When Tomas Baiza checked his email and saw a response from the Bacopa Literary Review, he remembered thinking it was just another rejection.
“Rejection is the norm,” Baiza said. “It’s really common for me to just delete all the way down the line and not even read an email.”
However, when he opened the email, he was shocked. The 54-year-old writer, had won first place in the 2021 fiction category for his short story “Huitzilin.”
“It’s one thing for a place to accept your story and say we liked it, we’d like to publish it,” Baiza said. “It’s another thing for a published journal to say we liked it enough to make it the award winning entry.”
Baiza is one of the writers who will be reading his work at the Bacopa Literary Review’s live Zoom reading on Oct. 10 from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. Some of the prizewinners, members of the Writers Alliance of Gainesville and local literary enthusiasts will read and discuss this year’s edition.
The Bacopa Literary Review is an annual literary publication created by the Writers Alliance of Gainesville (WAG), an organization that promotes and encourages aspiring and regional writers. The Writers Alliance of Gainesville was established in 2009 by writers Wendy Thornton and Kal Rosenburg, and the organization has since expanded to become a group of more than 150 individuals. The organization regularly hosts writing critique pods for members and free public meetings, and it sponsors the annual Sunshine State Book Festival.
Their literary review has been publishing since 2010 and accepts submissions from around the world. This year, first place prize winners received $300 and second place prize winners received $100 in each of the four core genres: fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry and prose poetry.
Baiza said his story originally started as a poem about hummingbirds but quickly evolved into a short story.
“Hummingbirds and native Mexican tradition carry a lot of symbolic weight, and I associate hummingbirds with my son who passed away in 2005,” Baiza said. “In writing this story, I really was sort of delving into a lot of those feelings.
Mary Bast, 83, the editor-in-chief of the Bacopa Literary Review since 2016, said she is looking forward to the Zoom reading event.
“Last year was our first Zoom reading, and I actually could start crying just telling you about it,” Bast said. “It was so beautiful, so touching for people from various locations to be reading work that was obviously, personally, deeply meaningful for them. That’s what I look forward to again.”
Bast said in each issue, a theme emerges from the submitted writing.
“What’s exciting for us as editors is to see the ways in which, and through years, the writers and poets that send us their submissions reflect the themes of the times,” Bast said.
This year, she said the theme of mourning and motif of birds were predominant.
“It’s not that every single piece is about mourning, but it’s really about how to—not literally, but metaphorically—how to deal with all the losses and grief that we’re feeling worldwide,” Bast said.
Alec Kissoondyal, a 25-year-old Gainesville native and UF English major, submitted his short story “Smudge” to the Bacopa Literary Review after seeing an email from the college department. His story is about the end of a relationship and two people going their separate ways.
“I think the primary theme of the story is, kind of, mourning and maybe not overcoming a traumatic event, but coming to terms with it and getting a different perspective on it,” Kissoondyal said.
At the Zoom event, Kissoondyal plans to read some of his short story, and he said he is looking forward to hearing other people read their stories as well.
As a past member of WAG, Kissoondyal said his involvement with the organization helped him become a better writer.
“I think WAG does a great job [in] its outreach and making sure that writers have an outlet to be able to express themselves,” Kissoondyal said. “I think it’s wonderful that they’re a resource in the community.”
Nicole Farmer, 58, of Ashville, North Carolina, won the first prize in the 2021 prose poetry category for her poem “car wash orgasmic whirl.” Her experience going through a car wash machine gave her inspiration for her stream of consciousness style poem, she said.
“When I go to the car wash, it is a religious experience for me,” Farmer said. “I put my car seat way back… like in a rocket ship, and I usually just rock out to the blues.”
She found the Bacopa Literary Review contest through Submittable, a popular submissions portal for writers and creators to use. This is the first award she has won for her writing, she said, and she is looking forward to speaking at the Zoom event.
“It’s just such a satisfying thing to win a prize as an artist,” Farmer said. “It’s so good for the soul.”
Poetry Editor and Associate Editor J.N. Fishhawk said he read over a thousand poems for this year’s poetry submission. As an editor, he helps select the poems that will go into the review, and also helps determine the prizewinners with the other editors. Once the selections have been made for the publication, Fishhawk helps with any editorial issues.
Fishhawk will become the Bacopa Literary Review’s editor in chief starting the 2022 issue. He said he respects the work of the founders of the organization and the local literary scene.
“It’s really important to me that Bacopa keeps going forward and continues to put out the kind of quality and the sort of wide ranging international content that we’ve been putting out in recent years,” Fishhawk said. “At the same time, it’s really important to me that we publish as much good quality material from local and regional writers as well.”
Fishhawk said he wants to help keep Gainesville’s name on the map of the literary world.
“If I can make a contribution to that effort, through editing Bacopa, I am thrilled to be able to do so; it’s a privilege,” Fishhawk said.