Local author wins international writing contest

HoWL founder’s short story will be published in Irish paper on Dec. 28

Libby B. Bushell, local author and founder of youth outdoor experiential education nonprofit HoWL Inc., has won first prize in an international writing contest for her short story, “Homage to a Halibut Eye.”

“Homage to a Halibut Eye” will be published in the Irish Times on Thursday, Dec. 28.

Bushell submitted the piece to The Moth literary magazine in September, and was recently notified of her award. The Moth Nature Writing Prize is an “international honor” that comes with an award purse of 1,000 euros and a trip to France.

“I didn’t think I would win, honestly,” she told Homer News in a Dec. 22 interview. “So I’m quite tickled that I did.”

Bushell plans to travel to France in the coming fall for a writer’s retreat at The Circle of Missé, a residence for writers and artists located in the Loire Valley. The retreat is offered in partnership between The Moth and the residence.

“I’ll be there with other writers, workshopping and spending time writing,” she said.

“Homage to a Halibut Eye” is a short work of creative nonfiction, set on the Homer Spit on an unusually hot, sunny summer day. The story details the experiences of two dock workers whose daily chores include dealing with the overflowing fish carcass trailers. Through the text, the narrator, a self-described student of Zen, considers the relationship of coexistence in the world and ways of finding beauty and magnificence in the mundane or even the horrors of daily life.

Bushell said of this story that “some would consider it to be nature writing, others might not.”

“I think that local — like Alaskan — writing is inherently nature writing,” she said. “We Alaskans live in nature, so we’re always writing about nature. So to find a contest that’s specifically about nature writing, it just seemed like a good fit.”

Esteemed Scottish poet and essayist Kathleen Jamie, judge for the 2023 Moth Nature Writing Prize, said of Bushell’s writing, “This short story is revolting in its smells and its heat and fishy gore. A different sort of nature writing, literally visceral, it doesn’t tell us what to think but manages easily to horrify us with lived experience and first-hand knowledge of what we’re doing to the oceans.

“With a black humour, quick-fire dialogue and descriptions, and two characters trying to make some sort of spiritual sense of the world they are enmeshed in, if it doesn’t make you pause and consider what you’re eating and where it came from, nothing will,” Jamie said, according to The Moth’s website.

Bushell wrote “Homage to a Halibut Eye” for a college class she took while pursuing her bachelor’s degree at Colorado College, called “Buddhism in Contemporary Poetry.”

“I wrote this essay for the class, and then it’s sort of been buried in my computer files, and I hadn’t thought about it,” she said. “But just recently in September, I was talking to a friend about finding beauty in things that aren’t traditionally beautiful, and it reminded me of this essay. So I pulled it out and read it, and I let him read it, and we agreed that it was pretty good and maybe I should submit it somewhere. So I did.”

A fisherman herself, Bushell said she believes it is “worthwhile … paying attention to the food that we eat, particularly our fish, because that is what we eat so much of, here in Homer.”

While “Homage to a Halibut Eye” predates Bushell’s founding of HoWL, she said that the program’s core value of “caring for our planet, caring for our community, caring for each other” resonates in a roundabout way with the story.

Bushell’s other work has appeared in the Homer News, the Homer Tribune, Alaska Coast Magazine, The Cipher, the CC Bulletin, and The Leviathan, according to her website. Bushell’s short story, “Plantsicles,” was published as the winner of an Honorable Mention award for nonfiction in the 2009 Homer News writing contest.

Currently, Bushell is working to finish her first novel, a work of literary nonfiction about wild women and glaciers, entitled “Salty.”

“I am writing every day,” she said.

Learn more about Bushell at www.libbybbushell.com/.

Further information about “Homage to a Halibut Eye” or The Moth literary magazine is available at www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/2023/12/07/alaskan-author-libby-b-bushell-wins-the-moth-nature-writing-prize/ or themothmagazine.com/.

Libby Bushell is photographed in the summer of 2023, about to fillet some salmon. Photo by Kate Bushell

Libby Bushell is photographed in the summer of 2023, about to fillet some salmon. Photo by Kate Bushell