Uncategorized | September 08, 2015

By Anne Barngrover

For the next few weeks, we will be featuring narrative accounts “from the horse’s mouth,” so to speak—the 2014 winners in poetry, nonfiction, and fiction of our Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize. Today we hear from Andrew Cohen, last year’s winner in nonfiction. Here is what he has to say about his experience:

“As far as the daily work of writing is concerned, I’m not sure that winning the Editors’ Prize did much of anything for me—it’s still pretty much a slog, maybe, in truth, even a little harder since I now have a few more people expectantly asking me, ‘How’s your writing going?’ and I’ve never been especially good under pressure. There were, however, two dreamy, wonderful experiences related to the winning of the prize that I’m incredibly grateful for and make me very happy to think about, and, probably, in quiet ways, give me heart along the way.

The first was the award weekend itself in Columbia, which is not the easiest place in the world to get to, especially from Portland, Oregon, which meant I had lots of travel-time to imagine a highfalutin affair that would leave me feeling exposed, out of place, maybe a bit disillusioned. Boy, was I wrong. I mean, it’s difficult to overstate just how graciously we—perfect strangers whose writing rose to the top in the capricious way it generally does in such circumstances— were treated all weekend by the staff and interns at The Missouri Review, who wined and dined us, showed us around town, welcomed us into their community. Which is to say nothing of how warmly we were received by the crowd at that magical Saturday evening reading. Everyone should feel so welcome and appreciated by complete strangers at least once in their life.

The second experience was going to the bank one afternoon in Los Angeles, withdrawing twenty-five hundred-dollar-bills and, later that evening, crawling into bed next to my father-in- law, Ronaldo, the subject of my essay, while he was reading the newspaper, and dropping an envelope filled with the money on his chest. It was something I’d fantasized about doing any number of times since I’d first entered the contest, partly, I suspect, because I felt guilty for not always painting him in the most favorable light, and too, because it only seemed fair since, of course, without him, there wouldn’t be an essay to win a prize. The timing couldn’t have been better either because Ronaldo had recently lost his shirt again in another penny stock, and up till that evening the visit had been all gloom and doom as a result. When he opened the envelope and looked inside, he immediately dropped it like it was stolen goods. ‘What the hell is this?’ he asked. ‘Where’d you get it?’

‘Your essay,’ I told him. ‘I won a prize.’

He looked at me skeptically, then peaked into the envelope like really thought something would leap out and bite him. Then he laughed. ‘All that money for a story?’

‘That’s only half,’ I said, and I gave him a kiss. ‘I’m keeping the rest.’ What a windfall.”

Want to join Andrew as one of our prize winners? You can submit to our 2015 Editors’ Prize Contest here. The deadline is October 1st. We can’t wait to read your submissions!