The Tusculum Review to launch the winning entry of its 2023 Poetry Chapbook Prize competition at campus event

GREENEVILLE – The community is invited to attend as The Tusculum Review, Tusculum University’s international literary journal, launches the winning entry of its 2023 Poetry Chapbook Prize competition at an event on campus.

Kelly Gray

Kelly Gray

The Tusculum Review will unveil the chapbook “The Mating Calls of a Specter” by Kelly Gray Wednesday, Nov. 15, at 7 p.m. in Behan Arena Theatre, which is located on the lower level of Annie Hogan Byrd Fine Arts Center. Her submission topped the field of 100 to win the prize,

Called “Airs & Apparitions,” the event will feature Gray reading from her work and participating in a question-and-answer session via the Zoom virtual platform. Tusculum students will begin the event and introduce Gray, and the Tusculum Band will perform songs. The event will conclude with a reception in the Behan lobby.

Attendance at “Airs & Apparitions” is free, but donations are welcome. Copies of the chapbook will be available for sale. Due to themes of sexual violence in this collection, the event is recommended only for adults.

“The Tusculum Review bestows awards such as the Poetry Chapbook Prize to further demonstrate our interest in celebrating literary excellence,” said Kelsey Trom, the journal’s editor and an associate professor of English at Tusculum. “We are extremely impressed with Kelly’s work and are proud to recognize her talent and insight on a challenging subject and share it with the community. This event will also inspire our students to aspire to fulfilling careers that put them on par with some of the best in the profession.”

Historically, a chapbook has been a pamphlet of writing on a number of subjects, but more recently, it has applied more to poetry. It is typically a smaller collection of poems that is published before a larger one, often by poets early in their career.

More established poets also write chapbooks that are sometimes centered around a particular theme. Gray’s has about 15 poems, but they are short and focus on the voice of a speaker, who is a ghost and has returned after being the target of sexual violence.

Judging the Poetry Chapbook Prize this year was Justin Phillip Reed, a 2013 Tusculum graduate and winner of the 2018 National Book Award for poetry. Those who submitted indicated their excitement to have him as the judge for this contest. He chose “The Mating Calls of a Specter,” a collection of poems told by a young spiritess returned to her rural landscape to restate the crimes against her and rise through the marshlands to hold everyone to account.

In his analysis of Gray’s work, Reed said in part, “It’s really the sensual that gets me –some restoration of faith in the body-poem union comes terrifically alive here, not the least due to the presence of damp animals, sharp instruments, bare stomachs, wafts of beer breath, truck exhaust, ‘thin femurs// jagged alps of possum teeth.’”

Kelsey Trom

Kelsey Trom

Trom, who also serves as the Harriett Reaves Neff ’21 Chair of Fine Arts at the university, said this chapbook will be the first with illustrations from a fiber artist, Sarah Castellon. Castellon used illustrations of quilting, embroidery and knitting, something Trom had not thought was possible until she saw the artist’s portfolio.

“It’s really appropriate because needlework and sewing are incorporated in the poetry in this chapbook,” Trom said. “I really love the texture it brings. A lot of people forget that textile arts are an art and not just a craft, and I wanted to recognize that, especially because this chapbook is about gendered sexual violence. It seems proper to have an art form that has mostly been associated with women.”

Gray, an accomplished writer, lives in California close to the Pacific Ocean and deep in the redwoods of unceded Coast Minwok and Southern Pomo Land. She received the Neutrino Prize from Passages North and was runner-up for the Literary Award for poetry from Witness Magazine. Her work appears or will be published in Southern Humanities Review, Rust + Moth, Permafrost Magazine, Lake Effect and other journals. She is a poetry teacher with California Poets in the Schools.

“We welcome Kelly and encourage the community to participate in this meaningful event,” said Wayne Thomas, dean of the College of Civic and Liberal Arts. “We are pleased to offer diverse voices who share their gift for words and provide something compelling for people to consider. Kelly’s work will provide that opportunity for our guests and our faculty, staff and students and reinforce that Tusculum and the authors we honor share an interest in high-caliber writing and literature.”

People can learn more about The Tusculum Review and its contests at Further information about the university’s English program is accessible at To discover more about the university, please visit