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James and Judith Walsh Awards 2017

Announcing the winners of Alligator Juniper’s 2017 James and Judith Walsh Awards in Creative Nonfiction, Fiction, and Poetry.

Thanks to the generous support of Board of Trustees member James Walsh and his wife Judith, we are able to award our student winners with cash prizes. We are grateful to offer our talented students such exceptional recognition of their work. First-place winners receive $100; second place winners, $75; and third place winners, $50.

In addition, all first-place winners in each genre will be published in Alligator Juniper XXI coming out this spring, and all those who placed, including honorable mentions, will have their names cited in the magazine. Anyone wishing to pre-order copies may do so online at alligatorjuniper.org.

Be sure to scroll down and read the notes from our award-winning contest judges to get a sense of how truly impressive these student writers are.

Thank you to all the winners. Thank you to all the students who participated. We are inspired by your dedication to the craft of writing.

Creative Nonfiction

  • 1st Place: “Antidote” by Elizabeth Tobey
  • 2nd Place: “Dance Lessons” by Amanda Pekar
  • 3rd Place: “What Happens on the Road” by Maria Walker
  • Honorable Mention: “Echoes” by Kestrel Fleischner
  • Honorable Mention: “The Worlds We Build Around Ourselves” by Amanda Pekar


  • 1st Place: “Samhain” by Amanda Pekar
  • 2nd Place: “Covers” by Gelisa Senteno
  • 3rd Place: “Bloody Feet” by Thomas Hulen


  • 1st Place: “Mono no aware” by Amanda Pekar
  • 2nd Place: “Parochial” by Claire Reardon
  • 3rd Place: “Here Now” by Brian Leibold
  • Honorable Mention: “A One-Sided Conversation with the Cosmos in My Mother’s Garden” by Lindsey Townsend

James and Judith Walsh Award in Creative Nonfiction

A note from Rick Kempa, the judge

Elizabeth Tobey’s “Antidote,” the first-place winner, speaks with an urgency that commands attention about that which we most need to hear: how to sustain hope and summon power in a time when one might feel silenced, marginalized, or even endangered. Tobey succeeds in that most difficult of aims: to move us not merely to thought, but toward action. And because her “battle is a local one,” in her home community instead of the “front lines” where many of her friends are going, she points the way to meaningful work—the antidote—that each of us can undertake. It turns out there is a great deal we can do.

Amanda Pekar’s “Dance Lessons,” the second-place winner, offers an insider’s intricate view of the effort and sacrifice required in the discipline of ballet, which from an audience point of view is all elegance and beauty. This is a valuable lesson in itself, to fully appreciate the rigor of an artistic pursuit. The psychological landscape of the essay invites reflection of a more personal sort as the author explores her relationship to pain: not just the acceptance of it as a necessary fact of an engaged life, but possibly also the addiction to it as a way of being.

Everyone—and women especially—will recognize the intrusions and assaults that women routinely suffer, as depicted in Maria Walker’s “What Happens on the Road,” the third-place winner. This essay’s mission is to disturb us: we are made to feel, intimately, the effects of these actions on the victims, both the immediate ones—fear, anger, diminishment—and the longer-term ones—altering one’s persona and identity.

Kestrel Fleischner’s “Echoes,” earns honorable mention for its exquisite conjuring of a moment of solitude in the red rock wilderness of Utah. Amanda Pekar’s “The Worlds We Build Around Ourselves,” earns honorable mention for its eloquent advocacy for the oft-dismissed “genre” of fantasy fiction and for its advice on “world-building.”

It was a privilege to read this gathering of work by Prescott College student writers, a group with considerable talent and vision. My compliments and best wishes to them all.

Judge’s Bio

Poet and essayist Rick Kempa lives in Rock Springs, Wyoming, where he teaches at Western Wyoming College. Rick is editor of the anthology On Foot: Grand Canyon Backpacking Stories, (Vishnu Temple Press, 2014) and co-editor, with Peter Anderson, of Going Down Grand: Poems from the Canyon (Lithic Press, 2015). His latest poetry collection is Ten Thousand Voices (Littoral Press, 2014). Other recent open-air essays of his can be found in Pinyon, Manifest West: Serenity and Severity, Blue Lyra Review, and Watershed Review.

