FIERCE: Essays by and About Dauntless Women, a unique memoir project devoted to underrepresented women from history, is the grand-prize winner of the first-ever BookLife Prize Nonfiction Contest. The prize received hundreds of submissions in the categories of Memoir/Autobiography, Business/Personal Finance, Self-Help/Relationships, and Inspirational/Spiritual. All books received a professional Critic’s Report written by a PW reviewer.
BookLife editor Matia Madrona Query commented on the broad range of submissions to the prize, saying "from self-help to memoir, the books submitted represent the extraordinary efforts of independent authors to bring their ideas and voices to the world."
Earlier this year, the 48 highest scoring books advanced to the quarterfinals and PW editors selected the top 20 semifinalists. Next, our guest judges (successful, traditionally published authors), selected the four finalists. Our grand-prize winner was selected based on its overall merit, with particular focus on its originality and the high quality of writing. According to guest judge Anya Yurchyshyn, "The 13 essays in FIERCE are as bold and unique as the women that inspired them. The book is more than a celebration of a diverse group of activists, agitators, and iconoclasts whose lives and accomplishments have largely been ignored by history—it’s an examination of the systematic oppression that led to this erasure and continues to exclude women to this day." In an earlier interview, PW spoke to Karyn Kloumann, who edited the book. Stay tuned for an Indie Success feature about FIERCE to appear in the magazine.
Tell me the story behind the FIERCE project.
FIERCE is a passion project with a 10-year incubation period. After working professionally at Condé Nast for many years, losing my job, and then founding and building up Nauset Press, I decided it was time to go for it. I envisioned a brilliant anthology by writers with heart and soul—but not at the expense of their sharp intelligence. It took an additional three years to develop, write, edit, illustrate, copyedit, proofread, design, and produce FIERCE. Essays and illustrations were revised and polished over and over again to perfectly calibrate the book as a cohesive whole.
How did you select the subjects and the contributors?
I contacted writers I admired who were not available for book-length projects but willing to write an essay, and posted in an enormous Facebook group called “Calls for Submissions (Poetry, Fiction, Art).” I was seeking a diversity of life experiences, by geography, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation; the connector was going to be each writer’s passion, curiosity, and outstanding writing about her subject.
FIERCE offers such a unique approach to memoir, serving more as a vital chorus of voices and communications than standalone pieces about women’s lives. Could you discuss how you decided to structure these life stories in the way you did?
The memoir component is critical to helping the reader to bridge and understand how and why the biographies of these overlooked women matter today. Additionally, asking each writer to choose a single word to describe their broad direction ensured that each essay would have its own unique arc and positioning within the whole, yet also subtly unites each distinctive narrative within the group. The thing I am most proud of is how each individual essay shines radiantly but also works harmoniously as part of the firmament that is FIERCE, investigating issues that affected women in the past that still resonate with and effect us today.