Tryphena Yeboah, a writer and PhD candidate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is one of two winners of the 2021 Narrative Prize, which is given for the exceptional work by an emerging writer published in the Narrative magazine. The Narrative Prize recognizes writers whose talent and accomplishments place them at the forefront of a new generation of storytellers.
Tryphena earned the prize of $4,000 for her story If the Body Makes a Sound and essay The Ravages of an Unloved Life. Her previously published work in Narrative Magazine includes First Light and To this God I Will Say.
Tryphena earned a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing from Chapman University, where she won the James L. Doti Outstanding Graduate Student Award, which is the highest honour for graduate students at the University. She also holds an MA in Development Communications from the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ).
Her debut chapbook, A Mouthful of Home (University of Nebraska Press, 2020), was selected by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani for the APBF New-Generation African Poets chapbook series. Her writing has recently appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books and at Literary Hub, IceFloe Press, and more.
In an interview with Kuulpeeps, Tryphena talked about winning the Prize, her conversation with Narrative’s co-founder, her writing career and how she’s inspiring upcoming writers.
Tryphena on celebrating the award:
I am trying to really soak in the moment. It’s a big milestone in my writing career. I have a very poor habit of jumping on the next project even while there’s goodness all around me to bask in. Luckily, my close friends do not let these moments slip away. They insist on celebration and for once, I do not hide or resist. I count it all joy!
Tryphena on her conversation with Narrative’s co-founder:
So far what has been the most surreal part of this experience — in addition to winning this award with Morgan — has been the conversation I had with Narrative’s co-founder, Carol Edgarian. Most of it is a bit blurry now because I couldn’t hold back my tears and I was trying to hide my shaking fingers from appearing on Zoom while also attempting to wipe the tears away.
What a memorable day that was! But I do remember Carol simply making the space to see me and acknowledge my work and growth over the years as a writer. We talked about the hard work writing demands of us, the need to carve out time and space; I revealed my unreadiness for the publishing world, the truth that so much of where I am in life right now is because of storytelling and of course, the sheer disbelief and gratitude that this is my life, and I get to live it in such beautifully rewarding and meaningful ways. And Carol listened, nodded, and spoke kind and encouraging words over me. And I thought, Here’s someone who sees me and believes in me. And somehow, the weight of that revelation overwhelmed and wrecked me (in a good way).
Tryphena on what writing means to her:
Writing is good and necessary work for me, especially as something that expands my own knowledge about language and allows me to be a witness to the world. The act of putting words down continues to be many things for me…a need to stay in touch with the present while simultaneously urging me to build a relationship with absence, a way to be alive, and observe and reflect, a great source of assurance in difficult, seemingly empty times. After this interview, I’m going to write in my journal all the things I can’t make known to you or my friends, all the mystery and fears that I am yet to understand about myself. When I think about it this way, the practice of writing is perhaps first for my survival and the earnest way of being and inhabiting the world, and then all the other noble and paramount creative impulses may follow. How awesome is it that I get to do this and be recognized for it? I’m indebted to Narrative for this award and all the possibilities it holds.
Tryphena’s reflection on writing:
So much of what I do with my writing I consider private and quiet, and even more to the point, unseen. And this is no smite against my own work but a simple admission of the growing nature of the Arts and the rise and discovery of talented writers; that we are in a time where it is easier to lose sight of one’s work, to skim over a piece of literature and pick up the next recommended read. I have profound gratitude for the attention of any reader, for the intentionality to sit with my words, and dwell a while in the world of it.
I love immersing myself in stories—as a writer and reader—I lean in all the way. How do I articulate with care? How do I move through this work with genuine curiosity? For its language, how do I feel its texture, hear its music, how do I see, really see, what’s happening in this text? I like how Ocean Vuong puts it: to look at words as if they were things you can move and care for. I can’t imagine any other way to get to the heart of a novel. And I think this is what Narrative Magazine and many journals strive to do: pay attention to the stories we tell and make room for them to be heard and shared. And if we’re lucky, we get to be honoured for doing what we love with language.
Tryphena on teaching upcoming writers:
It’s my first time teaching First-Year Composition at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I’m working with many students who have been discouraged about their writing skills or have given up all together on believing they can create good work. I’ve been listening to them and encouraging them to trust the process and give it one more shot. I can’t speak much on being a good teacher just yet, but I love that I get to be the one to read these uncertain drafts and essays, that if anyone can listen for what they’re trying to say and guide them with care towards articulating, that it can be me. It’s the coolest part of my job and I only hope my students feel seen and heard.
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