2012 Iowa Short Fiction Award Winners Announced

The University of Iowa Press is pleased to announce the winners of the 2012 Iowa Short Fiction Awards. Marie-Helene Bertino is the winner of the 2012 Iowa Short Fiction Award for her collection Safe as Houses. Chad Simpson's Tell Everyone I Said Hi is the winner of the 2012 John Simmons Short Fiction Award. The recipients were selected by Jim Shepard, author of You Think That's Bad: Stories.

Marie-Helene Bertino's stories have appeared in The Pushcart Prize Anthology XXXIII, North American Review, Mississippi Review, Inkwell, The Indiana Review, American Short Fiction, and West Branch.  She received a Pushcart prize in 2007 and a Pushcart Special Mention in 2011, which is also the year she was chosen as a Center for Fiction NYC Emerging Writer's Fellow. She hails from Philadelphia and lives in Brooklyn, where for six years she was the associate editor of One Story. Chad Simpson was raised in Monmouth, Illinois, and Logansport, Indiana. His work has appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly, Esquire, American Short Fiction, The Sun, and many other print and online publications. He is the recipient of a fellowship in prose from the Illinois Arts Council and scholarships from the Bread Loaf and Sewanee writers’ conferences. He teaches at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, where he received the Philip Green Wright/Lombard College Prize for Distinguished Teaching in 2010.

Marie-Helene Bertino's Safe as Houses is nothing if not original. Each story has a dream-like quality reminiscent of the writing of Donald Barthelme, complete with skewed vision and unexpected and often magical twists and turns. The title story revolves around an aging English professor who, mourning the loss of his wife, robs homes of sentimental knick-knacks. In “Free Ham,” a young dropout wins a ham after her house burns down but at first refuses to accept it.  “Has my ham done anything wrong?” she asks, when the grocery store manager demands that she claim it.  In “Carry Me Home, Sisters of Saint Joseph,” a failed commercial writer moves into the basement of a convent and inadvertently discovers the secret lives of the Sisters of Saint Joseph.  A girl, hoping to talk her brother out of enlisting in the army, brings Bob Dylan home for Thanksgiving dinner in the quiet, dreamy “North Of.”  In and out of the rooms of these gritty, whimsical stories roam troubled, funny people struggling to reconcile their circumstances to some kind of American Ideal and failing, over and over.  Along the way, Bertino subjects a cockeyed but unflinching gaze on a world where not all homes are shelters. The stories in Safe as Houses are as hilarious as they are heartbreaking. Bertino's characters are often their own worst enemies, but their ceaseless search for redemption—in whatever ways it might come—leave you rooting for each of them to succeed.

The world of Chad Simpson's Tell Everyone I Said Hi is geographically small but far from provincial in its portrayal of emotionally complicated lives. With all the earnestness of a Wilco song, these eighteen stories roam the small-town playgrounds, blue-collar neighborhoods, and rural highways of Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky to find people who’ve lost someone or something they love and have not yet found ways to move forward. In “Peloma,” a steel worker grapples with his teenage daughter’s feeble suicide attempts while the aftermath of his wife’s death and the politics of factory life vie to hem him in.  The narrator of “Fostering” struggles to determine the ramifications of his foster child’s past now that he and his wife are expecting their first biological child. In just two pages, “Let x” negotiates the yearnings and regrets of childhood through mathematical variables and the summertime interactions of two fifth-graders. Poignant, fresh, and convincing, these are stories of women who smell of hairspray and beer and landscapers who worry about their livers, of flooded basements and loud trucks, of bad exes and horrible jobs, of people who remain loyal to sports teams that always lose. Displaced by circumstances both in and out of their control, the characters who populate Tell Everyone I Said Hi are lost in their own surroundings, thwarted by misguided aspirations and long-buried disappointments, but fully open to the possibility that they will again find their way. 

The short fiction awards are given to a first collection of fiction in English and are administered through the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. The honors are national in scope and have been given since 1969. The John Simmons Short Fiction Award (named for the first director of the University of Iowa Press) was created in 1988 to complement the existing Iowa Short Fiction Award.