Meet the Judges

Given the eclectic nature of the Literary Taxidermy Writing Competition, we assemble each year a group of international professionals from all walks of the literary life—novelists, poets, memoirists, food writers, playwrights, humorists, journalists, even a winning writer from one of our earlier competitions. Below are the judges from the first five years of the competition. They had a challenging task, identifying the best of the best—and we are grateful for their enthusiastic and perspicacious participation!

Hinemoana Baker is a writer and musician currently living in Berlin, Germany. She was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, and has tribal connections ranging from Ōtākou Peninsula to the Horowhenua and Maunga Taranaki. Her writing has featured in anthologies and literary journals, and she is the author of the Victoria University Press poetry collections Funkhaus (2020), waha | mouth (2014), kōiwi kōiwi | bone bone (2010), and mātuhi | needle (2004). Hinemoana is primarily a poet and musician, though she has also been involved with theatre, film, and experimental sound art. Her latest collection, Funkhaus, was shortlisted for the 2021 Ockham New Zealand National Book Awards. Hinemoana is completing her Doctorate at Potsdam University through the ‘Minor Cosmopolitanisms’ Research Training Group. You can learn more about her on the web at

photo by Jacqueline Mia FosterCatherine Barnett is the author of three collections of poems: Human Hours (2018), The Game of Boxes (2012), and Into Perfect Spheres Such Holes Are Pierced (2004). Her honors include a Whiting Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. She has published widely in journals and magazines, including The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, The Iowa Review, The Kenyon Review, and The Washington Post. Barnett teaches in the graduate and undergraduate programs at New York University, is a distinguished lecturer at Hunter College, and works as an independent editor. She has degrees from Princeton University, where she has taught in the Lewis Center for the Arts, and from the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. You can learn more about her on the web at the Academy of American Poets.

Jody Brettkelly has been a journalist for over 25 years in New Zealand, the UK, and the US. She began her career as a radio newsreader and journalist in New Zealand before a 15 year "stopover" in London where she wrote for national newspapers including The Times, The Mail on Sunday, and the London Evening Standard. As a consumer journalist she covered pension and banking scandals and was guest expert for TravelTV and TalkRadio. Switching to lifestyle features, she wrote on a range of topics including the suitability of men's Speedo swimwear and soccer players' hairdos in the World Cup. She moved to Oakland, California in 2002 where she worked as a freelance journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle and blogged about her life with four kids and a small but mighty dog at aboutlastweekend. She is currently working on her first novel, a murder mystery called Bay of Plenty.

Helena Wiśniewska Brow is a Wellington-based writer and the 2013 recipient of the Adam Prize in Creative Writing. Her book, Give Us This Day: a Memoir of Family and Exile, is the story of her father, one of the 732 exiled Polish children offered unlikely refuge in New Zealand in 1944. Helena grew up in the Bay of Plenty, where her father’s foreignness provided the only clear connection to her family’s past. Her mother shared Stefan’s Eastern European heritage — the New Zealand-born daughter of a Jewish refugee from Russia, she was a survivor of a different kind — but the couple’s two daughters were largely assimilated into small-town Kiwi life. In the late 1980s, after completing an arts degree at Victoria University and then a postgraduate journalism qualification at the University of Canterbury, Helena worked for the New Zealand Press Association in Wellington and then in London. You can learn more about her on the web at Victoria University Press.

Cuifen ChenCuifen Chen is a writer from Singapore. Her short fiction has been published in print anthologies and online, while her poetry has appeared in the Southeast Asian Review of English and her creative nonfiction in Fourth Genre. Cuifen was the winner of the Troubadour International Poetry Prize 2018 and the Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition 2019. Most recently, she received an Honourable Mention (English Short Story Category) in the Golden Point Award 2021, Singapore’s premier creative writing competition. Cuifen holds a MA with Distinction in Creative Writing from LASALLE College of the Arts. She likes role-playing games, visual novels, liminal spaces, and most of all fantastic things. You can find her at Cuifen Chen.