James and Judith Walsh Award in Fiction

A note from Charles Booth, the judge

On a dreary evening in late October, a 16-year-old Welsh boy spent a solitary night on the Cadair Idris Mountain in Gwynedd, Wales. His friend bet him twenty quid that he wouldn’t go up, alone, to a place rumored to drive people mad, particularly on the evening of Samhain—the Celtic holiday that celebrates the approach of winter. But the protagonist of “Samhain,” the James and Judith Walsh Award-winning story by Amanda Pekar, calmly accepts his friend’s challenge because the young man yearns to find some hint of his dead father on that ancient mountain.

Using a tight, economical prose style, Pekar presents a damp, oppressive landscape that mirrors the inner grief afflicting the unnamed protagonist. His father, when he was alive, loved Halloween—the modern day offshoot of Samhain—and the boy heads up the mountain, unconsciously hoping that the souls of lost loved ones will actually return on that particular night.

The story culminates with a beautifully realized moment on top of the mountain, when the beam of a flashlight discovers something unexpected. It’s a custom to tell ghost stories on Halloween, but as this story points out, our reliance on these tales might say more about what we desire than what we fear.

Desire is the driving force behind Gelisa Senteno’s flash fiction piece, “Covers,” which earned second place. The story, told through ten songs on a mix CD, goes through the life of a relationship, from the euphoric opening tracks to the slow fading of the final chords.

Thomas Hulen’s story, “Bloody Feet,” which earned third place, humanizes the topic of illegal immigration. Alejandro, an undocumented immigrant searching for a better life in America, is abandoned in the desert, where he begs a passerby to put him out of his misery: [Alejandro] started his journey in worn-out tennis shoes that quickly disintegrated while walking on sharp rocks in the desert. The journey took three days, but his shoes lasted only two.”

Judge’s Bio

Charles Booth's fiction has appeared in The Greensboro Review, The Southampton Review, The Pinch, The Heartland Review, Booth, and SLAB. His short story, “Boom Boom,” earned second place in the 2014 Playboy College Fiction Contest. He lives in Clarksville, Tennessee, with his wife, Danica, and his son, Reynolds.

James and Judith Walsh Award in Poetry

A note from Christopher Buckley, the judge

When I judge contests or evaluate poetry, the most important thing for me initially is an authentic voice: I want to be able to believe what I am reading. Of course this is at the head of a long list of qualities of craft and vision that contribute to an outstanding poem. But first off, I always admire the poet who risks clarity in service of her/his subject. All four poets’ work admirably displays these qualities.

Amanda Pekar’s “Mono no aware” stands out for its authentic vision and appreciation of our common mortality. Its specificity makes it genuine, even in its speculation. There is a subtle spiritual cast and gravity that marks this poem as exceptional.

Claire Reardon’s “Parochial” is remarkable for its lyric quality, for its transformation of the autobiographical into a serious, if subtle, questioning of orthodox belief. This poet knows that the specifics and emblematic detail of experience and memory will more than carry the ideas forward. No need for preaching or grand pronouncements. I admire as well the clarity and directness of voice here.

Brian Leibold’s “Here Now” is unique in its control of subject and voice, its command of the particulars of nature surrounding the poet and his ability to resolve those particulars into a credible and distilled lyric moment.

Lindsey Townsend’s “A One-Sided Conversation with the Cosmos in My Mother’s Garden” is also well worthy of mention for its ambition of thought and perception anchored in the specifics of a garden, the connections that that implies.

Judge’s Bio

Christopher Buckley’s Star Journal: Selected Poems was published by University of Pittsburgh Press in 2016. His 20th book of poetry, Back Room at the Philosophers’ Club won the 2015 Lascaux Prize. He edited On the Poetry of Philip Levine: Stranger to Nothing (University of Michigan, 1991), and Messenger to the Stars: a Luis Omar Salinas New Selected Poems & Reader (Tebot Bach, 2014). With Gary Young, he edited Bear Flag Republic: Prose Poems and Poetics from California (Greenhouse, 2008) and One for the Money: The Sentence as Poetic Form (Lynx House Press, 2012). He has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, two NEA grants, a Fulbright Award, and four Pushcart Prizes.