Book Awards | Literary Arts

Works by Tessa Fontaine, Katharine Coles and Tara Westover are Finalists for the 15 Bytes Book Award for Creative Nonfiction

Artists of Utah is excited to announce the finalists for this year’s 15 Bytes Book Award for Creative Nonfiction. 2019 marks the 7th year for this annual award, given to recognize excellence in publishing for books written by a Utah author or with a Utah connection.

We received a record number of entries this year. The finalists were determined by 15 Bytes’ staff and guest judges based on the overall conception of the book and the quality of the writing.

This year’s finalists (in no particular order) are:

The Electric Woman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) by Tessa Fontaine

Here is a woman with ribs hot and eyes closed, a woman afraid of dreaming, a woman driving further and further from memory’s redwoods, old music coming from a surfboard. Here is a woman headless, walking toward a bag of swords, her mother’s bleeding brain. The only way to do it is to do it. There is no trick. You eat fire by eating fire.

Tessa Fontaine’s The Electric Woman is the chance to rehearse death, to understand our fears by following them. Through loss and streets filled with souped-up Ford trucks, she is here and not here, charmed by the idea of a carnival. In between boxes and shared legs, she is on stage looking into Pandora’s eyes, pushing despite the thick, muscled body, a snake caught in her hair. In the midst of lost fathers and photographed daughters, here are the people putting another child safely on the Ferris wheel, secrets and sweat spilling onto the machine.

Through her use stunning use of lyric, Fontaine has written the hardest truths and not looked back. She has invented a language of suffering and sustained it, all the while giving us the medicine to swallow it.

​Raised outside San Francisco in a tangle o’ hippies, Fontaine got her MFA from the University of Alabama and is currently a doctoral student in creative writing at the University of Utah. She is the recipient of the University of Alabama’s 2012 graduate departmental awards in fiction, nonfiction and poetry, and the 2013 awards in fiction and nonfiction. ​Around the country, she has performed her one-woman plays in theaters ranging from New York to San Francisco. Fontaine spent the 2013 season performing with the last American traveling circus sideshow, the World of Wonders. Essays about the sideshow won the 2016 AWP Intro Award in Nonfiction, and have appeared in The Rumpus and elsewhere. Other work can be found in Glamour, LitHub, Creative Nonfiction, and more. 

Read Karin Anderson’s review of The Electric Woman here.


Katharine Coles’ Look Both Ways, an absorbing story of two marriages lived lifetimes apart that mirror each other in ways unfailingly involving, is a combined memoir and biographical family history that lacks neither imagination nor vibrant poetic passages.

Subtitled “A Double Journey Along My Grandmother’s Far-Flung Path,” Look Both Ways walks us through Coles’ grandparents’ complex relationship from the perspective of her grandmother, Miriam Wollaeger, who comes to view her own needs/wants as paramount in a marriage with Walter Link, a fellow geologist who, solely because of his maleness, gets to relish the thrill of the field — where women simply aren’t “seen” in Cuba, Columbia, Indonesia or South and Central America where the couple have gone to find oil and where Walter eventually finds employment as chief geologist for Standard Oil — while a rather bored Miriam plays bridge during daylight hours and dances into the dawn with pilots, rich Americans, and titled sons of European aristocrats all while raising the couple’s several children. Not satisfied with the status quo, Miriam acts to erase her ennui, as Katie Coles may do on her mirrored pathway.

Oh, what a tangled, tender, web they weave and how delicious it is to watch it all (perhaps?) unravel. And so we must read on. Avidly.

Coles was Utah’s poet laureate from 2006-12 and also was a 2012 Guggenheim Fellow. A University of Utah faculty member since 1997, she has published two novels and six collections of poetry (Pasadena, CA’s, Red Hen Press brought out Wayward: poems in June 2019, well after this 2018 biography/memoir from Turtle Point Press in Brooklyn, New York, but it is easy to lose track of work by this prolific bicoastal writer).

Read Fish Burton’s review of the Look Both Ways here.


Born from torn metal, broken glass, and gasoline in the shadow of a Judgment Day patriarch, Tara Westover weaves a story that recounts her rise from harrowing obscurity in rural Idaho to decorated Gates Cambridge Scholar.

Westover’s New York Times Bestselling memoir, Educated, tells of her upbringing in an evangelical Mormon family where learning is only prized if it is from the Bible, Book of Mormon, or her own father’s musings. Homeschooled where home is a reality of mystical healing inside and a dangerous wrecking yard outside, Westover takes responsibility for her own education. And her own safety. And her own soul. And soul is what this memoir gives to its readers. With unsentimental, blameless story-telling, Westover shows how the desire for intellect and self-rule can be nurtured and ignited even when it may come at the cost of love, of one’s past, and of blood — blood both generational and blood spilled straight from the vein.

Tara Westover is an American author living in the UK. Born in Idaho to a father opposed to public education, she never attended school. She spent her days working in her father’s junkyard or stewing herbs for her mother, a self-taught herbalist and midwife. She was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom, and after that first taste, she pursued learning for a decade. She graduated magna cum laude from Brigham Young University in 2008 and was subsequently awarded a Gates Cambridge Scholarship. She earned an MPhil from Trinity College, Cambridge in 2009, and in 2010 was a visiting fellow at Harvard University. She returned to Cambridge, where she was awarded a PhD in history in 2014.

Read Alec MacGillis’ review of Educated here.


The 7th annual 15 Bytes Book Awards are made possible with a generous grant from:

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