Postscripts: John C. Zacharis Award Winner Ander Monson
John C. Zacharis Award Ploughshares is pleased to present Ander Monson with the seventeenth annual John C. Zacharis First Book Award for his story collection Other Electricities (Sarabande, 2005). The $1,500 award, which is named after Emerson College's former president, honors the best debut book by a Ploughshares writer, alternating annually between poetry and fiction.
This year's judge was novelist and memoirist DeWitt Henry, the Founding Editor and Interim Director/Editor-in-Chief of Ploughshares. In choosing the collection, Henry said: "Monson's stunning stories move 'from a world of hard but sparse facts to a storyscape of soft, fulfilling fictions.' He writes with distinctive whimsy and obsession, earning moments of inevitable, surprising beauty. At the center of everything is the 'radio amateur,' a meditative youth in Michigan's upper peninsula, whose father is withdrawn into a world of ham radio, whose mother has vanished, and whose older brother is armless and aphasiac. Around him gather stories of friends and town-folk that center on absence, loneliness, energy, causation, and magic. 'Everything in Michigan is due to saws or mines or bombs or Vietnam.... There's something unnatural, unbalanced, like an equation. Something to be righted. Solved.' Monson's prose is always charged and arresting as he plays with post-modern structures as deftly as Stuart Dybek, William Gass, and the hypertext innovator, William Joyce."
Ander Monson's recent publications include The Believer, A Public Space, and Pinch. He won the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize for Neck Deep and Other Predicaments (2006), Tupelo Press Editor's Prize for his poems, Vacationland (2004), the World's Best Short-Story Contest from The Southeast Review (2004) and the Annie Dillard Award in Creative Nonfiction from The Bellingham Review (2002).
Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Monson was raised primarily in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. His mother died when he was seven. Then he spent several years in Saudi Arabia, where his father taught Economics and worked as an economic consultant for the Saudi government through the United States government. Monson's childhood ambition, influenced by television's LA Law, was to be a lawyer or judge. He had an early interest in reading. He went to Houghton High School for a year in Michigan, "punctuated by minor delinquency" before his family moved to Saudi Arabia. As a student he was "kinda dorky, playing the bassoon, making a bunch of crappy stuff in shop, but also pretty invested in the world of electronic bulletin boards and hacker culture and phone phreaking." Since Arabia didn't have English-speaking schools beyond ninth grade, the U.S. government sent him to boarding school at Cranbrook, in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. There he "loved the classes, sang choir, played bassoon for a while, did well, took English, read good books, but also spent a lot of time doing illegal things online or in person, and ended out being expelled (well, asked to leave on threat of expulsion) four months before I would have graduated." He had been planning to do computer science or experimental physics at Rice up until that point, but thanks to the expulsion, Rice's offer was revoked, and instead, he went to Michigan Tech, then transferred to Knox College, "which is where writing and I met up." Graduating from Knox, he went on for his M.A. in Literature at Iowa State University, and then to the University of Alabama for an M.F.A.
Over time he was worked odd jobs. "Worst was as a janitor for McLain State Park in Upper Michigan, where I cleaned up vomit from babies and drunks and leaned to drive stick shift on a trash truck which I accidentally rammed into a shelter and was nearly fired for." He also served as copyeditor for a textbook publisher; designer for the University of Alabama Press and others; and editor of Black Warrior Review.
His first real publication, a story in Pleiades, came when he was a Junior at Knox. Soon after that he won an AWP Intro Award for a poem, which came out in Willow Springs. He originally finished Other Electricities, his M.F.A. thesis at University of Alabama, as a trilogy. Unable to find an agent, he sent it out himself, but editors found it "too estoteric or too poetric." He tried it in the AWP fiction, nonfiction, poetry contests. Finally when it was runner-up for Sarabande's Mary McCarthy prize, the Sarabande editors asked for another look, and it was picked up. He explains "I worked heavily with Kirby Gann, my kickass editor there, to find its shape, even as they toned down some of the more experimental elements in the editorial and production process (for starters, their design is significantly less visual than mine was)."
Among his mentors, Monson singles out Robin Metz at Knox, and Sandy Huss and Michael Martone at the University of Alabama.
When Monson founded the online magazine, DIAGRAM, in 2000, he had been editing, launching, and designing literary magazines for years. But as the editor of Black Warrior Review, he had grown frustrated with the large staff and the conservatism of collective editing. He grew interested in "the visual aspects of text and combining visuals with text." Collecting pre-1960 dictionaries, he played around with cutting illustrations out and scanning and manipulating them, and was struck by "the beauty and oddity of a lot of the diagrammatic illustrations, especially when removed their context." In starting DIAGRAM, he wanted to do something different, and offer a venue "for publishing edgier, genre -- promiscuous work and work that incorporated visuals."
Monson teaches fiction, nonfiction, and poetry at Grand Valley State University, editing DIAGRAM and the New Michigan Press. He has just finished a second poetry collection, The Available World, that is looking for a home, and is working on a novel, new essays, and stories. He lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with his wife, Megan, and three cats.
Volunteers and Trustees We would like to thank our volunteer readers and interns, who are listed on the second page of the masthead, for their generous efforts. Our thanks, too, to our trustees for their support: Marillyn Zacharis, Jacqueline Liebergott, DeWitt Henry, Helene Atwan, William H. Berman, Robert E. Courtemanche, Tim Huggins, Elaine Markson, Grafton Nunes, Janet Silver, and John Skoyles.
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