Press 53 Annual Anthologies

Note–I had been assigned the Press 53 2011 Open Award Anthology to review for a friend’s site, but then when the friend and his partner placed very highly in the 2011 and 2012 Awards, things got, er, weird. So I’m posting my quickie review here, if only to shed some light on what may be the hardest working indie outfit in lit biz:

As we move through the final quarter of 2012, I notice a lot of great writers announcing their book acceptances from North Carolina’s prolific Press 53. Not only that, the award ceremony for the 2012 Press 53 Open Awards was held recently—with our own Art Taylor taking top honors in the Flash Fiction category. All of which reminded me to return to my unintentionally neglected copy of the 2011 Press 53 Open Awards Anthology, a collection of the previous year’s winners and runners up in Poetry, Flash Fiction, Short-short Story, Short Story, Creative Nonfiction, and Novella.

We are in a moment where we’ve come to expect a literary collection to demonstrate a theme or at least a palpable editorial vision, so it seems especially risky to produce an eclectic volume like the 2011 Anthology, or any in the Press 53 Award series. Each category is judged by its own rock star, like Stefanie Freele, Chris Offut, and Sherrie Flick, and there is no theme or reason other than some desire for excellence. That sort of thing can’t work anymore, can it?

Looks like it can. Even without editorial consensus on the matter, the selections in the 2011 Press 53 Award Anthology are delightful. And curiously, they are united by the priority of image and immediacy. Here’s a quick sample of opening lines:

 Carson stood outside the barn and stared down at the dead dog.

                                                –from “Laid to Rest” by Ray Morrison

Stark, white-washed wood,

tin roofs; brick chimney-boxes

set squarely between two rooms.

                                                –from “Slaves’ Cabins” by Karen M. Peluso

The French Lieutenant and I are riding beside one another in a rattletrap, 30 year old, Soviet-made cargo helicopter.

                                    –from “The French Lieutennant’s iPod” by Ron Capps

Grady bears the black bullwhip coiled in one hand.

                                    –from “Wands” by Alexander Lumans

 How does he know, this man with the shovel? How does he know that this is the spot?

                                                –from “A Spot of Certain Darkness” by Kathleene Donahoo

Not that these are rude starts, but they are far from polite, and that’s a wonderful thing. The reader is located at once, after which comes the absorptive, emotional experience. It’s true, there isn’t much experiment going on in these pages, but there is a good amount of play, and an even greater amount of passion. You might even say that 2011 Press 53 Open Awards Anthology is unfashionably reader-oriented. Well then, good for Press 53, good for the prizewinners and runners up, and good for us.

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