Senior Kaelyn Riley, of Lexington, Ill., was announced as this year’s winner of both the Academy of American Poets Prize and the Babbitt’s Prize for Short Fiction. Amelia Benner received Honorable Mention in the Babbitt’s competition, while Caitlin Carr earned Honorable Mention for the poetry competition.
It’s the second time that the same student won both writing awards. Christine L. Pacyk did it in 2000. Illinois Wesleyan University began offering the Arthur William Hinners Poetry Prize presented by The Academy of American Poets in 1979. The Babbitt’s Prize for Short Fiction was first offered in 1997, when it was known as the Clockwatch Review Prize for Short Fiction. The contests are open to any IWU student.
The campus and community will get the chance to hear Kaelyn (pictured) and runners-up read their work on April 14 at 4 p.m. in the Merwin Gallery.
Jason Bredle, who earned an M.F.A. from the University of Michigan, judged the poetry this year. “Kaelyn Riley’s poems explode with youthful wonder and mature intelligence,” he wrote, “aware of poetic conventions yet not afraid of breaking those conventions, and always willing to take risks if the poem deems it necessary. Fearless, really, in their manipulation of language to discover new places, these poems are really exciting.” Bredle is the author of Pain Fantasy, published by Red Morning Press; Standing in Line for the Beast, winner of the 2006 New Issues Poetry Prize; A Twelve Step Guide, winner of the 2004 New Michigan Press chapbook contest; and A Pocket-Sized Map of My Heart, a self-published collaboration with Leigh Stein. He lives in Chicago.
Riley’s short story, “Lapse,” impressed John Keene, who earned his M.F.A. from New York University and judged this year’s fiction contest. He called “Lapse” a “brief but penetrating realist portrait of a husband’s dawning recognition of his wife’s serious illness. Told from and through the perspective of the protagonist, an unnamed literary scholar and paterfamilias, the story manages to depict, with considerable subtlety and gravity, how his armature of knowledge, his defense mechanisms, and his clear sense of his wife, family, and the world all fall away before the reality of the tragedy that befalls him.” Keene singled out “the author’s skill in alternating between the protagonist’s interior mental states and the shifting quotidian reality in which he moves,” as well as “the adroit use of details to depict the protagonist’s professional and personal lives. The final, poignant image of this husband helplessly but lovingly sitting beside his wife, increasingly devoured by her illness, as she in turn polishes off a bag of marshmallows, encapsulates the depth and power ‘Lapse’ as a whole achieves.”
Keene is the author of the award-winning novel Annotations (New Directions, 1995), and of the poetry collection Seismosis (1913 Press, 2006), with artwork by Christopher Stackhouse. A longtime member of the Dark Room Writers Collective of Cambridge and Boston, he is an Associate Professor of English and African American Studies at Northwestern University.