June 21, 2017
Excited is an understatement when it comes to the emotion that followed Texas Tech doctoral student Kate Osana Simonian after she received news that her short story, "Le Problem Being," won the Chicago Tribune's Nelson Algren Literary Award.
"I was in shock. I didn't sleep all night and I don't think I slept the night after either," Simonian said.
Held annually since 1981, the Nelson Algren short story contest drew 3,900 entries this year and awarded $3,500 to the grand prize winner. "Le Problem Being" follows 33-year-old Tracey Davis and her parents on a family vacation to France six months after her engagement is called off, focusing on how Tracey deals with her depression and diagnosis as HIV-positive.
Simonian said the idea for the story came to her after a trip to France with her parents. Using what she knew from her travel experience gave her a base to draw on in creating the characters and the plot.
"It's kind of like me but lifted off reality," Simonian said. "As you write it, it takes a different form and the character becomes different from what your character is. I never worked for a legal firm, I'm not HIV-positive, I was never dumped by my fiancée, none of these things have happened."
Giving her character HIV was also Simonian's way of addressing the stigma around those who have sexually transmitted diseases and how it affects mental health.
"That's the one thing I realized, the worse thing about HIV is not the health effects, because they can be effectively mitigated now ... it's the internalization of the social stigma that already exists," Simonian said. "I feel so much for people who are HIV-positive. It just breaks my heart."
The Texas Tech Department of English has been thrilled about Simonian's accomplishment, with Jacqueline Kolosov, director of the creative writing program speaking of Simonian highly.
"Not only is she wildly talented, her talent is quirky, smart, hilarious and edgy in an unpretentious way. That pretty much says a great deal about Kate," Kolosov said. "I have not had the opportunity to work with her in class, but she is an individual who can be counted on. She has staying power, and in the writing game, that makes a really big difference."
Simonian, an Australian native, earned degrees from the University of Sydney and University of Technology Sydney before moving to the United Stated in 2012 to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Brooklyn College in New York. She is a Presidential Fellow and in her second year of her English doctoral program in prose at Texas Tech.