Remarks by Trevor Shikaze

On accepting the 2021 Anthony Veasna So Fiction Prize

Roman eagle in Petra Museum. Image via Library of Congress.

On Wednesday, May 26, n+1 presented its 2021 Writers Awards to Christina Nichol, recipient of the n+1 Writers’ Fellowship, and Trevor Shikaze, inaugural winner of the Anthony Veasna So Fiction Prize. The following speech was given by Shikaze; read Nichol’s here, and find a full recording of the awards ceremony, which was held via Zoom and hosted by Elif Batuman, below. Learn more about the n+1 Writers Awards and the 2021 recipients here

I want first off to say a bit about influence and inspiration. Anthony Veasna So is an inspiration to me. His characters, his observations, the window he gives onto an experience, his humor . . . This award is a huge boost for me. And I fully intend to use that boost. With a little luck, and a lot of hard work, I hope to turn that boost into a book.

I never knew Anthony. And so what I want to say is that you may never, ever know where your influence will land, or who it will boost. Which I think is a great inducement to keep working. I mention this in case anyone here is struggling, in case you are doubting why you do what you do—whatever it is that you do. Maybe you feel you aren’t seeing tangible results.

Influence is invisible. And we’re all connected. So there will be results. That’s what I’ve been thinking about since I learned of this award.

When I first learned of the award, I was truly surprised. I was as surprised as I would be if, out of the blue, I found out I’d won the Nobel Prize in Mathematics.Which would be surprising to me because a.) I am basically innumerate, and b.) There is no Nobel Prize in Mathematics—it’s a common misconception.

I was going to do that as a joke. I was going to say, “Which would be surprising to me because 1.) I am basically innumerate, and 3.) There is no Nobel Prize in Mathematics—it’s a common misconception.”

I didn’t make that joke because I worried people might not catch it, and then no one would laugh, or that people would catch it, but still no one would laugh, because they wouldn’t think it was very funny, or very original. And I worried that the Society for the Rights of the Innumerate would target me for making light of what is, after all, a serious disability, and they would denounce me on social media, and then other writers would pile on, for something to do, and then n+1 would be forced to repudiate my work and rescind the award, and everything would fall apart.

But then I thought—I am basically innumerate, and so I’m allowed to make that joke.

So you see how I second-guess myself. And then I second-guess the second-guesses. And so I live in a fractally infinite regress of doubt.

When my first story was accepted by n+1, I thought it must be a fluke. When my second story was accepted, I thought it must be a lapse in judgment. But when I read the writers I’ve been published alongside, I am forced to concede that the editors of n+1 have very, very good judgment. And so I though my agent must have slipped someone a bribe. You see how I would rather think the worst of people than accept that my writing has value? And yet here we are, and maybe I am in a position to take a leap of faith.

I tell you all this to give you a sense of what this award means to me, of what is at stake for me, and of the depth of my gratitude to the n+1 Foundation for this honor. Thank you to the magazine and everyone who works at the magazine for making room for me in your pages. In particular, thank you to Mark Krotov for welcoming and encouraging my writing, and for working with me through the editorial process.

I look forward to future reading, and future writing. There will be results. Thank you.

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