Annita Perez Sawyer: 2013 Awards Program – nonfiction

The 2015 Literary Awards Program ends on November 2nd. Grand prize is $1500, and two runner ups will receive $1000 each. Those three will also be evaluated for publication with SFWP, receiving a competitive contract for a full market, frontlist publication. There have been 39 past winners since the Program began in 2000. 90% of those winners have gone on to publication, and six of them have been published through SFWP. You can find all of the Program details right here.

AnnitaSawyer_SMDr. Annita Perez Sawyer’s harrowing yet redeeming memoir took the 2013 Awards Program by storm. Her story was searingly powerful, and it stuck with everyone who looked at it. The nonfiction judge, Lee Gutkind, said that “readers will be riveted from beginning to end.” And they have been. Sawyer sold out her first print run before the book was released.

Sawyer is a licensed psychologist and a member of Yale’s clinical faculty, in practice for over thirty years. Her essays and stories have appeared in a number of literary and professional journals. She spent most of her adolescence in psychiatric hospitals and, though shock treatment erased almost all memory of her early life, and stigma compelled her to hide her past, she graduated summa cum laude from Yale in 1971 – the first class that allowed women. She earned a PhD from Yale in 1981. Decades later, reading her hospital records prompted recall of those lost early years – all the sensations from her disconnected past poured out as terrifying flashbacks. Re-traumatized, she sank into despair in a process she had helped her own patients manage, but couldn’t control in herself. She promised herself that if she survived, she would write about what she learned. And, again, with skilled help, she recovered.

smoking01Smoking Cigarettes, Eating Glass is a story of Sawyer’s battle with mental illness from an early age, and her triumph in overcoming it. In 1960, as a suicidal teenager, Sawyer was institutionalized, suffering through 89 electroshock treatments based on a misdiagnosis before being transferred, “unimproved.” After finally receiving proper psychiatric care, Sawyer was discharged in 1966, but the damage done haunts her life.

Sawyer revisits scenes from her early years, assembling pieces of a long-lost puzzle. Smoking Cigarettes, Eating Glass is a cautionary tale of careless psychiatric diagnosis and treatment, both 50 years ago and today. It is an illuminating story about understanding PTSD and making emotional sense of events that can lead a soul to darkness. Most of all, it’s a story of perseverance – of pain, acceptance, healing, hope, and, ultimately, success. A unique voice for this generation, Sawyer moves well beyond The Bell Jar and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden to shed light on an often misunderstood illness. Find out more right here.