2016 Balcones Winners Announced

Austin Community College announces the winners of the 2016 Balcones Fiction and Poetry Prizes
Balcones Fiction Prize—Bystanders (SFWP) by Tara Laskowski

Judging Tara Laskowski’s Bystanders, novelist Amanda Eyre Ward said, “Her stories pulsed with energy and excitement, like small lightning storms on the page. I was constantly surprised by her characters, and finished the book wishing there were more. I think she is a real talent—original and vibrant—and I’m excited to celebrate her work.”

Laskowski is also the author of the flash fiction collection Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons, tales of dark etiquette. Her fiction has been published in W. W. Norton’s Flash Fiction International, Best Small Fictions, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Mid-American Review, and other places. She won the grand prize for the 2010 Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Awards Series. Tara earned a BA in English with a minor in writing from Susquehanna University and an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University. Since 2010, she has been the editor of the online flash fiction journal SmokeLong Quarterly.

Finalists for the Balcones Fiction Prize are:
Brightfellow by Rikki Ducornet (Coffee House)
Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter (Graywolf)
Heirlooms by Rachel Hall (BkMk)
Landfall by Julie Hensley (Ohio State University)
Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy (Graywolf)

Former winners of the Balcones Fiction Prize:
People Like You by Margaret Malone, 2015
Hold the Dark by William Giraldi, 2014
Girls I Know by Douglas Trevor, 2013
We Sinners by Hanna Pylvainen, 2012
Send Me Work by Katherine Karlin, 2011
Love Like Hate by Linh Dinh, 2010

Balcones Poetry Prize—American Happiness (NewSouth Books) by Jacqueline Allen Trimble

American Happiness is Jacqueline Allen Trimble’s first book. A professor of English at Alabama State University in Montgomery, she has published in The Griot, The Offing and The Blue Lake Review; she was a Cave Canem fellow and recipient of a literary arts fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts in 2017.

Of Trimble’s poetry, the judges said, “Trimble should never be taken lightly, but darn it, her poems are so often funny. She can face the darkness with courage and understanding, she can embrace joy with tenderness and sensuality, and she can find the seams and gaps where laughter lives. Hers is a refreshing new voice.” “Her poetry is intimate, humorous and irony-filled. She stares paradox in the eye and stares it down. The personal and the universal she treats as one in the same.”

Four finalists were also named:
“Incorrect Merciful Impulses” (Copper Canyon) by Claudia Rankine
“Arabesques for Travelers” (West End Press) by Bryce Milligan
“Everything We Always Knew Was True” (Copper Canyon) James Galvin
“Vivas to Those Who Have Failed” (Norton) Martin Espada

The judges for the 2016 prize were Prudence Arceneaux, a poet and professor of English and Creative Writing at Austin Community College; Richard Price, a poet and retired professor of English at Austin Community College; and John Herndon, a poet and professor of English and Creative Writing at Austin Community College.

Former winners of the Balcones Poetry Prize:
What About This: Collected Poems of Frank Stanford, ed. Michael Wiegers, 2015
Once in the West, Michael Wiman, 2014
Interrobang, Jessica Piazza, 2013
When My Brother Was an Aztec, Natalie Diaz, 2012
Bone Fires, Mark Jarmon, 2011
Horses Where the Answers Should Have Been, Chase Twichell, 2010
Portrait and Dream, Bill Berkson, 2009
Dismantling the Hills, Michael McGriff, 2008
At the Drive-In Volcano, Aimee Nezhukumatahil, 2007
Drive, Lorna Dee Cervantes, 2006
No Accident, Aaron Anstett, 2005
Dancing on Main Street, Lorenzo Thomas, 2004
Bread Without Sorrow, John Hogden, 2002
Short History of Pets, Carol Potter, 2001
In the Surgical Theatre, Dana Levin, 2000
The Red-Shifting Web, Arthur Sze, 1999
Sparrow: New and Selected Poems, Reginald Gibbons, 1997
The Body Mutinies, Lucia Perillo, 1996
Every Substance Clothed, Kathleen Halme, 1995

Nominations for the 2017 Balcones Fiction and Poetry Prizes will be accepted from September 1, 2017 to January 31, 2018.