Elisa Donovan is an American actress, writer, and mother. She played the role of Amber in the 1995 teen comedy film Clueless and in the TV series of the same name. Donovan went on to play the role of Morgan Cavanaugh in the sitcom Sabrina the Teenage Witch. She has had pieces published in the “Chicken Soup For The Soul” series, and has spoken about recovery on many television shows including 20/20, Entertainment Tonight, and Headline News. Donovan's first book, Wake Me When You Leave, is a personal memoir about losing her job, a relationship, and her father to cancer. By sharing the lessons and challenges of loss, Donovan inspires those who are learning to let go. The film version of Wake Me When You Leave, currently in development, will mark Elisa’s screenwriting and directorial debuts. You can learn more about her on the web at Elisa Donovan.

photo by Robert CrossKate Duignan is a New Zealand novelist, short-story writer, reviewer, and teacher. Her most recent novel, The New Ships, was shortlisted in 2019 for the Acorn Prize, New Zealand’s premier fiction prize. Kate has published short fiction, poetry, and reviews for a variety of journals and publications. Kate is currently working on a collection of short stories. Born and raised in Wellington, Duignan received the Glenn Schaeffer Fellowship (2001), the Louis Johnson New Writers Bursary (2002), and Robert Burns Fellowship at Otago University (2004). She currently lives in Wellington with her partner and three children, and teaches fiction at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University. You can learn more about her on the web at The Academy of New Zealand Literature.

photo by Jennifer DurhamKelley Eskridge is a fiction writer, essayist, and screenwriter. She is the author of the New York Times Notable novel Solitaire, a finalist for the Nebula, Endeavour, and Spectrum awards. The short stories in her collection Dangerous Space include an Astraea prize winner and finalists for the Nebula and Tiptree awards. Eskridge’s story “Alien Jane” was adapted for an episode of the SciFi channel series Welcome to Paradox. Her film OtherLife (2017) is currently streaming on Netflix. She is a former vice president of Wizards of the Coast, the company responsible for the collectible trading games Magic™ and Pokémon™. She earns her keep as a corporate learning professional, as well as an independent editor with an international client list of established and emerging writers. She lives in Seattle with her wife, novelist Nicola Griffith. You can learn more about her on the web at Kelley Eskridge.

Dr. Charles E. Gannon is a Distinguished Professor of English and Fulbright Senior Specialist. His award-winning Caine Riordan/Terran Republic hard-SF novels have all been Nebula finalists and national best-sellers. His book Rumors of War and Infernal Machines won the 2006 American Library Association Choice Award for Outstanding Book. He is a recipient of five Fulbright Fellowships and Travel Grants and has been a subject matter expert both for national media venues such as NPR and the Discovery Channel, as well as for various intelligence and defense agencies, including the Pentagon, Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy (CNO/SSG and ONR), NATO, DARPA, NRO, DHS, NASA, and several other organizations with which he signed NDAs. (If we told you more about that, we'd have to kill you.) You can learn more about him on the web at the The Worlds of Charles E. Gannon.

Danny Gardner is an American writer, actor, stand-up comic, and director. He is a Pushcart Prize nominee for his creative non-fiction piece "Forever. In an Instant.," published by Literary Orphans Journal. His first short fiction piece, “Labor Day,” appeared in Beat to a Pulp, and his flash fiction has been featured in Out of the Gutter and on Noir on the Air. He is the author of the Black American mystery series The Tales of Elliot Caprice — including the novels A Negro and an Ofay and Ace Boon Coon — which features disgraced Chicago Police Officer Elliot Caprice. He is a frequent reader at Noir at the Bar events nationwide, blogs regularly at 7 Criminal Minds, and is a proud member of the Mystery Writers of America and the International Thriller Writers. Danny lives in Los Angeles by way of Chicago. You can learn more about him on the web at Bronzeville Books.

photo by Robert CrossMia Farlane is a London-based writer, currently staying with family in Aotearoa New Zealand. She is the author of Footnotes to Sex (Viking/Penguin), a novel set in London and Paris—a tragi-comedy about not knowing what to do with your life, fandom, and a flailing relationship. Parallel Hell, her most recent novel, set in London and Wellington, is about suicide and suicide ideation. She has a Creative Writing MA from Middlesex University, worked for 11+ years at Southbank Centre’s National Poetry Library, and writes bilingual reviews at Farlane on French Writers. Her work "Are You Okay? (A Writing Event)" is an experimental piece of creative nonfiction that explores the relationship between author and character. You can learn more about her on the web at Mia Farlane.

