I’m pleased to crow that my narrative essay “A Dry Year” has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. The essay appeared in 2009 in Chautauqua, an annual literary journal published by the Chautauqua Institution. The essay is about rebuilding a pond during a summer of biblical plagues—drought, heat, locusts, a cataclysmic storm, a flood—with a legendary Appalachian excavator. The man, in his mid-seventies at the time, was rumored to have killed a young woman in a drunken-driving accident some fifty years before.
William was about impossible to get, everyone said. And here I was a newcomer, a flatlander, who needed a dam reshaped and a gully below it filled. But I figured such a man, who moved earth to make crooked places straight and rough ways smooth, was worth pursuing. So I called William and he came. . . .
He knew our land. As a boy, he’d dragged raccoon pelts in a burlap sack behind his pony all around our farm, leaving scent for hound trials. We walked through the pastures and our pants got soaked past our knees by dew—the grasses were that tall, despite the drought. When we came to a metal gate, overgrown and rusted shut, we paused—I thought. It was a natural break at the top of a rise, a place to catch our breath. William was beside me and I was looking dreamily across the farm when, from the corner of my eye, I saw him melt over the gate. His movement was quick but unhurried, fluid and silent. He’d shown me a rural skill I hadn’t even known existed. He must have defeated many such hurdles during his days and nights roving these hills. It was as if he’d entered another dimension before my eyes. I wanted to see it again. I knew how I climbed the farm’s arthritic gates: slowly, precariously, and with flailing, middle-aged effort.
Pushcart winners appear in The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses, a series published every year since 1976, according to their web site, and “is the most honored literary project in America.”
Being nominated means that a journal’s editors, who want prizes as much as any writer, think an essay, story, or poem is good enough to gamble away part of their Pushcart-entry lineup on. I’m bragging because that’s what nominees do. Winning is an extreme long shot, but getting noticed is better than a cold bowl of chili.