We Have a Winner :: The 2023 Big Moose Prize

The final results of the 2023 Big Moose Prize are in! And the winning manuscript is The Forest for the Trees by Leslie Li.




It had been a couple of weeks since Denise trained Bert to hew to a schedule of maximum toilet training in a minimum of time and space. Especially after she returned home from school. Lorraine knew something was up because, after her sister attached the leash to Bert’s collar, Denise always called out, too loudly:


Upon which Denise led Bert out the back door straight to Nai-nai’s sandbox garden where he immediately defecated on one bok-choy plant, then peed on its closest neighbor.

“Bingo! Two birds with one turd. C’mon. That’s long enough of a walk for you.”

She tied him to the dogwood tree at the edge of the sandbox where he could lie in its shade and cool his stomach in the hole he’d dug while gnawing on the pacifying bone she’d given him. She climbed the big backyard hill, passed the ledge, entered the woods, passed their childhood hideouts and clubhouses to where civilization ended and where there was nothing but trees. When she was close enough to startle, Douglas stepped out from behind one of them. She never knew which one among so many, so she always was startled.

“Shhh,” he whispered, wagging a pack of cigarettes in front of her eyes.

They found a tree suitable for climbing—there were already a chosen few but they liked to “go out on a limb” and look for yet another to add to their list of challenging but scalable specimens. They sat on separate branches not too far off the ground, smoking, rarely speaking between puffs. Denise flicked the butt of her finished cigarette away and began to climb higher.

“Hey, where do think you’re going?”

“Where you can’t follow me. You weigh more. The bough will break.”

“And down will come baby, cradle and all,” he sang.

She climbed higher. She wanted him to admire her agility, her daring. But what he wanted was for her to stop climbing. So he tried a different tune:

“I see England. I see France. I see Denny’s underpants.”

Which wasn’t true, since she’d changed from her school clothes into blue jeans. He just wanted her to stop going any higher. She continued to climb. The branches supported her.

“That’s high enough. Coming down is a lot harder—with more chance of a slip—than going up.”

She smiled down at him and climbed higher.

“Denise!” he yelled, making nearby birds take flight.


Leo started making his way down from the top of the ladder Lorraine was holding steady against the front façade of the house. For the last hour, he’d been trimming branches from one of the sumac trees. When he reached the bottom rung, he set the saw down and wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his arm. He gazed at the littered ground, pleased with his handiwork, and lit up a cigarette. The shower he looked forward to was well-deserved and much-needed.

“Go find your sister. I want her to come shopping with me.”

When Lorraine entered their bedroom, Denise was changing from her leaf-stained, sap- sticky clothes.

“Daddy’s taking a shower. He wants you to go shopping with him,” Lorraine said, flopping onto her bed.

Denise made a face, sat down at the vanity and spritzed herself liberally with toilette water. “Again? You go.”

“I went last time. To Yonkers. Remember? Where that Chinese man raises chickens in his garage.” Lorraine rolled onto her back. “You reek…”

“Prince Matchabelli.” Denise opened her mouth wide and gave the perfume bulb a firm squeeze.

“…of cigarettes,” Lorraine concluded.

Denise whirled around, eyes narrowed, nostrils flared. “If you say anything…”

“I won’t tell. Besides, Daddy won’t even smell it. People who walk around in a cloud of cigarette smoke the way Daddy does can’t smell a thing.”



Leslie Li is the author of the novel BITTERSWEET (Tuttle Publishing), the culinary memoir DAUGHTER OF HEAVEN (Arcade Publishing), and JUST US GIRLS (Four Seasons Press), the official companion book to her forthcoming feature-length documentary, THE KIM LOO SISTERS, currently in post-production.

Her awards include the 2023 Big Moose Prize, a Tennessee Williams Scholarship in Fiction, and grants from the Freeman Foundation, New York State Council for the Arts, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and the Chinese Heritage Foundation. THE KIM LOO SISTERS was one of the five finalists in The Paley Center for Media Doc Pitch in 2015 and was given private preview screenings in Washington, DC, Chicago, New York, the Twin Cities, San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Boston.

Her personal essays and feature articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, Gourmet, Saveur, Travel & Leisure, Garden Design, Modern Maturity, Dorothy Parker’s Ashes, and other print and online publications.

Her début novel and culinary memoir have been translated into five languages. She lives in New York City.


The Forest for the Trees will be published in September of 2024. To see the full list of the 2023 Big Moose Prize finalists, click here.