Elizabeth Graver and Adrian C. Louis, Cohen Awards

by Don Lee

Cohen Awards Each year, we honor the best short story and poem published in Ploughshares with the Cohen Awards, which are wholly sponsored by our longtime patrons Denise and Mel Cohen. Finalists are nominated by staff editors, and the winners -- each of whom receives a cash prize of $600 -- are selected by our advisory editors. The 2001 Cohen Awards for work published in Ploughshares in 2000, Volume 26, go to Elizabeth Graver and Adrian C. Louis.

Elizabeth Graver for her story " The Mourning Door" in Fall 2000, edited by Gish Jen.
Elizabeth Graver was born in 1964 and grew up in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where both her parents taught English at Williams College. She remembers spending most of her free time as a child "writing, drawing, or playing imaginary games." She went to Wesleyan University, where she studied with Annie Dillard, and after graduating worked as a temporary secretary in Boston for a year, and then spent the next year teaching English at a public high school in Paris, all the while trying to carve out time to write.

In 1988, she enrolled in the M.F.A. program at Washington University in St. Louis, where she worked with Stanley Elkin, Deborah Eisenberg, and Angela Carter. Her first published story, "Square Dance," appeared in Story in 1990, and her story collection, Have You Seen Me?, was chosen by Richard Ford for the Drue Heinz Literature Prize and published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 1991. That same year, she also received an NEA grant for fiction, which gave her the courage -- and money -- to drop out of Cornell's Ph.D. program in literature. She moved back to Boston, where she had close friends and a writers' group, and began working on a novel, Unravelling, which was eventually published by Hyperion in 1997. Her second novel, The Honey Thief, followed in 1999, and she is currently at work on a third novel. Graver has been teaching creative writing and literature at Boston College since 1993, and lives outside of Boston with her husband, Jim Pingeon, a civil rights lawyer, and their daughter, Chloe. In addition to being granted the Cohen Award, "The Mourning Door" was selected for this season's The Best American Short Stories, O. Henry Awards, and The Pushcart Prize.

About the story, Graver writes: "I was making the bed one day and passed my hand over a bump which felt like a small fist. The story grew from there and seemed -- in the way of a dream -- almost to write itself. I was trying to get pregnant at the time, and while we ended up not having to enter the maze of reproductive technology, I had a number of friends who were deep inside that maze. The story came, I suppose, from watching them navigate a world that seemed as surreal as the world of my story, as well as from my own anticipatory anxiety. As a writer, I'm used to being able to make things, to spin them out of thin air -- with enough hard work, enough deep attention. Trying to have a baby demands a kind of surrender to the body that I found at once difficult and moving. Our daughter, Chloe, was born a few weeks before 'The Mourning Door' appeared in Ploughshares."

Adrian C. Louis for his poem " This Is the Time of Grasshoppers and All that I See Is Dying" in Winter 2000-01, edited by Sherman Alexie.

Adrian C. Louis was born in 1946 in Lovelock, Nevada, and is an enrolled member of the Lovelock Paiute Indian Tribe. His mother was a registered nurse, and his father, whom he never met, was an Army veteran and erstwhile student at the University of New Mexico. His parents never married, and Louis was raised by his mother and grandparents on the small Lovelock reservation.

He attended the University of Nevada from 1964-66 and flunked out. He then migrated to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury and spent -- as he puts it -- "some stoned years on the edge" before he resumed his education in the early seventies. He graduated from Brown University with both a B.A. and an M.A., the latter in creative writing. Louis says he began writing in high school at the urging of one of his English teachers. "I had a love of language, and in the folly of youth I thought that writing poems, being a poet, might well be the highest calling of mankind. I was a romantic fool and read everything I could get my hands on, from Robert Frost to Robert Lowell to Jack Kerouac, but when I read The City of Trembling Leaves by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, I knew I truly wanted to be a writer."

He has been the editor of five tribal newspapers, including a stint as the managing editor of the country's largest publication, Indian Country Today. From 1984-98, he taught at Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation of South Dakota, and currently teaches at Southwest State University in Marshall, Minnesota. "I teach creative writing and literature," he says, "but I get more satisfaction from teaching freshman comp than I do from creative writing."

Louis has written nine books of poems, including Fire Water World, winner of the 1989 Poetry Center Book Award from San Francisco State University. In addition, he is the author of two works of fiction, Wild Indians & Other Creatures, a collection of short stories, and Skins, a novel, which has been adapted into a feature film, directed by Chris Eyre (director of the Sherman Alexie film Smoke Signals). The movie is scheduled for release in spring 2002.

Louis has received fellowships from the Bush Foundation, the NEA, and the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, among other awards. In 1999 he was elected to the Nevada Writers' Hall of Fame. He is now completing another collection of poems, Evil Corn.

About "This Is the Time of Grasshoppers and All that I See Is Dying," he writes: "It's just another chapter in my life. That's all I write about -- the world and my shambling place in it. The poem is basically about dealing with my wife's Alzheimer's disease. Actually it was written almost three years ago, so a lot more dark water has run under the bridge, and my reality is much more grim now. It's from a collection called Bone & Juice, which will be published by Northwestern University in September of 2001."

Copyright © Don Lee


Fall 2001 Cover
Thirtieth Anniversary Issue
Poetry & Fiction
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Guest-edited by:
Donald Hall
Donald Hall