney. Hart Crane. Amal El-Mohtar. Allen Ginsberg. Shira Lipkin. Rose Lemberg. Katie Moore. Shweta Narayan. S.J. Tucker. Catherynne M. Valente. Buddy Wakefield. Walt Whitman.
What are your favorite books?
I dread this question because a real answer would take up reams of time and require footnotes. I thus tend to answer it with ten books I find indispensable or at least fascinating, this time in the realm of poetry. 1.) Arvind Krishna Mehrorota’s translation of the Songs of Kabir. 2.) Catherynne M. Valente’s A Guide to Folktales in Fragile Dialects – my entry point into her wonderful poetry and a darkly fascinating collection in its own right. 3.) Amal El-Mohtar’s The Honey Month – flawlessly delicious. 4.) Cardinal Cox’s Codex series of chapbooks, which are so short they should count as one book, and which I recently reviewed for The Legendary. 5.) Jo Carson’s Stories I Ain’t Told Nobody Yet, to which I was introduced as a very young poet at a summer writer’s camp and which continues to teach me things well over a decade later 6.) Bob Hicok’s Animal Soul, which I fell violently in love with despite a few sour notes in the otherwise flawless collection. 7.) Buddy Wakefield’s Live for a Living, which is worth it for his tremendous performance piece The Information Man alone (not least because I hear the performance in my head when the words roll off the page). 8.) Hone Tuwhare’s Deep River Talk, which I spent this fall soaking up like a poetry sponge and some of which I am still mulling over – talk about poems about the moon, wow. 9.) Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems – I read Song at my sister’s wedding, and it remains one of my favorite poems of all time. 10.) Devadatta Kali’s In Praise of the Goddess: The Devi-mahatmyam and Its Meaning – for years I have sat with this book, and expect to be sitting with it for plenty more.
What are you reading right now?
I just finished the fantastic Catherynne M. Valente’s The Folded World, second in her A Dirge for Prester John series. It’s an amazing alternate history of the world had the Letter of Prester John been real and not a hoax, and his country a place you could reach. Now I’m burying myself in the equally fantastic Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch. I’ve been anticipating both of these for quite a while now, so I spent all of Thanksgiving Day gobbling delicious novels.
Do you read naked?
I certainly do. When you live in Tennessee, where the humidity is killer, one summer survival strategy is to sit around naked as much as possible, sometimes in a tub of lukewarm water . . . and what better way to spend a steamy summer day when it’s too hot to do much of anything than reading a good book?
What does winning the Literary Honors Award mean to you?
It’s an incredible honor. Patty Templeton is a very talented writer; to be in her company – and to know that your readers and your judges singled out “Razor Hair Girls” as this year’s winner – is just extraordinary. Rose Lemberg said to me when she accepted two of my poems for her Moment of Change feminist speculative poetry anthology “You won’t be a new poet for long.” Being selected by the Naked Girls Reading as the emergent writer of the year really validated that feeling that I am doing something right. (On the practical side, this poet’s getting the heat in her truck fixed before it gets really cold down here, thus sparing her another winter of chilly feet and no defrost, so thank you, Naked Girls Reading.)
What was your inspiration for ‘Razor Hair Girls?’
A thing that happened over the course of some time between two people who love each other very much. All the details that the world is entitled to know are in the poem. Poems are the stories I tell in pieces—and private stories are best told that way, in glimpses and metaphors that spare secrets.
What is your opinion on electronic books?
I am excited about the technology, unsure that anyone has settled on the correct model to make sure that an ebook is profitable for everyone in the process, particularly the writers. I am concerned that Macmillan and Amazon went to war over ebook prices and pissed off that when they did it hurt a lot of writers who had no voice in the process. I’m excited about some of the ebook projects that writers, traditionally published and not, are undertaking – for instance, some of Cat Valente’s older work is available as direct-purchase ebooks, and Alexandra Erin, my favorite serial webnovelist, did a great project called Gift of the Bad Guy that allowed her to reach the audience she’s built with her other self-published writing. Tobias Buckell, who everyone should read as he is marvelous, wrote a really good breakdown on Where Ebooks Are At, Realistically during the Macmillan/Amazon flap that I think is still mostly accurate, containing details I wish more people were aware of.