For more information: John Herndon, Austin Community College, 1212 Rio Grande Street, Austin, Texas 78701; jherndon@austincc.edu; 512-828-9368; sites.austincc.edu/crw.

2015 Balcones Fiction Prize awarded to People Like You (Atelier26 Books), a short story collection by Margaret Malone

In Margaret Malone’s debut story collection People Like You, characters in the thick of everyday experience absent of epiphanies, are caught off-guard or cast adrift by personal impulses even while wide awake to their own imperfections.

Malone’s writing has appeared in The Missouri Review, Oregon Humanities Magazine, Coal City Review, Propeller Quarterly, The Timberline Review, Swink, Nailed and latimes.com. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Oregon Arts Commission and Literary Arts, two Regional Arts & Culture Council Project Grants, and residencies at The Sitka Center and Soapstone. Malone has a degree in Philosophy from Humboldt State University and has taught creative writing as a visiting artist at Pacific Northwest College of Art. She lives with her husband filmmaker Brian Padian and two children in Portland, where she co-hosts the artist and literary gathering SHARE.

Margaret Malone
Margaret Malone. Photo by Sabina Poole.

Final judge John Blair called the book “a masterfully minimalist collection of lives lived poorly but with the best of intentions.  Her stories are powerful, sad, and plain-spoken, and this debut collection takes the normative-yet-desperate circuits of the day-to-day that Bobbie Anne Mason and Frederick Barthelme brought to the forefront of American short fiction and makes them both new again and powerfully affecting.  These are marvelous and worthy stories, and very much deserving of recognition.”

Six finalists were also named:

  • Aftermath Lounge by Margaret McMullan (Calypso Editions)
  • Between You and Me by Scott Nadelson (Engine Books)
  • Girl Power by Katie Cortese (ELJ Editions)
  • Engels by Gavin McCrea (Catapult)
  • Nonprofit by Matt Burriesci (New Issues)
  • Wilberforce by H.S. Cross (FSG)

Former winners of the Balcones Fiction Prize:

  • Hold the Dark by William Giraldi, 2014
  • Girls I Know by Douglas Trevor, 2013
  • We Sinners by Hanna Pylvainen, 2012
  • Send Me Work by Katherine Karlin, 2011
  • Love Like Hate by Linh Dinh, 2010

Nominations for the 2016 Balcones Fiction Prize will be accepted from September 1, 2016 to January 31, 2017.

For more information: Joe O’Connell, Austin Community College, 1212 Rio Grande Street, Austin, Texas 78701. joconne@austincc.edu, sites.austincc.edu/crw.

ACC announces winner of the 2014 Balcones Fiction Prize: HOLD THE DARK by William Giraldi

The Creative Writing Department and the Division of Arts and Humanities at Austin Community College are pleased to announce the winner of the Balcones Fiction Prize. The prize of $1,500 recognizes an outstanding book of literary fiction published during 2014.

William Giraldi
William Giraldi

Hold the Dark by William Giraldi (Liveright/Norton) is set in a bleak Alaskan winter when wolves take three children from an isolated Alaskan village, including the six-year-old son of Medora and Vernon Slone. Medora contacts nature writer and wolf expert Russell Core to investigate the killings. He discovers horrifying darkness at the heart of Medora Slone and learns of an unholy truth harbored by this village. When Vernon Slone returns from a desert war to discover his son dead and his wife missing, he begins a methodical pursuit across this frozen landscape. Aided by his boyhood companion Cheeon, and pursued by the stalwart detective Donald Marium, Slone is without mercy, cutting a bloody swath through the wilderness of his homeland. As Russell Core attempts to rescue Medora from her husband’s vengeance, he comes face to face with an unspeakable secret at the furthermost reaches of American soil—a secret about the unkillable bonds of family, and the untamed animal in the soul of every human being.

Giraldi is the author of the critically hailed Busy Monsters and fiction editor for the journal AGNI at Boston University. He lives in Boston with his wife and sons.

Novelist A.G. Mojtabai, who judged the 2014 prize, said in Giraldi’s novel “setting becomes character, landscape—inscape. An unnamed yet excruciatingly familiar desert war zone and an Alaskan wilderness outpost, twin darknesses, are plumbed to reveal the darkness of human hearts.The tale is told in prose with the compression, the density, of poetry. Giraldi picks his words with profound care, as if for the first naming, as if lives are at stake in naming things rightly.”

