We Have a Winner :: The 2022 Big Moose Prize

The final results of the 2022 Big Moose Prize are in! And the winning manuscript is…

Down Here We Come Up by Sara Johnson Allen

Down Here We Come Up exposes the connection, specifically in eastern North Carolina, between rural poverty, drug trafficking, and violence. Exploring the complexities of what happens to people caught in an area of cultural transition dictated by economic forces, the story focuses on complicated mother-child relationships further strained by the weight of poverty, race, and immigration status. Down Here We Come Up is the story of three women who have lost connection with their children in different ways, through alienation, adoption, and across a militarized border. The women’s lives intersect in a “safe house” for migrant workers outside of Wilmington, North Carolina.



Jackie Jessup’s apology to her daughter Kate refused to get lost in the stagnant air of her death. It rustled the tobacco leaves in the field beside her bungalow. It snaked through silver turkey houses and ripe hog lagoons before traveling across the acreage being clear cut for subdivisions east of Fayetteville. From there, it moved way down south, all the way under concrete overpasses caught by sinking bayous on one side and rising seas on the other. The apology skimmed the rubble of neighborhoods left ruined and rotting after Category Five rainfall broke the levees and everything low was left to drown.

Jackie’s words moved west across a country split into ill-fitting parts, some of the divisions made by grey lines on a map, some by beliefs handed down. Other breaks were created by different angles on the same story because as Jackie had said many times to Kate, “A person cannot stand in two places at once. Use that to your advantage.”

Near Fort Worth, in the hot, dry middle, Jackie’s apology lagged, barely moved at all, although the words were still there.

“I shouldn’t have kept you from your daughter, but you kept me from mine.”

It was as close to an apology a woman like Jackie could come by.

In the end, Jackie’s daughter heard none of it. Kate did not hear that which had travelled so far, so fast, too late. At the moment of her mother’s death, Kate was driving over the Bridge of the Americas into Juarez.

She was crossing a border so wide it could only be partially sewn shut with razor wire, surveillance cameras, and border police.

For the first time in her life Kate did not swallow every word her mother meant for her.



Sara Johnson Allen was raised (mostly) in North Carolina. Her fiction has appeared in PANK Magazine, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Reckon Review. She was recently awarded runner-up in the 2022 Third Coast fiction contest.

In 2018, she was awarded the Marianne Russo Award for Emerging Writers by the Key West Literary Seminar for her novel-in-progress. In 2019, she received the Stockholm Writers Festival First Pages Prize. She has also been awarded MacDowell fellowships and an artistic grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation.

When she is not grading papers or chasing after her three kids, she likes to write about ‘place’ and how it shapes us.

Photo credit: Channing Johnson Photography


Down Here We Come Up will be published in August of 2023. To see the full list of the 2022 Big Moose Prize finalists, click here.