2021 VANDERMEY NONFICTION PRIZE WINNERS: Caroline Tracey + Alex Pickens

2021 VANDERMEY NONFICTION PRIZE WINNERS: Caroline Tracey + Alex Pickens

February 27, 2021

Ruminate Magazine is thrilled to share with you the winners of the 2021 VanderMey Nonfiction Prize! The winning pieces were selected by our final judge, Jasmine V. Bailey, and will appear in our summer 2021 issue which releases mid-June!  You can subscribe now to receive Issue 59.


First place: “The Ephemeral Forever” by Caroline Tracey

Caroline Tracey is a writer originally from Colorado and currently living in Mexico City. Her nonfiction has appeared in n+1Kenyon Review OnlineThe Nation, SFMOMA's Open Space and in Spanish in Nexos. In 2020 she was runner-up in the Bodley Head/Financial Times essay prize. When not reading and writing, you can find her exploring the city on a nineties Trek and gardening tomatoes in buckets on her rooftop. 


Jasmine V. Bailey said: “‘The Ephemeral Forever’ presents us with two women’s compelling stories: that of the queer rancher narrating and that of an aboriginal artist whose work and biography strike a chord with her. This essay posits a theory that it is possible to tract the historically ephemeral nature of queer experience to a lasting, satisfying life built with a partner and literally grounded in the land and its creatures. The profundity and hopefulness of that idea will stay with me.”


Second place: “Derecho” by Alex Pickens 

Alex Pickens lived for two decades in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia, where he spent his spare time writing songs, reading the classics, and exploring every stretch of backcountry he could. He has multiple degrees and earned a certification in wilderness first aid after nearly dying in a freak ice storm one summer in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Most recently his work was accepted by Crab Orchard ReviewHawaii Pacific ReviewTexas Review Press, Constellations, and won Appalachia's 2019 Waterman Fund Essay contest, while his screenplays and fiction regularly place in national contests. He just completed a novel called Mountain and Valley, inspired by the wilderness and people of Appalachia. He now lives in Raleigh with his wife. 

Jasmine V. Bailey said: “‘Derecho’ plunges us into the lyric mystery of Appalachia from the first word. It is the story of a week of power outage during a searing heat wave, inviting us into the trippy internal experiences the narrator has alone in the woods and encountering his own community in that extraordinary moment. The writing is lush, precise, and seductive.”


Honorable mention: “Mysteries and Symbols of My Past” by Mildred K. Barya 

Mildred K. Barya is a writer from Uganda and assistant professor at UNC-Asheville, where she teaches creative writing and world literature. Her publications include three poetry books as well as prose, poems or hybrids in Tin House, Obsidian, poets.org, Poetry Quarterly, Asymptote Journal, Matters of Feminist Practice Anthology, Prairie Schooner, New Daughters of Africa International Anthology, Per Contra, and Northeast Review. She’s at work on a collection of nonfiction, and one of the essays—Being Here in This Body—won the 2020 Linda Flowers Literary Award, and is forthcoming in the North Carolina Literary Review. She is a board member of the African Writers Trust, and coordinates the Poetrio Reading Events at Malaprop’s Independent Bookstore/Café in Asheville. Visit her blog: http://mildredbarya.com/.

Jasmine V. Bailey said: “‘Mysteries and Symbols of My Past’ remembers the healers from the narrator’s childhood village in Uganda. Each has a unique personality and expertise, skillfully drawn to show both their eccentricities and the gravitas their power commands. Their power even transcends death, as the narrator probes her memory of them to question modern and Western assumptions that discount such people’s powers or render them invisible.”



“Luminosity” by Annelise Jolley

“64 Inches” by Laura Joyce-Hubbard  

“Wrinkles” by Marianna Marlowe 

“From Here on Out” by Marilyn McFarlane

“White Coat, Black Habit” by Walter Robinson  

“Five Ways to Effectively Collaborate with Teams” by Stephanie Sauer  

“Warnings” by Suanny Vizcaíno  

“Seven Seven” by Jillian Weiss  




Jasmine V. Bailey is a poet, essayist and translator. Her book-length poetry collections are Alexandria (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2014), winner of the Central New York Book Award, and Disappeared (CMUP, 2017). Her chapbook, Sleep and What Precedes It won the 2009 Longleaf Press Chapbook Prize. She is the winner of Michigan Quarterly Review’s Lawrence Goldstein Prize and Ruminate Magazine’s VanderMey Nonfiction Prize. She holds an MFA from the University of Virginia, a PhD in creative writing from Texas Tech University, and has been a Fulbright fellow in Argentina, an Olive B. O’Connor fellow at Colgate University, and a fellow at the Vermont Studio Center. She is Translations Editor for The Common, and her translation of Silvina López Medin’s That Salt on the Tongue to Say Mangrove is forthcoming from Carnegie Mellon.



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