Meek Awards for 2018!

We’re happy to announce the winners of our Meek Awards for the 2018 publication year. Congratulations to all of these artists and writers whose work was chosen from among all the work we publish from general submissions–these works are not from contests or solicitations, but straight out of the “slush pile,” and they represent some of the finest work we published last year. We’re thrilled to be able to compensate some of our writers through a generous donation. This year’s winner are:

Poetry—Alana de Hinojosa, “Sombras nada mas” (42.2)

Fiction—Janelle Garcia, “A Warning” (Aquifer)

Creative Nonfiction—Christopher Citro, “Root That Mountain” (42.2)

Graphic Narrative—Peter Witte, “After Kafka” (Aquifer)

Digital Media—Mark Keats, “Surnames” (Aquifer)

Short Film—Gloria Chung, “MEMORY  VI: An Ostrich’s Eye Is Bigger Than Its Brain” (Aquifer)

Visual Art—Michael Hower, “Redemption” (Aquifer)

We’re publishing more great work all the time, and we extend our appreciation to all of our writers and submitters. Keep up the great work!


Ghosts in the Trees

Day of All Saints by Patricia Grace King
Miami University Press, 2017
Paperback, 96 pages, $15.00

Winner of the 2017 Miami University Novella Prize


Cover of Day of All Saints by Patricia Grace King


Patricia Grace King begins her novella Day of All Saints with an image of ghosts: “Ghosts in the trees. Martín wants to rip them all down. If he could, he’d bury them deep in the flowerbed that he’s uprooting, or stomp them into the grass.” These ghosts, Halloween decorations that adorn a yard in Chicago’s affluent north side, are anything but playful; rather, they represent the suppressed memory of trauma, specifically the horrors of the Guatemalan Civil War, which haunts Martín Silva de Choc, and, indeed, the pages of this stunning short novel. It follows King’s two previous fiction chapbooks, The Death of Carrie Bradshaw (Kore Press, 2011), and Rubia (winner of our very first Jeanne Leiby Memorial Chapbook Prize here at The  Florida Review, 2012). Her work is growing in power, and here she draws on her three years spent in Guatemala working with refugees of that country’s civil war.


Although the primary narrative, set in Chicago in the 1990s, unfolds over the course of a single day, King skillfully weaves in flashbacks that take place in Guatemala City. There, Martín, a young language instructor, lives with his grandmother, Doña Ana, and his aunt, Rosa, in the El Incienso barrio, to which he moved when he was four, as “civil war ripped through the rest of the country.” In the first of these flashbacks, Martín falls in love with a US foreign exchange student, Abby, even as her social, economic, and national privilege cause her to fetishize, to romanticize through a Eurocentric lens, the very neighborhood in which Martín lives. “This feels Mediterranean, somehow,” says Abby, “‘If you just nearly shut your eyes … If you look through your lashes.’” Indeed, the crux of the work hinges on how Martín and Abby, though in love with one another, cannot communicate in a meaningful way due to their different cultural identities and experiences. Doña Ana, in telling of her former life in the Ixcán in the 1970s, echoes this difference when she juxtaposes Guatemalan culture with US culture. Of her own culture, she says,


And I had my own small diversions: nights I sang with the neighbors, down at the Pérezes’ house—the Pérezes had a marimba—and the priests’ visits on weekends. They came regularly then, to say Mass on Saturday and to hold Spanish classes for us women, since back in the highlands we’d mainly spoken K’iché.


She follows this observation with one of US culture during the same era: “In America, what were they doing—roller-skating? Donna Summer? Don’t look so surprised; I know who she is. Electing Señor Ronald Reagan, too, weren’t they? Who sent our Army so many guns.” This cultural difference, and its underlying significance, permeates the work and is ever-present in Martín and Abby’s relationship. When they move to Chicago, their bond becomes tenuous, and their different social positions and histories more starkly defined. As Abby attends art classes at a university, Martín works as a day laborer. And while Abby has her own past trauma related to her mother, she ultimately has the privilege of security. When she leaves Martín, haunted as he is by the brutal deaths of his parents and extended family members, she finds safe haven in the home of her mother on the north side. Martín, however, bewildered and alone in a new country, finds himself without such material and emotional sanctuary.


King writes a story within a story within a story, and she does so in lyrical language with details so vivid that the reader cannot help but enter the picture she paints. In the primary narrative, Martín searches for and then finds Abby at her mother’s home, and in the secondary narrative, Martín and Abby fall in love in Guatemala. In the tertiary narrative, Doña Ana, over a dinner prepared for Abby at home in El Incienso, begins the story that is the heart of the text—the traumatic events that occurred in the Ixcán and that haunt Martín and his remaining family members.


This narrative, begun in a flashback sequence, ultimately enters the primary narrative as Martín faces the ghosts of his past, who appear before him in a memory long suppressed. He can no longer banish these ghosts, nor can the reader, who encounters them, and the world they inhabit, at every turn. They are “[t]he heat [of the Ixcán, which] was this thing that sat down on your skin and would never let you up. And the mud—you would sink in it up to your knees. You could lose your own shoes in that mud.” They are “‘[t]he fog on those mountains … something you miss when you’ve left them—how it flies from the peaks like white laundry.’” These ghosts drift through the text, hovering on the periphery of the psyche in both Martín and the reader.


In Day of All Saints, King makes a thoughtful social statement about cultural difference and First World privilege: as Martín observes, “Halloween: a day of no real significance in Guatemala. What matters, instead, is El Dia de Todos los Santos, Day of All Saints, one day afterward.” However, she does so without ever allowing that statement to overwhelm the true focus of the story: Martín’s strength and fortitude, indeed the strength and fortitude of his family, the other residents of El Incienso, and the citizens of Guatemala, which shine throughout the course of the text. King’s characterization of Doña Ana; Aunt Rosa; Don Gustavo, Aunt Rosa’s romantic companion; and Ernestina, the young woman of Ixcán who chooses to leave behind her village and her birth name in order to fight for the resistance, is honest, nuanced, and deeply affecting, largely because of how King understates their sacrifices.


