Recent graduate Charlie Bohem’s (Critical Studies MFA 23) thesis novel The First Dog was selected by the Creative Writing Program faculty for the $1,000 Emi Kuriyama Thesis Prize. Given yearly to a graduate whose thesis exemplifies the program’s values of “genre-stretching literary experimentation,” the award honors the life and work of late MFA Creative Writing student Emi Kuriyama (1991-2016).
Bohem’s new work plays with, and falls between, genres including dystopian fiction, horror, climate fiction, as well as a coming-of-age story. It follows two young people living off the grid in the middle of forest lands filled with pathogens and feral animals. The writing leaves the reader guessing as to whether the story is set in North America or the aftermath of our civilization. Creating a psychological, social, and biological unease, the book speaks to the unsteadiness and mystery of human interaction with the natural world.
Creative Writing Program Director Anthony McCann noted that the award goes to a thesis that demonstrates “clarity of vision, brilliant execution, development of a fresh idiom/lyric sensibility/prose-narrative style, rigor, attentiveness, cohesive theme or structure and a sense of completion relative to the length of the program and the aims of the manuscript.” He consequently described Bohem’s work as “an extraordinary manuscript.”
Winning the award was a wonderful and surprising event for Bohem.
“I’m thrilled about winning the prize and couldn’t be more grateful to everyone involved,” he said. “Honestly the book was so personal for me that it’s still kind of hard for me to believe other people enjoyed it that much.”
Bohem has previously written for the television series Shut Eye and had work published in blogs and magazines such as Cleaver Magazine, Popcorn Fiction, The Molotov Cocktail, and more. His most recent work is the “colored concertina” Burned Hill Dream, published by Raphus Press. Bohem was also among the CalArtians who presented works at At the edge of the labyrinth at the Poetic Research Bureau this past May as part of the 2023 Next Words Reading Series.
The Emi Kuriyama Thesis Prize is dedicated to the memory of Kuriyama, whose work explored the interdependencies and connections between the world and people, plants, animals, objects, symbols, and currencies. She founded the small press Young Cloud, was a co-founder of the artist book project baumtest, and wrote for publications including GRAPHITE, Daily Serving, Complex, and Notes on Looking, among others. In 2019, Candor Arts in Chicago published her book, sashiko, a collection of writing including her CalArts thesis proposal, her unfinished novella, and creative prose and poetry pieces.
This is the seventh year the faculty have given out the Creative Writing award. Past winners include:
- Zeno Scott (MFA 22), ynglytch (hybrid text)
- Aaraf Afzal (MFA 21), The Great Will of the Universe (fiction)
- Christine Imperial (MFA 20), DUSA (hybrid text)
- Yuxin Zhao (MFA 19), Chest is the Best Storage Space (prose/autofiction)
- Rose Andersen (MFA 18), The Heart and Other Monsters (nonfiction)
- Giovan Alonzi (MFA 17), Radio Activities (poetry).