Stephen Graham Jones is a Blackfeet author of experimental fiction, horror fiction, crime fiction, and science fiction. He has published in everything from literary journals to truck-enthusiast magazines, from textbooks to anthologies to best-of-the-year annuals. Jones has been an NEA Fellow, a Texas Writers League Fellow, and has won the Texas Institute of Letters Award for Fiction and the Independent Publishers Multicultural Award. His areas of interest, aside from fiction writing, are horror, science fiction, fantasy, film, comic books, pop culture, paleoanthropology, technology, and American Indian Studies. Jones received his BA in English and Philosophy from Texas Tech University (1994), his MA in English from the University of North Texas (1996), and his PhD from Florida State University (1998). You can learn more about him on the web at

Holly Kowitt has written more than fifty books for younger readers, including The Fenderbenders Get Lost in America, This Book Is a Joke, This Dance is Doomed, and The Principal's Underwear is Missing  (a brilliant update of PG Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster, set in a suburban high school). She also wrote and illustrated the bestselling LOSER LIST series, which has been translated into ten languages. She grew up in Evanston, Illinois and graduated from Brown University. A former editor at Scholastic Books, she lives in New York City, where she enjoys cycling, flea markets, and West Coast swing dancing. She spends most days writing and drawing in her art studio in Harlem. Her work can be found on the web at Kowitt Books.

Jerry Large is a recently-retired journalist who — in his weekly column for The Seattle Times — wrote for twenty-five years on a variety of topics, including issues of systemic inequality, using history and other social sciences to help understand our society. He joined The Times as an editor in 1981 and wrote nearly 1,000 columns during his tenure. Prior to The Times, he worked for the Clovis News-Journal, the Farmington, New Mexico Daily Times, the El Paso Times, and the Oakland Tribune. Born in Clovis, New Mexico, he holds a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communications from New Mexico State University, and was a J.S. Knight Fellow at Stanford University. He is currently teaching at the University of Washington Department of Communication. You can find some of his work on the web at The Seattle Times: Jerry Large.

Rick Moody is an American novelist and short story writer. His first novel, Garden State, was the winner of the 1991 Editor’s Choice Award from the Pushcart Press and was published in 1992. The Ice Storm was published in 1994 (and then turned into a film of the same name, directed by Ang Lee). His short fiction and journalism have been anthologized in Best American Stories 2001, Best American Essays 2004, Best American Essays 2008, and Year’s Best Science Fiction #9, among others. His radio pieces have appeared on The Next Big Thing, Re:Sound, Weekend America, Morning Edition, and at the Third Coast International Audio Festival. In May 2018 he received an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2019 he became an Officier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, as awarded by the Republic of France. You can learn more about him on the web at Rick Moody Books.

Christine S. O'Brien grew up in New York City and Beverly Hills. She earned a BA in English at UC Berkeley and holds a Double MFA from Saint Mary’s College in Nonfiction and Fiction, where she was awarded Saint Mary’s Agnes Butler Scholarship for Literary Excellence. Her lyric essay “Fish” appeared in The Seneca Review, and her short story, “Cullen Farm,” appeared in The Slush Pile Magazine. Her essay, “Cul de Sac,” received Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train’s 2014 Short Story Award for New Writers. O’Brien has worked for ABC-TV, Alex Ponti, and NBC Productions. Her screenplay, The Maccabees, was optioned by Dan Blatt Productions. She is currently a part-time lecturer in the English Composition Department at Saint Mary’s College. Her memoir, CRAVE, sold out of its first printing in only 2 ½ weeks. You can learn more about her on the web at Christine S. O'Brien.

