Austin Community College announces the winner of the 2013 Balcones Poetry Prize: INTERROBANG (Red Hen Press) by Jessica Piazza

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

Jessica Piazza
Jessica Piazza

Interrobang by Jessica Piazza, published by Red Hen Press, is a first book. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Piazza earned a BS at Boston University, where she interned with US Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, and an MA at the University of Texas; she recently completed a PhD in English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Southern California.

The judges said, “Piazza’s poetry has an air of potent volatility. She works with a great knowledge of and love for words.” “The wordplay, with sounds developing sense in surprising ways, makes for great fun and insight. Often working within the sonnet form, the poet “makes it new” through her voice that remains uninhibited by rhyme scheme or line length and even seems to thrive on such strictures.” She “will grab you by the hand and run with you through familiar mazes of form, stopping briefly to delight in intimacy and assonance.”

The poet will visit Austin Community College to read from her work April 8, 2015.

Four finalists were also named: Ain’t No Grave (New Issues Press), by T.J. Jarrett; Duppy Conqueror, (Copper Canyon Press), Kwame Dawes; Flame in the Air (Casasola Editores) by Vidaluz Meneses, translated by Maria Roof; and The Government of Nature (University of Pittsburgh Press) by Afaa Michael Weaver.

The judges for the 2014 prize were Dave Oliphant, poet, author, editor and professor retired from the University of Texas and Austin Community College; Peggy Kelley, poet, attorney and yogini living in Austin; and Louisa Spaventa, poet and professor of writing and literature at Austin Community College.

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

For more information:

 John Herndon, Associate Director, 
The Balcones Center for Creative Writing, 
Austin Community College, 
1212 Rio Grande Street,
 Austin, Texas 78701. 

The $1,500 Balcones Poetry Prize for 2012 has been awarded to WHEN MY BROTHER WAS AN AZTEC by Natalie Diaz

Natalie Diaz
Natalie Diaz

The Creative Writing Department and the Division of Arts and Humanities at Austin Community College are pleased to announce the 2012 Balcones Poetry Prize. The prize of $1,500 recognizes an outstanding book of poetry published during the year.

When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz, published by Copper Canyon Press, is a first book. She is Mojave and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Community. After playing professional basketball in Europe and Asia, she earned an MFA at Old Dominion University. The judges said she “captures the tension of devastation and persistent hope, the tragically mercurial nature of addicts and the extravagant wishes of those who love them, and the psychotic sweetness death can bring.” Her poems are “disturbing and visceral,” “daring and personal,” “the unflinching eye in the storm of violence surrounding her and her people.”

Diaz lives in Mohave Valley, Arizona, where she directs a language revitalization program and works with the last Elder speakers of the Mojave language.

The poet will visit Austin Community College to read from her work February 27, 2014.

Four finalists were also named:

The Crossed-Out Swastika, Cyrus Cassells (Copper Canyon Press)
Animal Eye, Paisley Rekdal (University of Pittsburgh Press)
Our Andromeda, Brenda Shaughnessy (Copper Canyon Press)
Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah, Patricia Smith (Coffee House Press)

The judges for the 2013 prize were Lyman Grant, a poet and professor of Creative Writing and Dean of Arts and Humanities at ACC; Michelle Iskra, a poet who teaches writing and literature at Cedar Park High School and ACC; and Deborah Paredez, a poet and professor at the University of Texas.

The deadline for nominations for the 2013 Balcones Poetry Prize is January 31, 2014.

For more information:
John Herndon, Associate Director
The Balcones Center for Creative Writing
Austin Community College
1212 Rio Grande Street
Austin, Texas 78701

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:

The Balcones Poetry Prize for 2011 awarded to Bone Fires by Mark Jarman

Mark Jarman
Mark Jarman

The Balcones Center for Creative Writing at Austin Community College is pleased to announce the 2011 Balcones Poetry Prize. The prize of $1,500 recognizes an outstanding book of poetry published during the year.

