Alumna Nancy Agabian '03 Wins Lambda Literary's 2021 Jeanne Córdova Prize, Alumnae Among Finalists

BY Nicole Saldarriaga, August 31, 2021

Lambda Literary recently announced the winners of their 2021 Lammys, naming alumna Nancy Agabian '03 the winner of their 2021 Jeanne Córdova Prize for Lesbian/Queer Nonfiction. Alumna and adjunct faculty member in the Undergraduate Creative Writing program, Jean Kyoung Frazier '18 was a finalist in the Lesbian Fiction category for her novel, Pizza Girl (Doubleday, 2020), and alumna Lori Soderlind '97 was also a finalist in the Lesbian Memoir category for her book, The Change: My Great American, Postindustrial, Midlife Crisis Tour (University of Wisconsin, 2020). 


The Jeanne Córdova Prize was first established in 2018, in memory of the activist and author. According to Lambda Literary, the award "honors lesbian/queer-identified women and trans/gender non-conforming nonfiction authors...committed to nonfiction work that captures the depth and complexity of lesbian/queer life, culture, and/or history." The award is given to writers who have published at least one book and show promise in "continuing to produce groundbreaking and challenging work." 


Agabian is the author several essays, poems, and books, most notably Me as Her Again: True Stories of an Armenian Daughter (Aunt Lute Books, 2008) and Princess Freak (Beyond Baroque Books, 2000)—both of which "deal with the intimacies of Armenian American identity via stories of coming-of-age and intergenerational trauma (resulting from the Armenian genocide of 1915), with a focus on gender and sexuality." 


In an interview with Lambda Literary, Agabian discussed her latest projects, sharing, "I’m trying to publish The Fear of Large and Small Nations, a completed novel about an abusive queer relationship set between Armenia and its diaspora. And I continue to work on a personal essay collection, tentatively titled In-Between Mouthfuls, which defines liminal experiences of identity within causes for social justice. For example, I’ve written about Armenian racial identity on the margins of whiteness, and I’m working on a piece about my bisexuality as both privilege and disadvantage in this new age of awareness about gender and sexual fluidity. My essays on caregiving, the pandemic, and the war, also fit into this framework of connecting dots. In the spring I taught an online workshop series called ‘Connected Rooms,’ to write on experiences of diaspora, homeland, war, trauma, gender, and sexuality, and I am eager to continue this work. I’m excited to serve as a mentor to an emerging writer for IALA, International Armenian Literary Alliance this summer. And I look forward to keep connecting with people across identities and causes as a writer, teacher, organizer, and editor."


The Jeanne Córdova Prize for Lesbian/Queer Nonfiction carries a cash prize of $2,500. 


In addition to writing, Nancy Agabian is a longtime community-based writing workshop facilitator. She teaches creative writing at universities, art centers, and online, most recently at The Gallatin School of Individualized Study at NYU and The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in NYC. As a literary organizer, she has coordinated Gartal, an Armenian literary reading series, and Queens Writers Resist with writers Meera Naira and Amy Paul. Agabian is a caregiver to her elderly parents in Massachusetts, where she lives.


Frazier's Pizza Girl—which follows a pregnant teenager who works at a pizza shop, lives with her mom and boyfriend, and becomes obsessed with Jenny, a middle-aged woman who orders pizza from the shop weekly—was published to great acclaim last summer and continues to receive accolades. The novel was named a Best Book of 2020 by NPR, as well as best book of the year by Marie Claire and Teen Vogue


Jean Kyoung Frazier lives in Los Angeles. Pizza Girl is her debut novel.


Soderlind's memoir, The Change, documents her struggles with a classic midlife crisis and the trip she takes across "America's rusting heart" with her elderly dog, Colby, and a secondhand trailer. "Making pit stops in places like Buffalo and Rockford, she explores a deeply conflicted country going through its own crises and transformations. Even as she struggles with her own impulses, she finds life and resilience among the seemingly forlorn, abandoned artifacts of former industrial glory." 

According to author Amy Bass, "In vivid, candid, layered prose, Soderlind takes us on a riveting journey to discover how and why what we love isn't always what makes sense. As she sheds the things she cannot take with her, she finds that there can be light at the end of a tunnel, discovering a beginning that is not only good for her soul, but perhaps for America's, writ large."


Lori Soderlind is an award-winning essayist and journalist, and author of the memoir Chasing Montana: A Love Story.