2024 Lit Fest Fellows

Emerging Writer Fellowship in Fiction

Selected by Destiny O. Birdsong

Fellowship Winner: Lauren Barbato, “A Home for Adults”
Lauren Barbato 

Judge's statement"Recoveries—physical, spiritual, emotional—are messy and cover a wide terrain, and 'A Home for Adults' delves directly into the wreck we often find ourselves in at the beginning of these lifelong processes. The narrator here has such an eye for detail: I can smell the coffee in the basement during the AA meetings, see the murky pond where she and “the ex-boyfriend” took a drunken dip at midnight, and hear the pop of her ankle as she powers through physical therapy both unsure of her possibility of healing and hesitant to articulate that things might not be going as they should. It is a stunning, captivating piece."
—Destiny O. Birdsong

Lauren Barbato's fiction has appeared in The Georgia Review, The Hopkins Review, Blackbird, North American Review, Cola Literary Review, phoebe, Modern Language Studies, and Necessary Fiction, among others. She's previously received support from the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, and the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. In addition to her fiction writing, Lauren is a trained oral historian and is completing a Ph.D. in religion at Temple University. She teaches in the gender studies department at the University of Delaware and also holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from Rutgers University-Newark and a B.F.A. in screenwriting from the University of Southern California.

Runner-Up: Mara Finley, “Her Berliner”

Judge's statement: "Loneliness, especially when one is not alone, is perhaps one of the most beautiful and baffling of human conditions. The narrator of 'Her Berliner' is in such a state; she has unleashed herself (albeit temporarily) in a foreign place where her bewilderment and her quest for tenderness are unwitnessed by anyone other than a lover and a close friend. What I love most about this story is perhaps what they both teach her about her bravery and her power to be free wherever she is; these are lessons she desperately needs as she makes an impossible choice—a choice that love often requires of us."
—Destiny O. Birdsong

Runner-Up: Sarah Ligon, “Notes on a Profile of the Artist Laura Brooks”

Judge's statement"I love a good artist’s profile, and this one, of a woman who is a Southerner, a mother, and the survivor of an unspeakable loss, is right up my alley. She is at once enigmatic and open, and the narrator, on an errand to negotiate the terms of Brooks’ final exhibition, paints her and the family homestead with a fine, exacting brush. I ended this piece wanting to know more about Brooks and how her brain worked, but also wondering how she endured so many tragedies with her creativity still intact. I wanted more time to sit at her feet, which is quite a feat for a fictional character.”
—Destiny O. Birdsong

Distinguished Finalists: Laura Rosenthal, Michelle Muldrew, Margaret Nickens, Natalie Storey

* * *

Emerging Writer Fellowship in Nonfiction

Selected by Nadia Owusu

Fellowship winner: Afton Montgomery, "Dispatches from Moscow, Idaho"

Judge's statement: "'Dispatches from Moscow, Idaho' explores questions of violence, prejudice, safety, and care through the writer’s experiences in the town of Moscow, Idaho. I was taken with the rare combination of lyrical prose, complex analysis, and quiet power."
—Nadia Owusu

Afton Montgomery earned her MFA in nonfiction at the University of Idaho, where she was the editor in chief of Fugue. She was a finalist for the 2023 Harvard Review Chapbook Prize and was selected by Vi Khi Nao as the prose winner of the 2021 Mountain West Writers' Contest at Western Humanities Review. Afton has recent or forthcoming work in The Millions, Pleiades, The Common, Passages North, DIAGRAM, Poetry Northwest, Prairie Schooner, Fence, and others. In 2024, she was a Writer in Residence at Centrum. Formerly an independent bookstore buyer in Denver, she calls Colorado home.

Runner Up: Leslie Nguyen-Okwu, "American Hyphen"

Judge's statement: "This writer expertly weaves searing cultural criticism and vulnerable self-reflection, meditating on the power of names, the pitfalls of belonging, and the brutal illogic of the American racial arrangement."
—Nadia Owusu

Special Mention, Top Jury Score: Lucy Marcus, "The Long Punch"

Reviewer statement: "Resists both easy answers and easy questions—takes a subject that is incredibly important but also threadbare and turns it into something that feels completely original. Here, the analytical IS the personal (and the other way round), giving the piece a tremendous verve and a sense of both searching and comprehensiveness." 

