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Maier Award Winner Jackson Armstrong

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Marshall University alumnus and administrative secretary in the English Department, Jackson Armstrong, recently became the first place recipient in the fiction category of the Maier Awards.

Originally from Kenova, Armstrong is a graduate from Spring Valley High School and Marshall University. Armstrong graduated from Marshall University in 2016, majoring in creative writing.

“I was music, and then I was history, then I was in the College of Science for a semester because I don’t know why. I don’t know what I was thinking. And then I switched to English eventually, or creative writing,” Armstrong said. “I started reading McSweeney’s and I just wanted to write funny stuff. I guess it’s literary humor, is what you would call McSweeney’s. And I read a book by a comedian that I really liked, and I was like, I could do this I think, and so I tried to give it a shot and I enjoyed it.”

Armstrong said he believes his writing talent comes from mimicry of reading other authors’ works. He also began reading from literary magazines more.

“I started reading ‘The New Yorker’ a lot to try and absorb as much as I could because I had these stories, just these two and that’s really it,” Armstrong said. “I didn’t think I read enough and so I decided to dedicate my time towards just trying to do that.”

Armstrong’s story that was nominated for the Maier Awards is titled “Lindsey Then” and was nominated by professor John Van Kirk for the awards.

“It’s about a girl named Joanne looking back on driving with her girlfriend of the time when they were younger and they are looking at houses and making jokes about them,” Armstrong said.

“The idea behind it when I first started writing it was that I wanted it to be a little funny and I wanted it hopefully to be sad. I think it is pretty sad, but it’s not overtly so.”

Armstrong said in this particular story there is a lot of subtext other than the message that is presented on the surface.

“The idea was that a couple driving going, ‘that house is cool,’ and by talking about the houses, all you’re saying is ‘the house is cool,’ or ‘yes, the house is cool,’ to each other,” Armstrong said. “By even acknowledging that there’s the subtext of ‘I want to live with you in a house one day.’ And that was pretty much the idea, even though it’s not addressed.”

Ottessa Moshfegh is someone Armstrong has cited as an influence and a writer he admires.

“I read all of her short stories in ‘The Paris Review.’ I read the three she’s got in ‘The New Yorker,’” Armstrong said.

Armstrong said his story is about 2,000 words, or seven pages, double spaced. Armstrong said his story is getting published around November in a magazine called “The Delmarva Review.”

Armstrong said he specifically picked “The Delmarva Review” for a particular reason.

“Joanne and Lindsey are related in my mind to Delmarva for various reasons,” Armstrong said. “Spatially, the story reminds me of that area and so I thought it was nice that they picked it up.”

Armstrong said he worked on this particular story for what feels like a very long time.

“It feels like from the beginning to the end of linear time,” Armstrong said. “It feels like it’s been forever. I wrote it for my thesis and I work shopped it in Professor Van Kirk’s class, which is why I was eligible (for the Maier Awards), and it was different then and I’ve been tweaking it ever since on and off kind of obsessively.”

While Armstrong said he is an exception and does not intentionally write things to be published in literary magazines, he said he has noticed there is almost a formulaic nature to writing for literary magazines.

“To me, it almost feels like pop music to a certain extent in that there is a formula that certain people have certain preferences and like certain things,” Armstrong said. “And certain journals have preferences also, and they have an aesthetic or what they want, and you can read it and kind of piece together kind of like a pop song a formula that might work for them. And I suppose if you do okay, you can get it published, and I mean, that’s not entirely how it is. Part of me wishes maybe it was that simple.”

Matthew Groves can be contacted at [email protected]

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