The Winners of the 2016 Iowa Review Awards

TIR staff

We're delighted to announce the winners and runners-up of the 2016 Iowa Review Awards in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. Their work will appear in our Winter 2016 issue. Many thanks to all who entered and to our judges, Kelly Link, Brenda Shaughnessy, and Eula Biss.

Without further ado:



Headshot of Amy Widmoyer HansonWinner: Amy Widmoyer Hanson, "The Soles of Her Feet"

Fiction judge Kelly Link writes, "[This is] a story so rich and wonderfully replete with details of setting, characterization, and nuance, that I would have happily read an entire novel about Lila. Having said that, this is an absolute feast of a short story and accomplished in its architecture and shape, from sentence to scene to final paragraph.”

Amy Widmoyer Hanson holds a degree in piano performance from the University of Iowa and has taught both privately and in the public schools. She writes from the Minneapolis home she shares with her husband and three children. "The Soles of Her Feet" was her first journal submission.


Headshot of Maria AndersonMaria Anderson, "Cougar"

Writes Link, "The characters here would feel tethered to a limbo-like locale almost hopelessly grim if it weren’t for the buoyant and matter-of-fact prose that gives this story a sense of urgency and motion. Even if the cougar of the story only manifests itself briefly, the voice of the story was the real marvelous thing here.”

Maria Anderson is from Montana. Her fiction has recently been published or is forthcoming in the Missouri Review and the Atlas Review. She was a finalist for the 2016 Dzanc Disquiet International Prize and for the 2015 Missouri Review Editors' Prize. She is an editor at Essay Press.

Headshot of Anjali SachdevaAnjali Sachdeva, "The World By Night"

Link writes, "This story genuinely surprised me: in its setting and time period; in its characters and in their actions; in the pervasive feeling of almost uncanniness and accidental loss, of abandonment and beauty. Nothing here was predictable, and yet it seemed to me—I applaud them—the author stayed in control of their material and ideas in such a way that I remained in sympathy with all of their characters.”

Anjali Sachdeva is the Director of Educational Programs for the Creative Nonfiction Foundation and teaches creative writing and English at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. Her own writing ranges from nonfiction to speculative fiction, and she is a former editor at Unstuck, a journal of the futuristic, the fantastic, the surreal, and the strange. Her work has been published in Yale Review, Gulf Coast, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Best American Nonrequired Reading, among other places. She loves backcountry hiking and lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  


Headshot of sam sax. Photo by Hieu Minh Nguyen.Winner: sam sax, "Application," "Meat," "Miasma"

Judge Brenda Shaughnessy writes, "These are poems so unapologetically fierce and filthy they are holy. It’s so rare to read words that know they are pushed and driven to the brink, bringing their reader to an edge that didn’t exist before these words were written. I’m astonished at the peculiarity and specificity of this poet’s vision—it is a vision that looks like it’s just looking but in fact encompasses all the other senses, a vision which gathers and displays the senses it’s quite possible we didn’t have before, or took leave of, or have yet to grow. This poet’s body-and-mind wisdom has much to teach us, so much to show us how to begin to learn."

TIR poetry editor Devon Walker writes, "sam sax’s poems propound a world fraught with its own end and, therefore, its beginning, its re-imagining: here—in this place strange as it is familiar—one finds that a plague is always at hand; that photographs dismember because they preserve; that “exile is a written language,” one known by all; and that obsession is the closest one can get to salvation. In “Application,” the anaphoric impulse drives the speaker toward insanity—or is it liturgy? In “Meat,” Rome forsakes its ruins and bygone glories in order to take up flirting through a language of emojis and dick pics. In “Miasma,” “one world ends & a man gets rich selling / the copper wire in the walls,” even as children return to their homes to find them filled with “birds, birds, birds.” Augural and haunting, tinged with the apocalyptic, these poems are at once driven by imagination, anxiety, and human need. In a word, they compose a world you’ll want to enter and be changed by."

sam sax is a 2015 NEA Fellow and finalist for The Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. He’s a poetry fellow at The Michener Center for Writers, where he serves as the editor-in-chief of Bat City Review. He’s the two-time Bay Area Grand Slam Champion & author of the chapbooks A Guide to Undressing Your Monsters (Button Poetry, 2014), sad boy / detective (Black Lawrence Press, 2015), and All The Rage (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2016). His poems are forthcoming in American Poetry Review, Boston Review, Guernica, Ploughshares, Poetry Magazine, and other journals.

