We are delighted to announce the winner of the 2016 Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature: Katy Yocom, for her novel THREE WAYS TO DISAPPEAR.
Judge JoeAnn Hart writes, “THREE WAYS TO DISAPPEAR begins with a focused lens on the endangered Bengal tiger then expands its reach with every page to reveal the interconnectedness of the natural world and fragility of all life. Weaving together the worn threads of ecological balance, this ambitious and moving novel addresses scarcity, climate change, family dynamics, cultural conflict, human accountability, women’s economic autonomy, and most of all, love, in all its wondrous forms. This is a story not just about saving the tigers, but ourselves.”
Katy Yocom was born and raised in Atchison, Kansas. After graduating from the University of Kansas with a degree in journalism, she moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where she has lived ever since. Her fiction, poetry, essays, and journalism have appeared in Salon.com, The Louisville Review, decomP magazinE, StyleSubstanceSoul, and Louisville Magazine, among other publications.
In conducting research for her novel, THREE WAYS TO DISAPPEAR, she traveled to India, funded by a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation. She has also been awarded grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Kentucky Arts Council and has served as writer-in-residence at Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, Crosshatch Hill House, and Hopscotch House. Her short fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and her poetry has been translated into Bulgarian. She holds an MFA in Writing from Spalding University.
She lives with her husband in Louisville, Kentucky, where she helps direct Spalding’s low-residency MFA in Writing program. Learn more about Katy on her website and via Facebook.
As the Siskiyou Prize winner, Katy will receive a four-week residency at PLAYA and a $1,000 cash prize.
It was a very competitive contest this year, and we would also like to congratulate the finalists and semifinalists:
Small Small Redemption: Essays by Sangamithra Iyer
The Heart of the Sound: A memoir by Marybeth Holleman (published by Bison Books)
Song of the Ghost Dog: A YA novel by Sharon Piuser
Karstland: A novel by Caroline Manring
Rumors of Wolves: A novel by C.K. Adams
The Harp-Maker of Exmoor: A novel by Hazel Prior
Thanks to everyone who submitted and to everyone who writes with the goal of making this world a better place. And please stay tuned for announcements for the next Siskiyou Prize!
This is the third year of the Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature, and we’re pleased to see it gaining momentum and awareness. Now more than ever we need a chorus of creative and passionate voices speaking up for the planet and all of its species.
This year, we received more than a hundred submissions, which included a wide range of fiction, short story and essay collections, memoirs, nonfiction nature books, and a number of previously published works in all categories. We began reviewing submissions when the contest opened in September of last year and have been reading steadily since then.
Every manuscript was given careful consideration, and the decision-making process was very difficult, given the exceptional quality of this year’s entries. As much as we love this contest, the hardest part is having to narrow the list down to only a few titles. It’s a completely subjective process, of course, and we thank all who contributed their work to this year’s prize.
We are delighted to announce the finalists and semifinalists:
Three Ways to Disappear A novel by Katy Yocom
Small Small Redemption Essays by Sangamithra Iyer
The Heart of the Sound A memoir by Marybeth Holleman Published by Bison Books
Song of the Ghost Dog A novel by Sharon Piuser
Karstland A novel by Caroline Manring
Rumors of Wolves A novel by C.K. Adams
The Harp-Maker of Exmoor A novel by Hazel Prior
The four finalists will move on to final judging by JoeAnn Hart.
We hope to announce a winner in the next month or so. To be among the first to hear the announcement, stay tuned to this blog or subscribe to our newsletter.
Again, thanks to everyone who submitted and everyone who writes with the goal of making this world a better place. We appreciate your support!
An interview with Among Animals contributor Ray Keifetz (“Miriam’s Lantern”)
Q: What inspired you to write this story?
A: “Miriam’s Lantern” began as a series of prose poems called “Last Things.” I spent a melancholy night enumerating extinctions—creatures, cultures, trees, languages … “Where to begin?” was my epigram; it could have as easily been “There’s no end.”The poems that burned most brightly were a meditation on the last passenger pigeon, which died in captivity, and an encounter I’d had as a boy with a very old man who’d apprenticed as a blacksmith before horses had been replaced by cars. And almost immediately I sensed there was a story and that story was the connection, somehow, between that bird and that man. Both were on display. The habitats of both had been destroyed. The bird, however, had been hunted to extinction by men. A year later it came to me what if . . .? What if the man had killed the bird, one of the last? Instantly I had the bones of a story. The historic events were there in one lifetime—the introduction of the automobile, the chestnut blight, the killing of the last wild passenger pigeon in 1900, the death of the very last in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. All that remained, which took years, was for me to develop the two main characters—my almost-a-journeyman blacksmith and my small bluish bird with eyes the color of flame.
Q: What was your writing/research process?
A: Apart from verifying a few dates to see whether my time frame was plausible, I did no actual research; I never do—I would hate to let a fact get in the way of a good story. The subject matter, the details of “Miriam’s Lantern,” grew out of my reading, my interest in history, in animals, and my travels. My writing is a weaving of what I know with what I don’t know (which is where, I think, fiction begins), of what I remember with what I don’t remember (the place where poetry begins for me). For example, the town of Praywell in the story is based on the restored, early nineteenth century town of Hopewell, which I stumbled upon by accident. It was there that I met the blacksmith who told me how he forged by the colors of fire and held me like Coleridge’s mesmerized wedding guest for hours. The strange urgency, the need out of which he spoke has stayed with me ever since and shaped my story as much as the fire shaped his iron. If I was the wedding guest, the blacksmith was the mariner, and so I named the narrator of “Miriam’s Lantern” Marner. For me the concrete, the “actual” are the places I leave behind. I doubt if I could find Hopewell again, but the road to Praywell is marked by numerous well lit signs.