Bone Fires: New and Selected Poems by Mark Jarman, published by Sarabande Books, collects poems from his eight previous books spanning 30 years along with a generous selection of new poems. The title poem, recalling the original meaning of “bonfire” as a religious ritual to ensure the return of light from the darkness of winter, points to the essentially spiritual nature of Jarman’s lifelong poetic quest. The judges were impressed by the “clarity and simplicity of his diction, the musicality and cadence of his voice and keenness of perception in which ordinary experience is rendered luminous and the extraordinary, transcendent.” “The language is simple and straightforward, but beautifully rendered and able to show complicated ideas and feelings as if they were tangible things.” He “listens like truth”…and offers poems that are “nothing less than the soul’s labour, it’s singing.”

Jarman has won numerous awards and fellowships, from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim foundation, the Academy of Amercan poets and many others. He is a professor of English at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

The poet will visit Austin Community College to read from his work March 27, 2013.

Four finalists were also named:

  • Songs of Unreason, Jim Harrison (Copper Canyon Press)
  • Space, In Chains, Laura Kasischke (Copper Canyon Press)
  • The Politics, Benjamin Paloff (Carnegie Mellon University Press)
  • The World Falls Away, Wanda Coleman (University of Pittsburgh Press)

The judges for the 2011 prize were Paula Mendoza Hanna, an Austin poet and recent MFA graduate from the University of Michigan, Austin poet and photographer David Jewell, and Richard Price, poet and professor of English at Austin Community College.

Former winners:

  • Chase Twichell, Horses Where the Answers Should Have Been, 2010
  • Bill Berkson, Portrait and Dream, 2009
  • Michael McGriff, Dismantling the Hills, 2008
  • Aimee Nezhukumatahil, At the Drive–In Volcano, 2007
  • Lorna Dee Cervantes, Drive, 2006
  • Aaron Anstett, No Accident, 2005
  • Lorenzo Thomas, Dancing on Main Street, 2004
  • John Hogden, Bread Without Sorrow, 2002
  • Carol Potter, Short History of Pets, 2001
  • Dana Levin, In the Surgical Theatre, 2000
  • Arthur Sze, The Red-Shifting Web, 1999
  • Reginald Gibbons, Sparrow: New and Selected Poems, 1997
  • Lucia Perillo, The Body Mutinies, 1996
  • Kathleen Halme, Every Substance Clothed, 1995

The deadline for nominations for the 2012 Balcones Poetry Prize is January 31, 2013.

For more information:
John Herndon, Associate Director
The Balcones Center for Creative Writing
Austin Community College
1212 Rio Grande Street
Austin, Texas 78701

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,


I’m taking a Beginner’s Poetry class this semester with the delightful Prof. Hoppe. Want to read my favorite assignment I’ve turned in so far?

Roo is a Ghost

for Andrew Runciman (1986-2011)

If I opened my front door to a brown paper package
that once unwrapped, revealed a time machine
I would go back to that time we hung a hammock in the trees
and all the forty tries it took to hold us both

And then I would sneak in to the broom closet
of our first apartment where I would watch us pick up our bicycles
and head down the stairs toward adventure
our stomachs filled with your dripping tofu burritos

I would watch us on the first night I met you,
stumbling drunk through the streets of Small Town
holding hands because we were cold and I already loved you
and I would smile as we disappeared in to your house for the night

I would watch myself dance in the kitchen
swirling and singing as I made your birthday cake
carefully placing one, two, twenty four candles
I would choke back tears watching you blow out your last wish

And I would know that all these years,
all of the ghosts in the corners
and the shadows and the bumps in the night
were me all along

With a knowledge that pure
and no more fear in my bones,
I would pedal my bike past you on that dark road
And throw myself in front of that car to save your life.

I feel so improved from the class already. Having to look at your poetry from an academic perspective makes you develop a better understanding of the poem you’re working on. Yesterday we talked about ways to “dig deeper,” and make our poems multi-dimensional, or layered. I highly recommend this course to anyone interested in writing poetry. It’s a good place to develop the basics without which good poems cannot be written.

