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“Guest Star” Wins 2024 Albright Creative Nonfiction Prize

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Ashlen Renner, originally of Pinehurst, NC, wins the 2024 Alex Albright Creative Nonfiction Prize with her essay “Guest Star.” “In a fascinating hybrid of astronomy, myth, history, speculation, and memoir,” final Judge Rebecca McClanahan writes of her selection, “this gifted writer moves seamlessly between the personal and the universal. The language is arresting and precise, the metaphors beautifully rendered. As readers, we witness how this narrator lives on stories – ‘those written on brittle parchment or never written at all’ – and the blend of curiosity and imagination that drives the essay is like the Guest Star itself, ‘a broken star trying to piece itself back together.’”  

Renner is a journalist based in northern Virginia. She earned her MFA from George Mason University. She has published in New Ohio Review and Feels Blind Lit, and she was a finalist for the 2023 Albright Prize contest. “Guest Star” will be published in the 2025 print issue of NCLR

McClanahan also selected two finalists for Honorable Mention: “Hurricane Season” by Erick Daniel Aguilar, a Honduran-American writer who lives in Chicago, and “I – The Mountain: A Nonfiction” by Loss Pequeño Glazier, Professor Emeritus of SUNY Buffalo, who lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina. 

Aguilar’s essay was inspired by several hurricane seasons in North Carolina; this will be his first publication. McClanahan writes of the new writer’s essay, “This deeply affecting memoir, rich with sensory description and fueled by the narrator’s dying father’s wish to tell ‘the story of his American dream,’ takes us into a world most readers would never otherwise experience: the plight of migrant workers who, like the father, ‘worked the fields, slaughtered hogs, and cleaned the flesh off turkeys.’ Like the hurricanes that threaten the physical landscape, the uncertainty and fears – of deportation or family dissolution – threaten these immigrant families’ very existence. But even the most difficult story can redeem us, and this author, in telling the father’s story, becomes ‘not exactly a peddler of catastrophes, but a salvager of meaning.’” 

Glazier is a poet and essayist, with many publications, including in NCLR Online Winter 2024: a finalist poem in NCLR’s 2023 James Applewhite Poetry Prize contest. McClanahan writes of Glazier’s honorable mention essay, “Against the backdrop of the Nantahala Mountains, this ambitious, multi-layered essay is, on one level, a conversation between the narrator and a host of great writers, and, on the other, a profound meditation on the ancient mysteries of age, memory, and mortality, leading the narrator to understand that ‘I will disintegrate before the mountains do, maybe even before the sun rises. It’s just the order of things.’”   

The other finalists this year were “Presumed Parentage” by Henrietta Goodman, who lives in Montana but grew up in Gastonia, NC; “Year of the Acorns” by Ashley Harris of Asheboro; and “Kitchens” by Dawn Reno Langley of Durham. 

We are grateful to final judge Rebecca McClanahan, author of several books of (and about) nonfiction, including, most recently, In the Key of New York City: A Memoir in Essays.

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 and publication in NCLR, the winning essay is nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Honorable mentions will also be published in 2025 and receive honoraria.  Find subscription information on the website at

Produced since 1992 at East Carolina University, and published by the University of North Carolina Press, 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. Artwork used by exclusively North Carolina artists.