Me, I love a good e-publication – I’ve published several times in Apex Magazine and their issues are lovely works of art that never see paper for which more people should give them the very reasonable $3 they ask per issue. For e-publication to thrive we have to give it our support.
Do you have any advice for writers, or for poets in particular?
Cultivate relationships with other writers and with readers. Learn to give edits, and take them – I work with Edits, Full Stop and without the mighty Ashley Full Stop of EFS I would never even have heard of the Naked Girls Reading.Literary Honors. Submit constantly. You’re allowed to get grumpy-faced over rejections – I think we all do it – but only for a few minutes, then back to writing, editing and submitting. Don’t turn up your nose at genre, either in fiction or poetry. Make a conscious effort to read things by people who don’t look or fuck or live or think like you do. Write color into your work and your worlds. And for God’s sake don’t act like a fuckmuppet on the Internet or anywhere else.
Where can people read your work?
You can find my poetry in Apex Magazine, Goblin Fruit, the Legendary, and Stone Telling. You can also be on the lookout for the Moment of Change anthology, due in the spring and full of fantastic poets. For a taste of my fiction, check out my guest story “A Question of Ownership” on Alexandra Erin’s Tales of MU. I’m on Twitter (@popelizbet) and Facebook, as well as Goodreads and Amazon. I don’t have a personal website, but I blog when I have time.
And here is her winning poem:
Razor Hair Girls
You and me, we’re both hag-ridden, haunted
by past and present specters of razor hair girls
who looked so soft when we wanted to touch them,
who leaned in close, got sado-artistic, left legacies of
whip-thin scars that show through clear in the light
of five a.m. Elvira when we’ve talked since ten
the night before. I’m scared of girls, you say
and we understand each other perfectly, ‘cause I know
however soft she looks, she can cut you.
We both freeze, afraid to reach out or keep going—
careful of your hands,
says lived experience in her snotty
know-it-all voice, those curls
might be razor wire.
That winter you sheltered me
from the lonely sharp edge of
unfamiliar city wind, I knew you
could not possibly want me,
strange stressed expatriate
who talked too much, stayed too long, paused
at all the wrong times with you—
I thought you knew you were iridescent.
I didn’t know radiance could think herself dull
with the whole moon spiraling out of her heart in waves—
luminosity dysphoria: you can’t see
what light you truly reflect.
You always struck me as girl
who knows when to laugh and
I never do
the rictus I get when I try to smile on purpose
is my least favorite thing about my face
girls like you shine cool as moonlight but
sometimes what reflects the light is broken bottles,
rusty tops of cans torn jagged, ersatz starshine
faked up with ground glass, set to coax me closer,
to rip my flesh and sit winking
I didn’t give you enough credit
for the way you never cut me
with that razor wit of yours—
somewhere in our saturn return of pure silence
I forgot how my mama taught me
always cut away from yourself.
My lips rusted shut around how I missed
your tiny mouth smiling big as the moon
left my tongue marinating in copper, vinegar, tear-salt
so I sewed my own lips together
around the oxidization, to spite your face.
In flickering black and white film corona
we took what we’d stewed in, reduced,
derived pure essence of left-out girl
suspended in a sludge of insecurity,
decanted it out, stock to brew reassurance,
slow going simmer with no recipe,
guided only by past missteps,
a pot we look at sidelong as not to run the boil
even knowing there is no potion of undoing,
no liquid forgetfulness to remake us
into tabulae rasae unscarred and unflinching
but even still
you didn’t draw your hand back bleeding
when you sank begging fingers into my hair
and twisted while I twisted you, in you
whispering mantras into the core of
your coming, moonlit face a divine contortion,
eyes rolled back in the
fullness of the spirit, the cunt, the all
of your being one thrumming galaxy of
vibration, my hand miraculously whole—
this is what I wanted all along, somehow
to show you my tantra, my poems,
my soft and secret places in the flesh,
the recesses of what passes for my soul.
Congratulations to Elizabeth McClellan, winner of the 2011 Literary Honors Award! Thank you to all who submitted. Continue to work hard and practice your art. Looking forward to reading your work next year!