A Room of One’s Own

Today at work, while reading the latest issue of The Onion and eating my salmon tartines from Blue Dahlia, I came across one of my favorite columnists.  The optimistic, kindhearted but endlessly dorky Jean Teasdale (She also calls herself a frustrated psychic. She could be my spirit animal.) wrote about her success at an open mic.  Success in this case is defined as completion.  Her next move? Improv.  As I read her earnest synopsis of her adventures in the latest installment of “A Room of Jean’s Own”, the synchronicity of Jean’s trajectory and mine was not lost on me.

At the start of this year, I moved out of an emotionally draining living situation into a place of my own, situated near my bookseller and thrift store of choice (Jean also loves a bargain).  A friend related advice given to her: every woman should live by herself at least once.  I’ve taken this to heart.  My schedule keeps my pretty busy, but my time spent alone is sacred.  I grew up in a big, noisy family and, in adult life, have been limited by hourly wage and have turned to roommate situations to eek out what level of independence one can attain below the poverty line.  I would never trade my time and experiences with past roomies, but I am much better company!

So what do I do?  I sing a lot more, that’s for sure.  I make lists.  I cook dinner.  I tend to my plants.  I write.  I practice piano. I’ve opted not to get internet at my home since Epoch is just around the corner and there can be no sanctuary with Facebook or internet porn.  I haven’t had a television in years. Life is easy.

The play debuted smoothly at Hyde Park Theater last night.  I did a little acting which was an exciting and unusual move for me.  People laughed at the jokes I’d written!  The younger brother of a friend who helped with the play wants to perform it at his high school in Seattle, so there’s a feather in my cap.  And, to quote Jean,  “I’m proud that I left my comfort zone (aka my living-room couch!) and did something I’d wanted to try for years. But the question remained: What would I do for a follow-up?”

What indeed? The last show of the night was an improv piece loosely structured around Romeo & Juliet.  It featured Handbomb, a group from The New Movement Theater.  I recognized some of the actors from shows I’d seen in their space on the east side.  Their work was characteristically funny.  I’ve been too shy to get involved, but getting out on a limb last night makes me feel like a Level 1 improv class may be just the right fit for me.

So, while Jean seeks an improv group with whom to premeditate skits about picking chocolate kisses off candy cane trees, I will expand my horizons at The New Movement!  Watch this space!



Experiencing the E-Reader

On Christmas Eve, after eating a delicious dinner with my family, we gathered in the living room to pass around the goodies stashed under the tree. I was completely surprised, and quite thrilled, to unwrap a Kindle touch. I had casually mentioned to my mother that Amazon’s e-reader was something I was undecided on, but was interested in using, and in true mom fashion, she delivered. After pulling it from it’s simple brown paper packaging and following the quick installation process, I logged in to my Amazon account and began downloading some of the free domain books.

This is probably the best feature of the kindle: books that are public domain are free to download.

After downloading a few books, I put the Kindle back in it’s packaging, in to my bag, and drove the three days to Canada leaving the thing untouched. On the way home I finished a book I was reading, and between flights purchased a new paperback. It wasn’t until I had been home for a week that I even picked the thing up.

I should here state that I am a devout fan of books. I love the way the pages feel, the way books smell, I love highlighting sentences and jotting notes in the margins. And because of this, when I pressed the power button to turn my Kindle on for the second time, I did so with distaste painting my face.

I’ve been using my Kindle for a few weeks now, have gotten used to it’s interface, and must say that I am enjoying it. I downloaded a required reading Philosophy book to my Kindle and have found it incredibly useful.  If I could have all of my textbooks on my Kindle, there would be no question about it’s usefulness, and certainly, that option is available depending on your courses. Instead of carrying two or three books in my tote bag at all times, I have a very small and lightweight replacement that is much easier to transport on my bicycle.

The Kindle has many features that keep it from feeling like another piece of technology to deal with. Most importantly, the battery life is extremely sufficient. I can use my Kindle for a couple of days before needing to recharge it. Secondly, the highlight feature which allows you to highlight passages and make notes on what you’re reading is nice.

There is a definite difference in the two options, and I sincerely doubt I will ever forego book entirely, but overall the Kindle is a great alternative to it’s bulky paper sister.

Do any of you have an e-reader? What do you like or dislike about it? Would you prefer the IPad or Nook? Let me know in the comments.