This morning I walked to the mailbox and posted my Pushcart Prize nominations.
This is the best thing about being a past Pushcart winner. Well, maybe the second-best thing. The best thing, for me, is appearing right above William Carlos Williams in the index at the back of each Pushcart volume since I made my lucky appearance in the anthology a few years ago. One of these days an Oscar or Samantha Williams is going to come between me and William Carlos, and I’m going to be very sad for a few minutes.
But for as long as I or the Pushcart lasts, I get to be a contributing editor. I love everything about this, starting with the amazing fact that I am invited to send in nominations right along with seasoned editors and famous authors. I love reading something wonderful in a lit journal and feeling like I can do something about it, something more than just posting about it on Facebook. I love nominating poems and essays as well as my genre, short stories. And I love having to mail in the list—an old-fashioned letter, addressed to a real person (Bill Henderson, the man who’s kept this going for 35 years), folded into a real envelope, and affixed with a real stamp.
But I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t manage to bring some stress to this delightful activity. For most of the year, I read very happily, noting any writing that amazes me on a “Pushcart nominations” list I keep on my desktop. But as the December 15 deadline draws closer, I grow anxious. At least half a dozen journals are piled up on my coffee table unfinished or even unopened. What wonderful pieces are going to lose out on getting nominated because I didn’t spend more time reading? Not that I really need more entries on my nominations list: I already have more than the ten I’m allowed. Who will I cut from the list?
And then there’s a more insidious pressure, which I first noticed after I got my copy of the current Pushcart book (2011 Pushcart Prize XXXV), which honors work published in 2009.
The first thing I did, of course, was look in the back to see if the one story I published that year managed to get an honorable mention. It did not. Oh well.
The second thing I did was to see if anyone I nominated last year got a prize or honorable mention. None of my nominees got the big prize, but I was thrilled to discover that three of my ten nominees had gotten honorable mentions. They were Danielle Evans, for her story “Someone Ought to Tell Her There’s Nowhere to Go” from A Public Space #9; Carrie Brown for her story “A Splendid Life” from One Story #116; and Elizabeth Enslin for her essay “Natural Births,” which appeared in the Spring 2009 Gettysburg Review.
So that’s all very nice, but then I found myself reading new work and looking at my existing nominations list with an eye toward, not just what I liked, but what I thought would be likelier to win. In fact, I’d occasionally read a story I didn’t much care for, but I’d think, This is just the sort of story that will end up with a Pushcart (never mind that I didn’t know what that meant, or that I had apparently written one such story myself), and I’d follow that up with, Maybe I should put it on my list. Because, you know, the next best thing to having one of your own stories grace the pages of the Pushcart book is seeing your name listed among the nominees of a winning story.
Well, this way lay madness and absolutely no fun at all. I realized that this is one of the only arenas in my life in which I get to decide what I like and do not have to justify my choices in any way and suffer no ill consequences for choosing differently from others. (It’s not anything like, say, voting for Ralph Nader back in 2000. Or like renting Pride and Prejudice on family movie night when everyone else wants to watch Enter the Dragon.) Here I can just follow my heart. So I did.
My only other rule: I do not nominate friends. I know people do this, and I’m not necessarily judging them. Some of my friends published great work this year, and I was sort of tempted to bend my rule. But I didn’t. For me, it would introduce something messy into the friendships and further complicate the pleasure of drawing up my Pushcart list.
Herewith, my nominations for the 2012 Pushcart Prize XXXVI:
- Nikolina Kulidžan, “Across the River,” The Sun (September 2010)
- Lisa Bellamy, “Love Poem,” The Sun (April 2010)
- Chloe Martinez, “Fable” and “Apollo,” The Normal School (Vol. 3, Issue #1, Spring 2010)
- Judith Tate O’Brien, “Safety Net,” Nimrod International Journal (Vol. 53, #2, The Map of Yearning, Spring/Summer 2010)
- Molly Antopol, “The Quietest Man,” One Story (Issue #132, February 2010)
- Rahul Mehta, “Ten Thousand Years,” The Sun (May 2010)
- Marjorie Kemper, “At Prayer Level,” The Sun (July 2010)
- Teresa Milbrodt, “The Dog Stone,” Indiana Review (Summer 2010)
- Susan Straight, “Red Ribbon Monday,” The Sun (August 2010)
- Claire Vaye Watkins, “Man-O-War,” One Story (Issue #140, September 2010)
Good luck, nominees. Fingers crossed!