On Winning the VanderMey Nonfiction Prize

On Winning the VanderMey Nonfiction Prize

by Guest Blogger June 28, 2018

By Jonathan Jones

It’s Sunday morning. My partner, a former Methodist preacher, and I are at church. The church is cool, remarkably cool, given the hot Chicago day and the fact that the church is cooled by the earth, literally. Beneath the parking lot is a reservoir which pumps cool air in during the summer and heats the church during winter.

It’s Father’s Day. As the pastor asks us to remember our fathers, I remember my grandfather, who shows up for a moment in my personal essay, Bison Clouds. As the choir sings, I see my grandfather and me sitting in the balcony of our old Catholic church, now laid to rest, with the organ booming behind us. I hear the tall tales I used to tell him as a child, how he would say, in a much politer way, “Kid, you’re full of shit.” I feel how he’s gone, how he passed away just two years ago in June, how his absence this year seems greater, not lesser.

The grappling with loss, with being haunted by loss, is perhaps the point of my Bison Clouds essay. To be clear, I didn’t know the point of this piece when I jotted the first lines on a notepad. It came to me one dark evening on the bus during a gray and sloppy Chicago winter that felt like it would never end, which could be most Chicago winters, to be sure. That this piece about loss won something, won Ruminate’s VanderMey Nonfiction Prize no less, was quite a shock, quite the ironic twist.

But I’d like to think that this piece, with its roving stream of consciousness style, lands in the neighborhood of personal revelation and of knowing that loss, even when loss feels permanent, presents us with choices. The choice to hold on. The choice to move on. The choice to not know. Each of these could be a reasonable approach, depending on the situation. Sometimes, we can’t let go. Sometimes, we have to say enough is enough. Sometimes, we can’t figure out what to do, and not knowing can actually be a pretty powerful place to live for a while, I believe.

In Bison Clouds, the choice to not know is where the essay lands only to recognize that some parts of us, even though they seem like they are gone, do not really end. This realization is no special insight, no intellectual feat, no claim to anything except choosing to embrace the love of what we cannot see. And then, without knowing where this essay would go, without knowing whether anything would ever come of this essay, it found a home in Ruminate. This is a beautiful home. Thank you to Ruminate and to Camille Dungy for finding a home for these words. They are happy to be here.

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Jonathan Winston Jones is a social scientist by trade working in the U.S. government. He holds two master's degrees, one in public policy from the University of Chicago and one in human rights from the University of Manchester. He's slowly working on an MFA in creative nonfiction at Northwestern University and believes that three master's degrees in these exact fields are keys to his own enlightenment. He hopes that his writing elevates and inspires those who read it. 

 

Share your story: Ruminate's Nonfiction Prize.

 

Jonathan Jones' fantastic essay "Bison Clouds" was selected by finalist judge Camille Dungy for first place in our 2018 VanderMey Nonfiction Prize. It appears in Issue No. 47: Hauntings. Our final judge, Camille Dungy writes: "Bison Clouds is so rich and alluringly haunting. I'm drawn in from the first sentence, and I am never fully released."

 

 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash




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