Winner and Finalists of ACM’s Nonfiction Contest

Shannaghe, Belfast, Maine

Paula Carter of Berwyn, Illinois, has won the Another Chicago Magazine nonfiction award for her essay “Correction Lines.” The award includes publication and a residency at Shannaghe in Belfast, Maine. Carter is the author of the flash memoir collection No Relation, and her essays have appeared in the New York Times and the Kenyon Review,

Runner-up is Melanie Ritzenthaler of Lincoln, Nebraska, for her personal essay “Little Mothers.” Her work has appeared in Guernica, Ninth Letter and the Colorado Review.

Mitchell Johnson of Chicago placed third for “Callahan (An Excerpt).” He is a graduate student in nonfiction in Northwestern University’s Litowitz MFA+MA program. He has published in the Drift and N+1.

Michael Martone of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, received honorable mention for his contemplation of the nature of significance, “Proximity Memoirs.” Martone is the author of dozens of books and chapbooks, the most recent of which is Plain Air: Sketches from Winesburg, Indiana.

 Entries were read anonymously by five readers. The final selection was made by S.L. Wisenberg, author of The Wandering Womb: Essays in Search of Home, and three other books, and editor of ACM.  Readers were nonfiction writers Ellen Blum Barish, Jeanie Chung, Caitlin Garvey, Michael Lenehan, and Lee Reilly. Here’s what they had to say about the winning pieces:


“Correction Lines” by Paula Carter

How does the past shape us? Can we separate ourselves from the land we come from—and from the ancestors who made their own mark on the land? In this essay, Paula Carter weaves an intricate tapestry of family history and connections—which include a prairie farmer–and traces resonances to the present day.

What is being/has been corrected? Carter asks, as she unwinds deeply embedded roots. A Greek chorus assists her. “We have to get our story straight,” they sing. “George tried to hit her with a hammer.” 

Carter’s essay wrestles with the nature of narrative, definitions of the personal and the political, and the very idea of forward, with grace, momentum, and intelligence. 

Second Place

“Little Mothers” by Melanie Ritzenthaler

Auditions to play Mary, the mother of God. A homework assignment listing favorite saints (just one of whom was a mother). A grainy abortion film shown in a priest’s house, a sister who births a child out of “wedlock,” a mother whose body is permanently altered by birth and miscarriage. At the center of this: an unflinching writer examining her own body and relation to sexuality, motherhood, identity. Was she born as she is? Was she made by her family? By the Catholic Church?  

This essay is not born—it’s crafted with care and woven with curiosity, humor, insight, and courage. It searches for its own language. It reaches on behalf of those who do not “fit.” It is made beautifully.

Third Place

“Callahan, An Excerpt” by Mitchell Johnson

 “On the morning of January 6, 1947, all of us students arrived at school to see a man hanging from a telephone pole across the road from the school. He had a calf hide wrapped around his body, and had been shot with a rifle after being lynched,” Edward J. Begley posts on a slew of online groups, trying to locate grade school classmates who could attest. This isn’t Begley’s first post about the lynching (which was unconfirmed)—his posts span years. 

In “Callahan,” the author begins digging into the legitimacy of this Edward J. Begley—who is now deceased—while also questioning the ethics of doing so. I believe this project will yield something significant. I can’t wait to find out what exactly that will mean—for both Begley and the author.  

Honorable Mention

“Proximity Memoirs: Minor Memoirs of a Minor Writer,” by Michael Martone

Closely observed tiny moments with famous people, at least those famous in the literary world: sharing an office phone with a Nobel Laureate, being dismissed by a poet because he writes fiction, discussing trains with Adrienne Rich. These are not pieces that brag about proximity to the famous. They are glimpses that ask, Was this important? Does this matter? They are closely observed, wry, sometimes deadpan, and absurd—as the time Mary Ruefle shows Martone a tooth stuck to a wall, and he struggles to locate it again when he’s by himself. By examining a brief encounter, Martone asks us to think about what’s significant about the seemingly insignificant, and what celebrity means.