The editors of Witness are pleased to announce the winners and runners-up of the first Witness Literary Awards in Fiction and Poetry.

Poetry judge Hanif Abdurraqib has selected Sophia Stid’s poem “Apophatic Ghazal” as the first-place winner and Renia White’s poem “lump” as the runner-up.

Fiction judge Lesley Nneka Arimah has selected Jane Pek’s story “The Nine-Tailed Fox Explains” as the first-place winner and John Tait’s story “The Kristian Vang Fan Club” as the runner-up.

Winners and runners-up will be published in the spring 2019 issue of Witness.

About the winners:

Sophia Stid is a writer from California. Currently in the MFA program at Vanderbilt University, she has received fellowships from the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets and Sewanee Writers’ Conference. She is the winner of the 2017 Francine Ringold Award for New Writers. Her poems can be found in Image, Beloit, Nimrod, Ninth Letter, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and Crab Orchard Review, among others.

Jane Pek is originally from Singapore and now lives in New York. Her work has appeared in the Brooklyn Review, where it was nominated for the PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers. She holds a BA from Yale University, where she received the Meeker Freshman Prize for Poetry, and an MFA (Fiction) from Brooklyn College, where she received the Lainoff Prize and the Himan Brown Award for Creative Writing. She is currently working on a novel about an unusual detective agency and the algorithm-aided quest for contemporary love.

About the runners-up:

Renia White is a poet from the east coast. She earned her BA from Howard University and her MFA from Cornell University. She’s taught writing of different forms, has received awards from the Hurston/Wright Foundation and Sonora Review, and has been a finalist for the 1/2 K Prize, the Mary C. Mohr Award, the Pocataligo Prize, and other honors. Her work appears or is forthcoming in The Offing, Prelude, Tahoma Literary Review, Slice, Ruminate, Poetry Daily, and elsewhere. She lives in New York City.

John Tait’s stories have appeared in journals such as TriQuarterly, Crazyhorse, Fiction, Prairie Schooner, and The Sun and have been anthologized in The Crazyhorse 50th Anniversary Issue and New Stories from the Southwest. His work has won four national awards including the Tobias Wolff Award and the H.E. Francis Award for Fiction. He is an Associate Professor of fiction writing at the University of North Texas.

Contest Finalists


Jody Chan, “last summer”
Trace DePass, “[requiem] for colored boys who have considered jumping off the Brooklyn
Bridge & into an eternal wave of depression when Mick Jenkins ‘Waters’ Mixtape wasn’t enough”
Teresa Dzieglewicz, “There are no police in this poem”
Benjamin Grossberg, “In the Days Before Sumter”
Geetha Iyer, “Meaningful Symbols Placed in Meaningful Places”
David Koehn, “Delta 18”
Matthew MacFarland, “Poem I Cannot Title”
Meghann Plunkett, “Beyond Nature”
Sasha Mariel Prevost, “The Survey Asks Have You Ever Been A Victim of Intimate Partner Violence?


Brian Clark, “St. Claire”
Dewaine Farria, “There is No Morality Outside the Tribe”
Rickey Fayne, “Now and Then”
Michael Kaplan, “Auditioning for Touch”
LaTanya McQueen, “What We Lost”
Shubha Sunder, “Final Exam”
Leah Velez, “Sink Lady”
John Van Kirk, “Missing and Presumed Dead”

Thank you to our judges, congratulations to the winners, and thanks to all who submitted work; we received many more submissions than anticipated, and spent time with so many excellent stories and poems, making this year’s selection process very difficult! We look forward to reading your work for the 2020 contest, which will open for submissions in August.