The Whiting Awards jury has announced this year’s ten winners in fiction, non-fiction, poetry and drama. And two winners picking up the $50,000 prize are from Texas. One of them – Merritt Tierce – is already familiar around these parts, having set her fiercely honest, debut novel ‘Love Me Back’ in the world of Dallas’ high-end restaurants and low-paid waitresses. The other writer, poet Vanessa Angélica Villareal, is also a winner for her debut, her poetry collection, ‘Beast Meridian.’
This is hardly the first time Tierce’s 2014 novel has caught some public appreciation – from singer St. Vincent touting the book and a Texas Institute of Letters’ first-book prize to Tierce winning the Rona Jaffe Writer’s Award during the book’s early stages. These days, Tierce lives in LA, writing for television’s ‘Orange is the New Black’ – and working on a second literary effort, this one, the Whiting website says, is “a book of autofiction about men, sex, writing, the internet, depression, being a woman, physicality, and television.”
For her part, Villareal is from the Rio Grande Valley and has also won an award from the Texas Institute of Letters (best first book of poetyry). Her haunting, surreal poetry has been published in ‘The Boston Review and “The Academy of American Poets,’ and she’s at work on her doctorate in English literature and creative writing at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
This is from Villareal’s poem, “Thirteen”:
I was thirteen when I first felt a blonde boy. I still
cough up his cornsilk, wind the spit in my fingers.
Fresh white breasts in the grass. Brown nipples
like mushrooms. July rubied with red stars. Boys
float their bicycles into the trees. No one gets in
trouble but us. Blackberries erupt over the river.
We escape a patrolling moon. Trespassing is
passage. Is there a plan to dip the girl in ink, to
lustre the hook from which she will droop. The
jaw hangs open. The yard is lousy with dead dogs.
To resuscitate. To resuscitate.