Four Questions with J. Michael Samuel Prize Winner Christopher Tradowsky
Author: Emmanuel Henderson
June 5, 2023
The J. Michael Samuel Prize honors emerging LGBTQ writers over the age of 50. The award is made possible by writer and philanthropist Chuck Forester, who created it out of the firmly held belief that “Writers who start late are just as good as other writers, it just took the buggers more time.” The prize is awarded to an unpublished LGBTQ writer over 50 working in any genre and includes a cash prize of $5,000.
Christopher Tradowsky is a writer, artist, and art historian. He lives in St. Paul, MN, and teaches art history at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. His short stories have appeared previously in Bloom, Callisto, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, The Cossack Review, and Harrington Gay Men’s Fiction Quarterly, among other venues. His criticism has appeared in the CAA Art Journal. You can see samples of his art and read more at christophertradowsky.com.
How has access to queer literature/queer stories impacted your life as a queer person and shaped you as a queer writer?
I believe strongly that writing—like all creative arts—doesn’t actually provide escape from the mundane world we live in, but expands it, adding whole dimensions that are as real as anything else we can dream up. In this way, Narnia or Middle Earth are as real as any number of human fabrications, large and small (capitalism, pickleball), benevolent or malign (humanism, trickle-down economics). For me it’s impossible to overstate the importance of queer stories, because they quite literally expand and queer the world, adding whole dimensions to it and inventing possibilities for life beyond normativity.
What’s your favorite part of the writing process (besides finishing)?
Like many writers, I have two general modes: I begin writing in an expansive, generative mode, then shift to a critical, reductive one. I think of the two modes as daydreaming and pruning. The first stage is my favorite, because when it’s flowing, it’s such a relief. It’s essentially daydreaming on the page, quite literally a dream manifested through language. Then I go back and prune the daydream, which can be a ruthless process, but there’s pleasure in it, too: paring the writing into a topiary that is suitable, shapely, and crucially—hopefully—still alive.
What’s your emotional support writing habit?
I have a handful of writer friends that I trust to give me feedback on different aspects of a project, at different stages. Many of them I’ve worked with in writing groups of various configurations—a steady writers’ group can be so motivating and inspiring. It’s taken many years to find the right people to trust in this way: friends who have an active writing practice, who understand what you’re working toward, who will offer honest feedback without undermining you, and who temper their criticism with a bit of emotional bolstering and cheerleading. Of course, it’s as much about giving support as getting it! Such friendships are rare and invaluable.
What’s next for you?
This is next! I’m so thrilled to have been awarded the Samuel Prize, and very grateful for the vote of confidence, because I’m right in the middle of the querying process. I have a novel to sell, and getting it out there requires persistence and diligence and skin thick as an alligator’s, which I definitely do not have. Being an “emerging writer”—at this point in my career and my life—I feel a bit like that Spanish woman who lived in a cave for 500 days and just recently resurfaced, dusty as Pig-Pen, ravenous for roast chicken, blinking in the sunlight. What’s next? Everything!