Headshot of Justin Phillip ReedRunner-up: Justin Phillip Reed, "From Paroxysm"

Brenda Shaughnessy writes, "Could there be more crucial questions than the ones posed by this beautiful poet? I feel I am in the presence of a mind that not only loves words, needs them, but can bend and shape them toward his love and his need, toward what we need to hear. Every decision this poet makes is sound, is powerful, and as powerfully surprising as it is blood-essential, familiar the way the sound of our hearts breaking is familiar." 

TIR poetry editor Devon Walker writes, “Justin Phillip Reed’s poem ‘Paroxysm’ brims with insight, tenderness, and daring. More than that, though, its attention moves with the cinematic ease of Tolstoy, zeroing in not only on the immediate, the humble, and the seemingly insignificant—a tarp hanging from a ceiling, a thumb resting in a mouth, a condom gone dry—but on the monumental, the grave, and the universal—institutionalized violence, racism, the dark matter composing what we call space. In his linguistic and meditative roaming, the speaker of ‘Paroxysm’ takes us through spaces wherein violence seethes from within the structures immuring those spaces. We encounter the autopsy of Ezell Ford, for instance, only to find his body diagrammed out of recognition, an object whose wounds are labeled and serving as records ‘of just how many ways / a person can suffer the word // [through]’; we encounter scene after fragmented scene that, as we are forced to exit it and enter another, ‘resumes its linear obligation to death’; we encounter a dead who are ‘becoming legion’ and a TV script that would have the narrating ‘you’ play ‘the part of every prone body.’ In closing, Reed’s poetry is unflinching, or rather, it flinches at the things that should make any of us flinch, which is to say, it is as deeply human in its fears as it is in its pleasures.”

Justin Phillip Reed is a South Carolina native and the author of A History of Flamboyance (YesYes Books, 2016). His first full-length book of poetry, Indecency, is forthcoming from Coffee House Press in 2018. His work appears—or soon will—in Best American Essays, Callaloo, Columbia Poetry Review, Kenyon Review, The Offing, PEN American, Public Pool, and elsewhere. He received his MFA at Washington University in St. Louis and is the Online Editor for Tusculum Review.


Headshot of Evan JamesWinner: Evan James, "Lovers' Theme"

About this essay, judge Eula Biss writes, "The graceful prose and careful architecture of this essay invite nuance into its thinking on how we stumble our way through our performance of ourselves, trying to draw a perfect circle."

Evan James’s work has appeared in Oxford American, Catapult, the New York Times, the New York Observer, the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Sun, and elsewhere. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and has received fellowships from Yaddo and the Carson McCullers Center for his fiction.

Headshot of Sarah HestonRunner-up: Sarah Heston, "Foreword and Ch. 1 of Daughter of Endtimes"

Writes Biss, "This essay put me in mind of Alex Chee’s observation that the writer of an autobiographical novel is ‘like someone left in the woods with only an axe and a clear memory of houses.’ Here is the work of a well-wielded ax."

Sarah Heston has published chapters of her memoir manuscript, Daughter of Endtimes, in Entropy, American Literary Review, and Hotel Amerika, and an article on the convergence of critical theory and memoir in Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies. She won the Eda Kriseova fellowship in nonfiction from the Prague Summer Program and the Elizabeth Barnes dissertation fellowship from the University of Missouri. She has an MFA in poetry from UC Irvine and a PhD in creative nonfiction from the University of Missouri.