Brian Parks is an American playwright and editor. He lives in New York City and served as the Arts & Culture editor at The Village Voice. His plays have been produced in the U.S. as well as in the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. His play Americana Absurdum helped launch the New York International Fringe Festival, where it also won the Best Writing Award. Americana Absurdum went on to win a Fringe First award at the 2000 Edinburgh Festival Fringe and became one of the first plays staged at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory theater. His other produced plays include The House, Enterprise, and Imperial Fizz, among others. Enterprise won a Fringe First Award at the 2017 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. A Detroit-area native, he’s been a longtime resident of Brooklyn. You can learn more about him on the web at Brian Parks Playwright.

Michael Pronko is a mystery writer, essayist, and teacher, born in Kansas City, but living and writing in Tokyo for the past twenty years. He has published three award-winning collections of essays: Beauty and Chaos: Essays on Tokyo; Motions and Moments: More Essays on Tokyo; and Tokyo’s Mystery Deepens. His award-winning mystery series — including The Last Train, The Moving Blade, Tokyo Traffic, and Tokyo Zangyo — features Detective Hiroshi Shimizu who investigates white collar crime in Tokyo. He writes regularly for many publications, including The Japan Times, Newsweek Japan, Jazznin, Jazz Colo[u]rs, and Artscape Japan; and runs his own website, Jazz in Japan. He is a professor of American Literature at Meiji Gakuin University where he teaches seminars in contemporary novels and film adaptations. You can learn more about him on the web at Michael Pronko.

Nisi Shawl is an African-American writer, editor, and journalist. She is best known as an author of fantasy and science fiction who writes and teaches about how fantastic fiction might reflect real-world diversity of gender, sexual orientation, race, colonialism, physical ability, age, and other sociocultural factors. Her debut novel, Everfair, was a 2016 Nebula Awards finalist, and her short stories have appeared in Asimov's Science Fiction, the Infinite Matrix, Strange Horizons, Semiotext(e) and numerous other magazines and anthologies. Her story collection Filter House was one of two winners of the 2008 James Tiptree, Jr. Award. During the ceremony, she was crowned with the Tiptree tiara and given a plaque, a check, a pie, and a ceramic sculpture of a duck. You can learn more about her on the web at Nisi Shawl.

Becky Selengut is a cooking teacher, private chef, not-so-private comedian, and a prolific food writer. Her books include The Washington Local and Seasonal Cookbook (2008); Good Fish: Sustainable Seafood Recipes from the Pacific Coast (2011 and 2018); Shroom: Mind-Bendingly Good Recipes for Cultivated and Wild Mushrooms (2014); Not One Shrine: Two Food Writers Devour Tokyo (2016); and How to Taste: The Curious Cook's Handbook to seasoning and balance, from umami to acid and beyond (2018). In her spare time she co-hosts Look Inside This Book Club, a NSFW comedy podcast with Matthew Amster-Burton that discusses the free Kindle preview — and ONLY the preview — of bestselling books, usually while sipping Pinot Grigio. You can learn more about her on the web at Becky Selengut.

Cameron Tuttle is the author of the bestselling series The Bad Girl’s Guides and The Paranoid’s Pocket Guide. Her books have been translated into 14 languages and inspired a Webby-nominated online community, an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, a TV sitcom, a lawsuit, and countless fender benders. Tuttle also authored two angst-ridden, humorous YA novels, Paisley Hanover Acts Out and Paisley Hanover Kisses and Tells. She is currently writing a novel that’s not the least bit funny. In addition to being a bestselling author, she's also a natural redhead, a California native, a content strategist, and an accidental entrepreneur. You can learn more about her on the web at Cameron Tuttle.

Melora Wolff received her BA from Brown University and her MFA from Columbia University. Her essays, prose poems, and speculative non-fiction appear widely in journals and anthologies, including The Normal School, Salmagundi, the Gettysburg Review, The New York Times, Best American Fantasy, The New Brick Reader, and Every Father's Daughter: Twenty Four Women Writers Remember Their Fathers. Her prose has received Special Mentions in Nonfiction from The Pushcart Prizes, several Notable Essay citations in Best American Essays, and the Thomas A. Wilhelmus Award in Short Prose. She is the author of The Parting, a collection of magical realist flash fictions. She lives and writes in Saratoga Springs, New York and teaches on the faculty of Skidmore College. You can learn more about her on the web at Skidmore Faculty.