New Letters Literary Award Winners

New Letters is pleased to announce the winners of the New Letters Literary Awards. Winners
received a cash prize of $2,500 and will be published in the winter/spring 2022 issue of New Letters.

Thank you to our 2021 Literary Award judges.

Poetry Judge Kaveh Akbar
Nonfiction Judge Paul Lisicky
Fiction Judge Emily Nemens
Patricia Cleary Miller Award for Poetry
Winner: R.J. Lambert, “Habits of Creature”
Poetry Judge: Kaveh Akbar

First Runner-Up: Mercedes Lucero, “Holy Celluloid Poetic”
Honorable Mention: John Sibley Williams, “Cadence” & Other Poems
Honrable Mention: Armen Davoudian: “Cheatsheet”  & Other Poems

R.J. Lambert’s (he, him, his) debut poetry collection, Mind Lit in Neon, is forthcoming in 2022 from Finishing Line Press. His poems will soon appear in New Letters, Crab Creek Review, The Worcester Review, CutBank, peculiar, and the anthology Without a Doubt (New York Quarterly Books). He teaches science writing and health communication at the Medical University of South Carolina and can be found online at

Kaveh Akbar’s poems appear in The New Yorker, Paris Review, The New York Times, Best American Poetry, and elsewhere. He is the author of two books of poetry—Pilgrim Bell (Graywolf 2021) and Calling a Wolf a Wolf (Alice James 2017)—and the editor of The Penguin Book of Spiritual Verse. Born in Tehran, Iran, Akbar teaches at Purdue University and in the low-residency MFA programs at Randolph and Warren Wilson college. He serves as poetry editor for The Nation. 

Conger Beasley Jr. Award for Nonfiction
Winner: Rachel Coonce, “Will I Bounce?”
Nonfiction Judge: Paul Lisicky

Rachel Coonce is a graduate of the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College. She received an honorable mention in The Missouri Review’s Miller Audio Prize, documentary category, in 2012 for her investigation into memory. She is cofounder of The Inner Loop, a literary arts nonprofit in Washington, D.C., which received Amazon Literary Partnerships for its projects in 2019, 2020, and 2021. She is also creator, executive producer, and cohost of The Inner Loop Radio, a creative writing podcast. She lives outside of Washington, D.C. with her partner, daughter, hound, and tabby cat. Follow her on instagram @rachel_coonce.

Paul Lisicky is the author of six books including Later: My Life at the Edge of the World, an NPR Best Book of 2020; The Narrow Door, New York Times Editors’ Choice and a finalist for the Randy Shilts Award; as well as Unbuilt Projects, The Burning House, Famous Builder, and Lawnboy. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, Conjunctions, The Cut, FenceThe New York Times, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. He is a recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown where he has served on the Writing Committee since 2000. He directs the MFA Program at Rutgers University-Camden, where he is an associate professor and the editor of StoryQuarterly. He lives in Brooklyn. 


Robert Day Award for Fiction
Winner: Richard Hermes, “Here, Where We Can Be Honest”
Fiction Judge: Emily Nemens

First Runner-Up: Elizabeth Mayer, “Tupelo Honey, Redux”
Honorable Mention: Reena Shah, “Doublemint”

Richard Hermes has been the recipient of the Phoebe Fiction Award, a Tamarack Award from Minnesota Monthly, a Minnesota State Arts Board grant, and a Luce Scholars fellowship to Thailand, where he lived for eight years. He has worked as a writer and editor for the Bangkok Post, Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia, and Utne, and he was editor-in-chief of the tenth-anniversary issue of Grist: A Journal of the Literary Arts, which won the 2018 Parnassus Award for Significant Editorial Achievement from the Council of Editors of Learned Journals. He holds a PhD in English from the University of Tennessee and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Minnesota, and he is a lecturer at Southern Methodist University, where he teaches courses in creative writing and literature.

Emily Nemens’s debut novel, The Cactus League (FSG 2020, Picador 2021) was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice and was named one of the best books of the year by NPR and Lit Hub. Emily spent a decade editing literary quarterlies, including The Paris Review, which won the American Society of Magazine Editors’ Prize for Fiction under her tenure, and The Southern Review. She lives in New York and is working on her second novel.

2021 New Letters Literary Award Finalists
Patrica Cleary Miller Award for Poetry 

Mary Helen Callier, Kate Gaskin, Justin Hunt, Don Judson, Chris Ketchum, Anthony Thomas Lombardi,
Kimberly Mayo,  Greg Nicholl, Megan Pinto, Kelly Rowe, Dianalee Velie, Pamela Wax

Conger Beasley Jr. Award for Nonfiction

LS Beveridge, Jax Connelly, Chad Davidson, Joshua Dolezal, Kevin Hassett,
Taylor Imel, Daniel LoPilato, Frank Ortega, Hannah Soyer, Jennifer Steil

Robert Day Award for Fiction

Puloma Ghosh, Tom Howard, Neshat Khan, Emily Van Kley, Michael McGuire, Kristen Morrison,
Elisabeth Preston-Hsu, August Lah, Rae Canaan, A.J. Rodriguez, Reena Shah, Kellie Tatem

Photo credits: Kaveh Akbar photo by Paige Lewis; Paul Lisicky photo by Beowulf Sheehan; Emily Nemens photo by James Emmerman.