Winners of the Ninth Annual Robert and Adele Schiff Awards in Poetry and Prose
Samantha Grenrock for her poem “This Was My Bulwark”
Sean Gill for his story “For Want of a Better Word”
We’d like to start by thanking everybody who submitted. Our contest received 1,143 entries this year, and we relished immersing ourselves in the work of so many gifted writers. The winnowing process wasn’t easy, but after much careful reading and deliberation, we’re elated to offer our heartiest congratulations to poet Samantha Grenrock and fiction writer Sean Gill.
Grenrock and Gill will each receive a $1000 prize, and their pieces will appear in the Summer 2018 issue of The Cincinnati Review. Read more below about the inspiration behind their work.
The judges—Don Bogen for poetry and Michael Griffith for prose—have also selected the following finalists for recognition:
John Wiley Ulmer
We’d also like to thank James Ellenberger and Gwen Kirby for their assistance as submission readers during this year’s contest period.
On “This Was My Bulwark” by Samantha Grenrock
Poetry Editor Don Bogen: I’m not sure whether to call Samantha Grenrock’s “This Was My Bulwark” a nature poem, but it more than meets the expectations of that genre, with its vivid specificity of plant and animal life, its sensory richness—all those tastes and textures—and its metaphoric energy. The fine ear for poetic music, the variety of sentences, and the overall pacing of the work would make it stand out in any category. I’m particularly struck by the way this poem moves beyond the immediate scene as it follows out the full ecology of both the estuary it describes and the poet’s own growing insights. The imagination behind this is wild and yet precisely to the point. “This Was My Bulwark” is a thoughtful and moving elegy in a world in which the traditional consolations of nature are soon to be lost.
Samantha Grenrock on her winning poem: “This Was My Bulwark” is part of a manuscript-in-progress on how to feel and think about climate change and ecological crisis. The speaker is caught between the renewal promised by natural cycles and the possibility of irreversible loss. She plays the dispassionate observer, detailing the facts, but these facts tumble over each other and wash up as detritus. Here is someone struggling with the realization that some things may not—or cannot—go back to the way they were. In the final stanzas, I wanted to move beyond the human, imagining how flora and fauna struggle with the same uncertainty.
Samantha Grenrock grew up in California and lives in Florida. She received an MFA from the University of Florida, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Best New Poets, Horsethief, New Orleans Review, Raritan, and others.
On “For Want of a Better Word” by Sean Gill
Fiction Editor Michael Griffith: Sean Gill’s excellent “For Want of a Better Word” begins with a clever premise—a lab assistant inventing words for an experiment in artificial intelligence—and then does ingenious things with tone and timespan to make that premise far more than merely clever. The result is a surprising, touching, funny, and bittersweet story about the ways being smart can help us, and the ways it can’t.
Sean Gill on his winning story: A few years ago, I read Joseph Weizenbaum’s study about his early (1966) chat-bot ELIZA, a creation that managed, in at least a few instances, to fool its participants into believing they were speaking to a human being. The detail I found most compelling was that even after they were told ELIZA was a robot, some of them refused to believe it, continuing to speak with and confide in ELIZA as if she were a real person. This provided the germ of the idea.
The rest came from a period in my life where I, like the story’s heroine, was working a series of “long-term” temp jobs. I served as a factotum everywhere from a French accounting firm to a Cambodian trade show to the National Football League. One of these assignments was at a pharmaceutical PR firm where my switchboard actually contained an ominous button marked “Alert BioSector 4.” It was a vivid period of uncertainty and destitution, and it lends this story its backbone.
Sean Gill is a writer and filmmaker who has studied with Werner Herzog, documented public defenders for National Geographic, and served as a writer-in-residence at the Bowery Poetry Club from 2011–2012. He won the 2016 Sonora Review Fiction Prize and the 2017 River Styx Micro-Fiction Contest. Other recent work has been published or is forthcoming in The Iowa Review, McSweeney’s, and ZYZZYVA.
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