Q: By juxtaposing the extinction of a human profession with the extinction of an animal, you create a story feels both futuristic and historical at the same time—how did you work toward finding the right balance?
A: To achieve the balance you mention, the narrator’s voice was everything. I can’t tell you how many times I rewrote “Miriam’s Lantern,” groping for just the right tone. While the events clearly occur in the past, it is Marner’s diction—formal, quaint, at times stilted, at times almost Biblical—that takes us into the future as if hearing a prophesy. Marner describes actual events, but he does so employing archetypes. His blighted forest could be our forest, the growing darkness as forge after forge flickers out our own growing darkness. But while the story is set in the past, the open-ended ending allows us, if we will, to follow Marner with his bagful of bright red berries into a future where those berries, against the odds, may yet be received.
Q: In “Miriam’s Lantern,” Marner is undergoing an apprenticeship—in what ways do you feel this reflects our relationship with animals and the natural world?
A: From the moment he kills the small, round bird, Marner’s apprenticeship assumes a wider, darker compass than what is normally required by blacksmithing. For much of the story he wanders through a dying world like a stranger, vainly trying to resume an apprenticeship no longer possible. Miriam offers him an alternative vision—a world where the pursuit of craft is still possible and points as evidence to the lives of animals, an association Marner resists. Ironically it is his estrangement from the natural world that lands him a job “among animals.” For the second time in his life he stares into the eyes of the bird that has both haunted him and informed his apprenticeship, but this time he sees another creature “unrelated but closely connected . . .” inhabiting “separate but closely related cages . . .”—the two of them prisoners, the existence of the bird as dependent on Marner as his existence is dependent on the bird. It is the small, solitary bird that in the end saves Marner, and it is now up to Marner as he returns to the natural world outside the zoo to repay the debt. That is his apprenticeship, and, I believe, ours as well.
An interview with Among Animals contributor Melodie Edwards (“Bad Berry Season”)
Q: What inspired you to write this story?
A: When I was working for the Forest Service, a bear started raiding some Dumpsters in the small mountain town where I was living, and I thought a lot about the employees who had to problem-solve that situation. I’m interested in the relationship between people and wilderness in such places, where the line between is blurred. I think there’s some part of us that wants back in to our wild selves.
Q: The narrator in this story is struggling to solve two mysteries, one human and one animal—how do the two disappearances and her quest to resolve them reflect her worldview?
A: The narrator is a woman, like most of us, tending to the day to day, blind to what’s taking place inside her all the time. That alienation we all face, from each other, from the present moment, from the big picture. She can’t see that the two mysteries are one. She’s like me—I can’t look at those images where you let your eyes cross and the fuzz turns into a picture. In her mind, the two mysteries are compartmentalized. She would never get around to connecting them, never. It takes a sledgehammer to get her to see.
Q: The narrator’s job in “Bad Berry Season” is to keep humans and animals apart, and the story features a surprising twist on this. What do you hope readers come away with after reading your story?
A: I hope readers come away asking themselves what lengths they will go to in attempting to re-embody their animal selves. We all remember our long lineages in the fiber of our beings that trace us back to the beginning of creation. We remember what it feels like to live the short, manic lives of ants. Or to migrate the globe as terns. That’s information we can access. But how—that’s the question. This is the story of how one man chooses to do so.
An interview with Among Animals contributor Suzanne Kamata (“Blue Murder”)
Q: As an American writer living in Japan, what are the similarities and differences in the ways animals are perceived and treated in each country?
A: Animals are generally treated with reverence in Japan, probably due to the Buddhist belief that every life is sacred. There is a large pharmaceutical company headquartered in the prefecture where I live. Although the company sometimes uses animals to test products, there is a shrine on the premises dedicated to the creatures who were sacrificed to the cause of human health.
Conversely, as far as I know, there is nothing like the Society for the Protection of Animals in this country, although there are activists here and there. You may have heard of the proliferation of animal cafés in Japan. Because most Japanese people are too busy to take care of pets, or because they live in small spaces in the city, cafés featuring cats, rabbits, and even owls have become popular. The idea is that people can relax and enjoy being with animals, or experience nature in the midst of the city, but it’s rather unkind to keep owls in a coffee shop, I think.
Q: In “Blue Murder,” Keita loathes one type of bird while falling in love with another. In what ways do you feel this informs humans’ relationships with animals?
A: We are always drawn to the elusive, aren’t we? We don’t like the animals that we can’t get rid of, the ones that cause problems, like squirrels in the attic or rabbits in the vegetable garden or gophers tunneling under the lawn. But we’ll get out our cameras for the rarer beings. We’ll pay lots of money to go on safari to get a look at a lion, or spend hours whale-watching, for example
Q: What does the kingfisher represent to Keita?
A: For Keita, it represents another life. Freedom. He’s having a hard time seeing the good things right under his nose. He feels unappreciated by his family, assaulted by crows, jealous of his sister who doesn’t have the heavy responsibilities that he has.