July 19, 2019

July 19, 2019


Doctoral Student Wins Pushcart Prize for Story

Dec. 2, 2014

Latoya Watkins

LaToya Watkins

The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses series, published every year since 1976, is one the most honored literary projects in America. The writers featured in the annual anthology are selected from more than 8,000 entries, each nominated by magazine and small-press editors.

Over the years, some of America’s best contemporary writers, such as Raymond Carver, Joyce Carol Oates and Tim O’Brien, have been featured in the collection. Now, joining the ranks of these literary greats is UT Dallas student LaToya Watkins.  

In her award-winning story, Watkins steps into the shoes of the mother of a religious cult leader: The elderly African-American mom speaks about how she remembered her son and his experiences as a child. The piece is aptly titled “The Mother.”

Set in West Texas, Watkins said she was inspired by the place her characters inhabited.

“A lot of stories in West Texas are about big money and oil; black people often become marginal. I wanted to explore the black, matriarchal experience in West Texas since it’s a place that never saw slavery firsthand. It was a place with imported segregation; that separation wasn’t forced, but understood,” said Watkins, a doctoral student in aesthetic studies.

Public Reading

LaToya Watkins will read her prize-winning story at the Fall Literary Festival at 6:30 p.m. Friday in the University Theatre. The festival is free and open to the public.

She credits her UT Dallas professors for her success, particularly Dr. Clay Reynolds, director of creative writing.

“I don’t think I would have become who I am as a writer without my teachers. I learned about character, plot, formatting a story. Each class built on the next while I found a voice,” Watkins said.

Reynolds said the Pushcart Prize is among the top honors any of his students have ever received.

“Ms. Watkins’ accomplishment is singularly remarkable, simply because a Pushcart Prize is just about the highest recognition a short-fiction writer can achieve in the United States. They are highly coveted awards and their authors frequently go on to extraordinary publishing careers,” he said.

Watkins is no stranger to writing accolades. In 2012, she placed first in the Graduate Fiction category of the Texas Association of Creative Writing Teachers Student Competition. As she finishes her PhD, she said her most recent award motivates her to write something even greater.

“It’s exciting to win this — I don’t know how I feel. It makes me feel like I have to perform. Now I have to do something more significant. There are many notable writers that started with the Pushcart, so winning pushes me,” Watkins said.

Ruminate Magazine, a quarterly of short stories, poetry, creative nonfiction and visual art originally published “The Mother” in 2013.

Media Contact: Chaz Lilly, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2158, [email protected]
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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