Five finalists were also named:

  • Byrd by Kim Church (Dzanc Books)
  • A Falling Star by Chantel Acevedo (Carolina Wren Press)
  • Out of Peel Tree by Laura Long (West Virginia University Press)
  • Uncle Anton’s Atomic Bomb by Ian Woollen (Coffeetown Press)
  • What Ends by Andrew Ladd (New Issues)

Austin Community College awards the Balcones Fiction Prize annually for a book of literary fiction published during the year. Nominations for the 2015 prize will be accepted from September 1, 2015 through January 31, 2016.

For more information: Joe O’Connell, 1212 Rio Grande Street, Austin, Texas 78701, joconne@austincc.edu.

Austin Community College announces the winner of the 2013 Balcones Fiction Prize: GIRLS I KNOW (Sixoneseven Books) by Douglas Trevor.

The Creative Writing Department and the Division of Arts and Humanities at Austin Community College are pleased to announce the 2013 Balcones Fiction Prize. The prize of $1,500 recognizes an outstanding book of literary fiction published during the year.

Douglas Trevor
Douglas Trevor

Girls I Know (Sixoneseven Books) by Douglas Trevor follows 29-year-old Walt Steadman—grad school dropout, sperm donor, and holder of other odd jobs— who survives a shooting in his favorite Boston café that leaves four people dead. During the course of the book, Walt, a female Harvard undergraduate named Ginger who is writing a book about women and violence, and an 11-year-old African-American girl whose parents were killed in the shooting, together come to face what it means to try to make sense of life in the wake of violent loss.

Trevor is the author of short story collection The Thin Tear in the Fabric of Space, winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award and finalist for the 2006 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for First Fiction. He lives in Ann Arbor, where he is an Associate Professor of Renaissance Literature and Creative Writing in the English Department at the University of Michigan.

Novelist Carolyn Osborn, who judged the 2013 prize, said Trevor’s novel provides “a contemporary answer to meaningless violence and, at the same time, hope for a reasonable future. These interwoven characters manage to help each other by accident, by luck, and by goodwill. Nothing is forced or fanciful. Resolutions are reached skillfully in clear prose leading a reader to see that rampant evil can be assuaged if not totally overcome. The writer is to be congratulated for his sensibly balanced point of view that allows his readers to understand people from different cultures, their griefs, their acceptances, and their means of survival.”

Five finalists were also named:

  • Hotel Juarez (Arte Publico) by Daniel Chacon
  • Nothing Serious (Permanent Press) by Daniel Klein
  • If I’d Known You Were Coming (University of Iowa Press) by Kate Milliken
  • Think of Me and I’ll Know (Triquarterly) by Anthony Varallo
  • The Golem and the Jinni (Harper) by Helene Wecker

The deadline for nominations for the 2014 Balcones Fiction Prize is January 31, 2015.

For more information: Joe O’Connell, 1212 Rio Grande Street, Austin, Texas 78701, joconne@austincc.edu, sites.austincc.edu/crw/.

Balcones Fiction Prize Winner of 2012 Announced

Hanna Pylvainen has been awarded the Balcones Fiction Prize for We Sinners, which final judge the acclaimed novelist Sarah Bird called a “stunningly assured debut novel.”

This is the third year for Austin Community College to offer the $1,500 which also comes with a trip to Austin for a reading. The national award goes to the best book of literature published in the previous calendar year. A record 101 books were nominated for the prize.

ACC is unique among community colleges in offering a national book award. The college having a separate creative writing department is also a rarity.

Hanna Pylvainen
Hanna Pylvainen

Pylvainen is from suburban Detroit. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College and received her MFA from the University of Michigan, where she was also a Zell Postgraduate Fellow. She is the recipient of residencies at the MacDowell Colony and Yaddo, a fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and a 2012 Whiting Writers’ Award.



