Willow Books Literature Awards


The Willow Books Literature Awards Suspended

We regret to announce that due to the current global crisis, the Willow Books Literature Awards are suspended until further notice. We thank all of our contributors and judges.

Our Awards Winners and Open Reading Selections Continue to Reach National & International Acclaim!
Cindy Williams Gutierrez, Finalist, 2019 Latino International Book Awards
Loreen Lilyn Lee, 2019 Writers Hotel, NYC Feature
Rachelle Linda Escamilla, 2018 Library of Congress Fellow
Angela Narciso Torres, 2019 W.B. Yeats Society Feature
Rich Villar, 2018 Lincoln Center Feature
Sokunthary Svay, 2018 Poets House Feature; American Opera Projects Fellow; Featured Author, Cambodia
Elmaz Abinader, Honoree, RAWI Arab Writers Organization (2018)
Vanessa Hua, Winner, 2017 Asian Pacific Librarians Association; Finalist, 2017 California Book Awards; California One City, One Book
Lucinda Roy, 2017 Smithsonian Institution Feature
Angie Chuang, 2015 Bronze Medalist, IPA; 2016 Feature, Montreal, Quebec & Rwanda, Africa


Media Release 2017-2018 Willow Books Literature Awards


The Lava Never Sleeps: A Honolulu Memoir (Grand Prize Winner, Prose)

Currently tutoring English and writing at North Seattle College, Loreen Lilyn Lee is a Seattle writer fascinated by topics of personal and cultural identity and how we are shaped into becoming who we are. She has been shaped by three cultures: Chinese (ethnicity), American (nationality), and Hawaiian (nativity). Awards include fellowships for a Hedgebrook residency and the year-long Jack Straw Writers Program. Her personal essay “Being Local” was published in The 2014 Jack Straw Writers Anthology. She has read her work in numerous public venues in Seattle and Portland, including being selected for performing in Listen To Your Mother, produced in 41 cities in 2016. A graduate from the University of Washington, Loreen credits completing her college degree as a working adult as the catalyst to becoming a creative writer.

Judge’s Statement:

“The Lava Never Sleeps is a memoir filled with strong prose and an ear for how the texture of a life can create music and meaning. Toggling between intensely personal and public events, Lava captures something of a moment.” –Reginald Dwayne Betts

VERNITA HALL, Philadelphia, PA

Where William Walked (Grand Prize Winner, Poetry)

Vernita Hall’s Where William Walked won the 2017 Robert Creeley Prize for finalists. The Hitchhiking Robot Learns About Philadelphians won the 2016 Moonstone Chapbook Contest. Hall placed second in American Literary Review‘s Creative Nonfiction Contest, and second runner-up for the Los Angeles Review Nonfiction Award. Poetry and essays appear or are forthcoming in numerous journals, including Atlanta Review, Philadelphia Stories, Referential, Mezzo Cammin, Canary, African American Review, and anthologies Forgotten Women (Grayson Books), Not Our President (Third World Press), Dear America: Reflections on Race (Geeky Press), Boundaries and Borders (Women of Color), and Collateral Damage (Pirene’s Fountain). A LaSalle University alumna, she holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Rosemont College and serves on the poetry review board of Philadelphia Stories.

Judge’s Statement:

“Sometimes reclaiming the lives of a people has to come one city, one block, one doorstep at a time. Where William Walked harbors and reclaims Philadelphia’s lost brethren. Crowned with unnamed mercies, women’s sorrows and belonging, it’s a Pandora’s box of art and history. It interrogates faith and forgiveness, formality and freedom, inserting some of the missing and rewriting the narratives few know with an ‘inflamed hope for colored folk.’”—Remica Bingham-Risher

Photo by Russell J. Young

 Cindy Williams Gutiérrez, Oregon City, OR

 Inlay with Nacre: The Names of Forgotten Women  (Finalist & Editor’s Choice)

Poet-dramatist Cindy Williams Gutiérrez draws inspiration from the silent and silenced voices of history and herstory. A recipient of the 2017 Oregon Book Award for Drama and of the inaugural Oregon Literary Fellowship for Writers of Color in 2016, Cindy was selected by Poets & Writers Magazine as a 2014 Notable Debut Poet. Her poetry collection, the small claim of bones (Bilingual Press), won second place in the 2015 International Latino Book Awards. Her poems have appeared in Borderlands, Calyx, Harvard’s Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México’s Periódico de poesía, Portland Review, Quiddity, and ZYZZYVA, and have been anthologized in Basta: 100+ Latinas Against Gender Violence (University of Nevada-Reno) and Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workspace (Lost Horse Press). She has performed her Aztec-inspired poems accompanied by pre-Columbian music at Northwest colleges, museums, and libraries through Humanities Washington Inquiring Mind series. A founder of Los Porteños, Portland’s Latino writers’ collective, Cindy has also served as Board President of Milagro Theatre. Cindy is the founder of Grupo de ’08, a Lorca-inspired, collaborative-artists’ salon featuring Northwest literary, visual, and performing artists.