Ultimately, though, Martín is the character who most affects the reader, not, solely, because the narrative is focused through him, but because of the complexity of his character. He is a man in love with a foreign woman, a woman who wishes to heal the wounds of his past in the same way that she wishes to heal a wound on his hand, but he is also a man deeply connected to his place of origin, his remaining family members, and his fragmented history. He haunts us, as does the ending in which, hunched against the trunk of a tree in the Palm Room of the Lincoln Park Conservatory, he confronts the ghosts of his past that have now entered his present. It is closing time at the conservatory, but this room is the ever-present Ixcán, where the guerillas, dressed in “camo-green,” await to aid survivors of the army’s ruthless actions, and he is trapped there “[a]mong the wet trees.” He knows that “soon the people in green will come for him too,” with a green-aproned conservatory attendant poised to tell him, “‘Sir, it’s time to go now.’” Where will he go when he leaves the Palm Room? One hopes to a sanctuary of his own creation.


The Divine Visions of Hildegard von Bingen

A short film visualizing the ecstatic visions of the divine by renowned German medieval nun, philosopher and mystic Hildegard von Bingen, born in 1098, who invented the language Lingua Ignota, composed music and made discoveries in natural science. These were seemingly bestowed upon her by God through her visions in a period of time when this was forbidden for women. She was a writer, botanist, painter and a truly mysterious female trail-blazer. What did she see?


This abstract film by Paul Vernon was commissioned by Filthy Lucre supported by Arts Council England, with vocals from Josephine Stephenson, arrangement and recording by Joe Bates and music by Hildegard von Bingen.


2018 Pushcart Nominations

Please join us in celebrating the following writers and their work, which we’ve nominated for the Pushcart Prize this year. It’s always hard to choose from all the excellent work we are honored to publish, but these stood out to us for their fresh insights into the current social moment in which we live.

  • Renée Branum, “Bolt” (42.1, winner of our 2016 Editors’ Award in Nonfiction)
  • Natalie Disney, “Blind Field” (42.1, fiction)
  • Tony Hoagland, “Feeling Generous” (42.1, poetry)
  • Brian Kearney, “American Jumble 2” (42.2, graphic narrative)
  • Raven Leilani, “The Void Witch” (Aquifer, fiction)
  • Robert Wrigley, “Horses” (42.1, poetry)

the Dark Rift

We are pleased to present the final video in our series spotlighting the work of Michael Betancourt.



the Dark Rift is a 2 minute movie produced from a mixture of archival footage and a NASA video of the Moon rotating, synchronized with music by composer Dennis H. Miller, who also produces visual music animations. The title for this movie is a reference to Maya mythology. They believed the “Dark Rift,” a group of interstellar dust clouds that divide the bright band of the Milky Way galaxy lengthwise, and whose alignment with the Sun marks the winter solstice on Earth, was the road to the underworld. Moon imagery demonstrates this fantasy::reality dynamic throughout my work. The multiple windows and glitches appearing throughout this movie appear not as interruptions, but as shifts in resolution. It is only at the end when an astronomical photograph of the Dark Rift begins to appear ‘behind’ the Moon that these windows become physically present as layers of image—it is through the shifting relationship they have to the black areas on screen that they become physical. This change in perception is a shift between abstraction (the windows as glitched parts of the image) and realism (layers lying in front of a more distant background).


Hispanic Heritage Month in Aquifer

This fall, The Florida Review and Aquifer: TFR Online celebrate Latinx / Latina / Latino writers. Starting September 15, and running through October 15, we will be featuring numerous Latinx authors in Aquifer, and later this fall we will include a special section in 42.2 of the print Florida Review as well.

Starting with issue 40.2, we have focused a special section of each fall print Florida Review on an issue of social relevance. After the Pulse tragedy in 2016, many literary magazines and other media outlets focused attention on the issue, and we felt that we needed to offer a closer-to-home perspective to that national dialog. We featured six pieces of writing dedicated to the impact of the event.

After that special feature, we had the opportunity to interview distinguished author Ana Castillo about her book Black Dove, a memoir partly about her son being incarcerated for theft. Between Castillo’s work, a plenitude of submissions from prisoners and former prisoners across the country, and submissions by family and friends of prisoners, a themed section for Fall 2017 (41.2) emerged. The number of people being incarcerated in the US is an important social issue, and we were able to highlight it in seven writers’ moving literary responses.

This year, in Aquifer‘s second year, we decided to connect online and print themes and to continue to raise awareness of social issues. At The Florida Review and Aquifer, we are acutely aware of the VIDA count, which documents discrimination against women in the publishing world and sometimes also focuses on writers of color. At The Florida Review and Aquifer, we are dedicated to being part of the solution to gender and racial inequity.

Nicole Oquendo, special Latinx feature editor, notes, “As editors, we have a responsibility to make time to highlight a diverse range of voices.” As our former creative nonfiction editor, Nicole agreed to come back and help put together this celebration of Latinx authors, especially early and mid-career writers who deserve more recognition.

“There is so much exciting new work going on, and Latinx writers are adding to both the Florida and the national literary scene,” comments editor-in-chief Lisa Roney.

This is the fiftieth anniversary of Hispanic Heritage Month, and we are thrilled that this will be our first Aquifer special feature. Between the Aquifer feature this month and the authors included in 42.2 later this fall, we will have the privilege of sharing the work of more than forty Latinx / Latina/ Latino writers and several artists.