Winners of the 2021 VanderMey Nonfiction Prize

Winners of the 2021 VanderMey Nonfiction Prize

February 17, 2022

Here at Ruminate, we are so excited to finally share the results of the 2021 VanderMey Nonfiction Prize, judged by writer, critic, and journalist Erin Keane


FIRST PLACE: "The Body is Loyal" by Marianne Jay Erhardt


Portrait of Marianne Jay Erhardt


Marianne Jay Erhardt teaches writing at Wake Forest University. Her work appears in Oxford American, River Teeth, storySouth, and elsewhere. She is a recent Pushcart nominee and a recipient of a North Carolina Arts Council Fellowship. "The Body Is Loyal" is from a lyric memoir on motherhood and imagination. Marianne is in search of a publisher for the book.


Judge Erin Keane writes: This masterfully braided essay weaves the metaphorical with the literal into an incisive dive into the power and pain of motherhood. With vivid images and rigorous, tender insights, the writer contrasts the physical violence of labor and vulnerable moments of motherhood with the play-acted tyranny of Mother May I, whose appointed mother can demand and withhold without fear of lasting damage. There is no winning in the author's clear-eyed game, only good-faith attempts to reconcile the imaginary glory of motherhood with its reality. The essay ends beautifully by reaching up, writing of a mysterious force pulling a body, in the thick of its leap into motherhood, toward something it can be "loyal to, more than itself."



RUNNER-UP: "The Lizard Girl & The Alligator King" by P. L. Watts


Portrait of P. L. Watts


P. L. Watts aged out of the Florida foster care system and worked her way through college and grad school. She earned an MFA from Vermont College and a Lambda Literary Fellowship for Emerging LGBTQ Writers. Her essays have appeared or are forthcoming in New Letters, The Florida Review, J Journal, and elsewhere. You can find her work online at




"An Alphabetical Catalog of Love, Loss, and What We Ate" by Melanie Bryant

"An Eclipse of Moths" by Blythe Kingcroft

"Butterfly" by Lesley Heiser 

"Confessions of a Vegetarian Ranchwife" by Michelle Nicolaysen

"Dogs I've Read" by AJ Strosahl

"Stones" by Jean McDonough

"Tunnel to the Sky" by Sarah Orner

"You Hold the Hand" by Jill McCabe Johnson



"The Body is Loyal" and "The Lizard Girl & The Alligator King" will be published alongside select finalists in our annual prize issue, forthcoming December 2022. 

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