Bird said of awarding We Sinners (Henry Holt), “Pylvainen takes us inside an obscure Finnish fundamentalist denomination that is both Bible–Belt familiar and utterly exotic. At its heart, it’s an examination of family and faith, and the sorrows that ensue when belonging and believing become one and the same. In the light of Pylvainen’s austerely beautiful prose each of the eleven family members portrayed shines with surprising profundity that reminds us of the uniquely illuminating power of fiction.”

At Bird’s request, Margaret Hermes received a special second-place award for her story collection Relative Strangers (Carolina Wren Press) and its “lightning strikes of illumination.” Bird said of the book, “Hermes examines the pivot points in lives just beginning and those viewed retrospectively with longing and regret. Innocence and experience battle as the vibrantly alive characters pick their way through world that, in lesser hands, would be humdrum. Hermes makes us see again that each ordinary day is a minefield filled with choices that, sometimes, detonate decades later.”

The other finalists for the Balcones Fiction Prize are:

  • Sighs Too Deep for Words by William Jack Sibley (William Jack Sibley)
  • Slant of Light by Steve Wiegenstein (Blank Slate Press)
  • The Galaxie and Other Rides by Josie Sigler (Livington Press)
  • The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets by Dianna Wagman (IG Publishing)
  • Losing Clementine by Ashley Ream (William Morrow)

The deadline for the 2013 Balcones Fiction Prize is January 31, 2014. For more information, see:

Katherine Karlin wins the 2011 Balcones Fiction Prize

Katherine Karlin wins the 2011 Balcones Fiction Prize for her story collection Send Me Work (published by TriQuarterly).

Karlin’s collection features stories about American women and their work.  Unlike the heroines of domestic fiction, Katherine Karlin’s women face their biggest challenges outside of the house.

Renowned Texas author Jan Reid (Comanche Sundown) served as the book prize’s final judge. “Unlike so many American writers of fiction these days,” he writes, “Katherine Karlin matches lyrical style with a wealth of blue-collar experience and far-ranging imagination — from oboists’ reeds to old circus clowns to hard-earned scars on the arms of welders.  Send Me Work is a superb debut.”

Katherine Karlin has worked at an oil refinery and a print shop; she’s driven a forklift at a shipyard and sewn together dog leashes.  Upon winning the Balcones Fiction Prize, she wrote, “I had a creative writing professor who always asked me, ‘Why don’t your characters ever fall in love?’ I do something else.  I write about work.”

Katherine Karlin
Katherine Karlin

Karlin writes that workplace relationships “can be as complex, confusing and rewarding as the relationships forged in courtship and family.” Karlin is Assistant Professor of English at Kansas State University. In addition to publishing stories in various journals, her work has been anthologized in The Pushcart Prize and New Stories from the South.

The second annual Balcones Fiction Prize attracted over sixty nominations of novels and story collections. ACC creative writing professors chose six finalists for the prize and handed them to Jan Reid for his ultimate decision. The other five Balcones Fiction Prize finalists are:

  • Let the Birds Drink in Peace by Robert Garner McBrearty (Conundrum Press)
  • Mitzvah Man by John J. Clayton (Texas Tech University Press)
  • Quickening by Liza Wieland (Southern Methodist University Press)
  • The Fitting by Joseph Zaitchik (Florida Academic Press)
  • Green Gospel by L.C. Fiore (Livingston Press)

The deadline for the 2012 Balcones Fiction Prize is January 31, 2013. For more information, see:

Balcones Winners to visit ACC on March 21, 2012


Chase Twichell reads from Horses Where the Answers Should Have Been: New and Selected Poems–Winner of the 2010 Balcones Poetry Prize. Linh Dinh reads from his novel Love Like Hate–Winner of the 2010 Balcones Fiction Prize. The readings begin at 7:00 p.m. in the Gallery Theater of Rio Grande Campus. For more information, please contact Charlotte Gullick, 223-3226, cgullick@austincc.edu.

Balcones Fiction Prize: Calling all Publishers

The Balcones Fiction Prize has thus far received very few books from the top 5 largest publishers – actually zero, I think. I do hope we receive some books from them (Random House, etc.). But if we don’t, it means this is a great opportunity for lesser-known writers to compete for a national book award. Please have your nomination postmarked by January 31.

— Irwin Tang, Professor, Creative Writing