Laura Hope-Gill of Asheville, NC, is the winner of the 2023 Alex Albright Creative Nonfiction Prize competition with her story “The Weight of Light.” Hope-Gill is a deaf and newly functionally blind producer, poet, painter, pianist, and essayist devoted to seeking the blurred edges of fixed things, such as forms of writing and spaces between sensory and imagined perception. She is a world-traveler, a dogsitter, and a single mom of a Creative Writing major (her greatest feat). She has developed an MFA Program at Lenoir-Rhyne University that believes workshops can heal and inspire. She also develops a certificate program in Narrative Healthcare, a blend of Creative Writing, Poetic Medicine, Expressive Writing, and Narrative Medicine. She is an NCArts Fellow and the founder of Asheville Wordfest. She has published in Parabola, Missouri Review, and Denver Quarterly, among other fine journals, including NCLR. Her essay on narrative medicine appeared in NCLR’s 30th issue in 2022.
James Tate Hill, a Greensboro teacher and author of the memoir Blind Man’s Bluff (W.W. Norton, 2021), served as the final judge for this year’s contest. Hill selected Hope-Gill’s story from twelve finalists. “The lesson was never in getting back to where we were but in being where we are and resting there,” writes Hope-Gill in “The Weight of Light,” upon which Hill further expounds that the winning essay “captures in equal parts the terror and wonder of our minds and bodies. What a vital, expansive, captivating journey toward understanding a familiar world and an unfamiliar self.”
Hill also chose two stories for honorable mention. About Dawn Reno Langley’s essay, “Teaching Mrs. Dalloway,” the judge remarked, “This essay about the seismic movements a high school English teacher witnesses and inspires in a single year moved me so deeply. They say teachers learn as much from the classroom as their students, and few pieces of writing I’ve encountered embody this so thoroughly.”
About Ashley Memory’s honorable mention essay, “My Rembrandt Weekend,” he commented, “A married couple’s weekend quest to identify the artist of a newly acquired painting crackles with the drama of cinema, but it’s the small moments and interrogation of what art reveals that makes this essay so memorable.”
The other finalists this year were Philip Arnold’s “Ode to a Mountain House: A Constructive Premise, ” Michael K. Brantley’s “For the Birds,” Heather Liz’s “Fairy Dust and Knives,” Ashley Memory’s “Buy Now: The Summer of My Shoe Obsession,” Ruth Moose’s “His Tree, My Creek, Our House,” Mekiya Outini’s “Fleche, Blood,” Ashlen Renner’s “Abundance and Thirst,” Cheryl Edwards Skinner’s “Menagerie of the Dead,” and Karin L. Zipf’s “The Black Dispatch.”
Since its start over 30 years ago, NCLR has been a venue for strong creative nonfiction. The Alex Albright Creative Nonfiction Prize was created in 2015 to honor NCLR‘s founding editor. The North Carolina Literary and Historical Association funds this contest. In addition to a monetary prize for the author, the winning essay is published in NCLR and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. The honorable mentions and select finalists will also be published in 2024 and the authors receive honoraria.
Produced since 1992 at East Carolina University, the North Carolina Literary Review has won numerous awards and citations. The mission of NCLR is to preserve and promote North Carolina’s rich literary culture. NCLR introduces new and emerging writers; reintroduces forgotten authors; showcases work in literary criticism, interviews, book reviews, fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry; and reports on the state’s literary news. Find subscription information on the website at https://nclr.ecu.edu/subscriptions/.