Friday, January 31, 2014

Heather A. Slomski and Kathleen Founds received the 2014 Iowa Short Fiction Awards, announced by the University of Iowa Press.

heather a. slomski
Heather A. Slomski

Slomski won the 2014 Iowa Short Fiction Award for her collection The Lovers Set Down Their Spoons. Founds received the 2014 John Simmons Short Fiction Award for When Mystical Creatures Attack! The recipients were selected by Wells Tower, author of Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned.

In prose spare and daring, elegant yet startling, the stories in The Lovers Set Down Their Spoons drop their roots in reality, yet take leaps into the surreal. Slomski writes with a keen eye for relationships, the desires that pull us together, and the betrayals that push us apart. The characters in these stories share meals, drink wine, buy furniture and art.

In "Iris and the Inevitable Sorrow or The Knock at the Door," a woman's fiancé leaves her when she goes to post some mail. In "Neighbors," a man can't move past an affair his wife almost had. "Correction" describes a series of drawings to detail a couple's end. But while loss and heartache pervade these stories, there is also occasional hope. Tower says, “The stories in The Lovers Set Down Their Spoons comprise an implacable, uncommon contemplation of the systems of disquiet that underpin the common life. In prose of rare leanness and refinement, Heather Slomski accomplishes a powerful investigation into how we live and suffer and dine.”

After earning her Master of Fine Arts from Western Michigan University, Slomski held the Axton Fellowship in Fiction at the University of Louisville. Her work has appeared in TriQuarterly, American Letters & Commentary, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, The Normal School, and elsewhere.

kathleen founds
Kathleen Founds

Of When Mystical Creatures Attack! Tower says, “With the antic fearlessness of Mark Leyner and the compassion and inventiveness of Karen Russell, Kathleen Founds takes mad risks in tone and form and wins. These hilarious, heartbreaking stories build a new architecture between the novel and the postmodern parable, revising our notions of what the short story is and might be.” Set against a South Texas landscape where cicadas hum and the air smells of taco stands and jasmine flowers, the interconnected stories range from laugh-out-loud funny to achingly poignant. In Ms. Freedman's high school English class, students write essays in which mystical creatures resolve the greatest sociopolitical problems of our time.

Among the students are Janice Gibbs, "a feral child with too much eyeliner," and Cody Splunk, an aspiring writer working on a time machine. Following a nervous breakdown during which she smashes cupcakes against the chalkboard, Ms. Freedman corresponds with Janice and Cody from an insane asylum where inmates practice water aerobics to rebuild their Psychiatric Credit Scores. Another character, Ms. Freedman's mother's ghost, argues that suicide is never a choice, and wax figures of Bible characters that come to life are hungry for Cody's flesh. This surreal, exuberant collection mines the dark recesses of the soul while illuminating the human heart.

Founds has worked at a nursing home, a phone bank, a South Texas middle school, and a Midwestern technical college specializing in truck driving certificates. She got her undergraduate degree at Stanford and her Master of Fine Arts at Syracuse. She teaches social-justice themed English classes at Cabrillo College in Watsonville, Calif., and writes while her toddler is napping. Her fiction has been published in The Sun, Epiphany, Booth Journal, The MacGuffin, and Stanford Alumni Magazine.

The short fiction awards are given to a first collection of fiction in English and are administered through the Iowa Writers' Workshop. The honors are national in scope and have been given since 1969. The John Simmons Short Fiction Award (named for the first director of the UI Press) was created in 1988 to complement the existing Iowa Short Fiction Award.

The short fiction award winners will be published by the UI Press in the fall of 2013.