November 14, 2023

Matthew Neill Null, assistant professor of creative writing at Susquehanna University, was awarded the prestigious Pushcart Prize for his short story, The Dropper.

Originally published in The Kenyon Review, The Dropper is set in Null’s home state of West Virginia and tells the story of the relationship between Lorna and her father, an aging bird-dog trainer and activist in the United Mine Workers. Lorna is the man’s favorite child but also the product of an affair, which creates tension in the family.

The story is loosely inspired by some of Null’s familial roots in the coal-mining region, including the interest in bird-dog training he shares with his grandfather.

“My mother is from Marion County, West Virginia, a coal-mining area that is the base of Sen. Joe Manchin’s political machine, so the story is a tribute to that place and how the personal and political overlap,” Null explained.

Since 1976, the Pushcart Prize honors the best poetry, short fiction and essays published in small presses during the previous year. Anthologies of the selected works are published annually, and Null’s story will be featured in the forthcoming Pushcart Prize 2024: Best of the Small Presses.

“I am extremely grateful to be recognized with this award,” Null said. “For most of us, when you write and publish, usually you get a lot of silence back, so it makes you appreciate the times when the world takes notice.”

Karla Kelsey, professor and co-department head of English and creative writing and director of Susquehanna’s Writers Institute, called Null’s recognition a “striking accomplishment.”

“Awards of this sort shine a national light on Susquehanna University and the creative writing program as centers of literary excellence — which is great for students who graduate in the major,” Kelsey said. “To paraphrase something Professor Null once said, ‘In a program like ours, students and faculty alike are dedicated writers. Faculty are just a bit further along.’ Students can look to our faculty and see what they might accomplish if they stay with their craft, work hard and put their writing out into the world.”

Null is author of the story collection Allegheny Front and the novel Honey from the Lion. His work has received the O. Henry Award, the Mary McCarthy Prize and the Joseph Brodsky Rome Prize Fellowship in Literature from the American Academy of Arts & Letters.