Distinguished Finalists: Mara Finley, Shana Graham, Alissa Custer, Ala Fox

* * *

Emerging Writer Fellowship in Poetry

Selected by Forrest Gander

Fellowship Winner: Larry Narron, "Spitfire Diary"


Judge's statement: "The startling, gnomic precision of the sentences perfectly matches the consistent theme of precision tooling. Rather than coming to seem a mannerism, the references to tools and the argot for specific gestures— I’ll 'half cab the gap'—create a kind of ligament between the acting human body and the world. We’re engaged, as readers, in novel ways of seeing."
—Forrest Gander

Larry Narron's poems have appeared in Phoebe, Bayou, Hobart, Booth, and Sugar House Review, among others. They've been nominated for the Best of the Net and Best New Poets. Larry's first chapbook, Wasted Afterlives, was published in 2020 by Main Street Rag. Born and raised in San Diego County, he is currently at work on a collection of poems about skateboarding.

Runner-Up: Yagmur Akyurek, "Five Poems"
Judge's statement: "A playful surreality makes the more narrative poems fun and strange. But this author’s strength shows most in the more clipped registers of 'Perspective,' 'Mère,' and 'Hell is the Name of a Restaurant,' which are comprised, mostly, of terse, single sentence lines. There, with that blank-space-pause between each line, the poet’s heuristic leaps and understated humor take on unpredictable drama."
—Forrest Gander

Special Mention: Perfect Jury Score: Alana Pedalino, "Five Poems"
Judge's statement: "The tersely charged sentencing and the vivid sensual details are enlivened even more by a consistent strangeness that seems less formulaically Surreal than quite freshly imagined."
—Forrest Gander

Distinguished Finalists: Martha Ryan, Ginger Cyan, Annie Holdren, Sami Helgeson, Haylee Millikan

2024 Larrk Fellows

The Larrk Lit Fest Fellowship covers the full cost of tuition for an advanced weeklong or weekend workshop for a writer with a physical disability who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend an advanced workshop. The LARRK Lit Fest Fellowship is made possible through the generous support of The LARRK Foundation.

Ginger Cyan is a rural desert dweller and storyteller in Moab, Utah. For much of the year, Ginger’s life revolves around moments of chaos as they work on the frontline of our climate crisis providing information about large-scale disasters. When they are not deployed, Ginger lives a quiet life in their small desert town. They openly identify as queer, nonbinary, and disabled. They work hard to advocate for those who are a part of marginalized communities. They received a regional Murrow award for their work producing the podcast "Lift Up: LGBTQ+ Visibility” which highlights the lived experiences of rural queer individuals.

Michelle Muldrew is a Northern California transplant, mother of four adult children, and former nurse who moved to Denver, Colorado, in December of 2009 after a spinal injury sent her into early retirement and limited her mobility. Despair and depression motivated her to begin to write, first in journals, and then there was an attempt to write stories, which she had no idea how to do. Somehow, she found out about Lighthouse writers and wanted to take a course or two, but the course fees were steep for her, as embarrassing as it is to admit, she was too proud to apply for a scholarship. She attempted to write a series of vignettes (having no idea what she was doing). She went to the Lighthouse website and saw something called The Book Project. There were only five days left to apply, so she sent in what she now call a "mess" of words and somehow someone thought there was a writer in there somewhere, and she was accepted into The Book Project. She knew nothing of writing before The Book Project (nothing) and discovered that she didn't speak English very well. Lighthouse lit a fire in her that refuses to go out. She has been healed by writing, and it is her passion. Mentally, physically, and emotionally, she has been healed. It has changed the trajectory of her life. She will be forever grateful. 

Leslie V. Nguyen-Okwu is the author of the forthcoming book “American Hyphen” about balancing on the tightrope between Black America and Asian America as a first-generation Vietnamese Nigerian American. As an award-winning journalist and seasoned speechwriter, Leslie's bylines include The New York Times, BBC, National Geographic, The Economist, and Harper's Bazaar, alongside creative collaborations with Google, Airbnb, and HTC. As the proud daughter of refugees, Leslie explores the liminal spaces between borders and belonging. She holds a Bachelor's in International Relations from Stanford University, and her career as a foreign correspondent covering displacement, statelessness, and contested homelands has informed her storytelling. These experiences have earned her residencies, fellowships, and scholarships from Harvard University, the American Mandarin Society, the Asian American Journalist Association, Tin House, Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation, Disquiet International Literary Program, and Martha's Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. In a defining chapter of her life, she battled a rare, aggressive form of blood cancer. Today, she’s in remission and tumor-free. Grateful for her second chance at life, Leslie is determined to finish her book. Most recently, after finishing chemotherapy, she served as a writer-in-residence at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in Canada. Previously, she worked as a technology reporter in Silicon Valley and a foreign correspondent in Asia.