Sahar Mustafah, Code of the West (previously titled, “Life, Move Leisurely”)

A child of Palestinian immigrants, Sahar Mustafah is drawn to stories of “others”—Arab and Muslim Americans deemed disparate from the larger racial society. Her work has appeared in The Bellevue Literary Review, Story, Great Lakes Review, and Chicago Literati. She is co-founder and fiction editor of Bird’s Thumb. www.saharmustafah.com.


Gustavo Adolf Aybar, We Seek Asylum

Aybar holds an MA in Romance Languages & Literature and is a Cave Canem and Artist Inc. fellow. His work can be found in Primera Pagina: Poetry from the Latino Heartland. Aybar also translated work by Mexican author/playwright Glafira Rocha; some can be found in Asymptote, EZRA and InTranslation journals.

2016 Judges: 

Tyehimba Jess, Poetry

 Ravi Howard, Prose

View Their Finalist Videos here!

Aybar photo
Gustavo Adolfo Aybar
Sahar Mustafah

Congratulations to Vanessa Hua, 2015 Grand Prize Winner in Prose for

The Responsibility of Deceit 

2015 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award Winner Vanessa Hua is a writer and journalist whose work has appeared in The Atlantic, Zyzzyva, Kweli Journal, Guernica, New York Times, FRONTLINE/World, and elsewhere. Previously, she was a staff writer at the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, and Hartford Courant and has filed stories from China, Burma, South Korea, and Panama. She was a 2013-14 Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing and 2014 recipient of the San Francisco Foundation’s James D. Phelan Award for fiction. http://www.vanessahua.com/about-me/


 Grand Prize for Prose

David Garvin

David Garvin, New York, White Sun: Stories from Hispanoamérica

White Sun: Stories from Hispanoamerica is a sprawling narrative in tapestry form, made up of stories interwoven from the various threads that make up the journeys of a cast of lost souls as filtered through the point of view of a self-exiled American in Amazonian Mexico. He is going deep in country because “My draft number was coming up back there and I was moving a lot closer to Vietnam than I ever wanted to be….”  We follow his narrative as he learns how to live as an integral part of a Mexican fishing village near Merida, with its hard-working and hard-living inhabitants, and its motley crew of ex-pats. Richard, known as Ricardo by the locals, is the Heart of Darkness-like evasive narrator who guides us through the layers of Progreso, the poverty-stricken seaside pueblo that sometimes resembles one of the circles in Dante’s hell, and other times evokes a panorama of breathtaking natural beauty; where saints and sinners live precarious lives in between uneasy truces, witnessing the daily breakdowns and reconstructions of thin walls between good and evil. Through constant self-questioning, Ricardo begins to understand himself, and we, along with him, discover the reasons for his attraction to this land of juxtaposed hopeless turmoil and glorious promise. This author writes with insight and tenderness about the complex reality of unanchored lives, “of being in a place belonging to no place,” while at the same time involving us in a wholly entrancing tale of the endless cycle of loss and redemption that can turn a community of strangers into a sanctuary. –Judith Ortiz Cofer

Grand Prize for Poetry

Rachelle Escamilla, California, Imaginary Animal

Rachelle Escamilla

This isn’t just a scientific question, but a poetic one: How does the body make sense of data? Imaginary Animal is a compendium of lyric fragments of memory, fact, desire, the sensual and the sensory. While we’re conditioned to distort or completely tune out the role of immigrant workers in the United States, the untitled lyrics of Imaginary Animal are precisely calibrated to recognize and meditate upon a nations laborers. The poems are energized by voice, perspective and consciousness. which are constantly shifting and transforming. While America, with its terabytes-per-second flow of information, largely constructs a single narrative of immigrant workers, this book stitches together a very sophisticated portrait – juxtaposing the public and the private, the imperative and the interrogative. There are beautiful, subtle recurrences of deployment (military perhaps), directions on how to reap vegetables, border crossing – that provide a kind of cinematic metronome to the poems. They anchor the dream of the Imaginary Animal. The title comes from the Raúl Zurita epigraph: “Hoy laceamos este animal imaginario / que por el color blanco “ or “Today we tie up this imaginary animal / that ran freely through the color white .” The Animal is the human; and the imaginary of the title is the American Imaginary. This is an ambitious and loving attempt to make us see both with profound complexity and a greater sense of justice.  –Patrick Rosal



2013 Prose Grand Prize Winner:  Angie Chuang, Washington, DC

The Four Words for Home 

2013 Poetry Grand Prize Winner:  Angela Narciso Torres, Glenview, IL

Blood Orange

2013 Editor’s Choice Award Winner:  Rich Villar, Pearl River, NY

Comprehending Forever


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