Profile: First Runner-up Elizabeth Horneber

By Anne Pinkerton

Credit: Michael Torres

Credit: Michael Torres

Elizabeth Horneber is the first runner-up of SFWP’s 2015 Literary Awards Program for her book Chinese Red, a collection of connected essays about a girl who leaves home, falls for a country and a man, and then struggles to make sense of things when the relationship fails.

Horneber grew up in a suburb of Rochester, New York, and now lives in Mankato, Minnesota, where she moved to attend Bethany Lutheran College as an undergraduate. What happened next helped inspire her entry.

“After graduation, I spent almost two years in Zhuhai, China teaching English,” she says. “I didn’t know anyone and I didn’t know the language, so it felt like rebuilding my life and my self. Those were transformative years for me.” Journal entries that Horneber wrote five years ago while abroad were the entry point for Chinese Red, which explores “a desire for connection and meaning, and a willingness to lean towards magical thinking as a way of asserting control over one’s life.”

After China, she returned to the United states to work toward an MFA in creative writing at Minnesota State University, Mankato, where she has been an adjunct professor in the English department since graduating last year.

Creative nonfiction is her passion, because “it’s all about finding unexpected connections,” she says. “I’ve written about centipedes and my coffee mugs and European fairy tales and salt. What usually happens is that something strikes me (say, a picture of Søren Kierkegaard) at the same time that I’ve been thinking about something else (how I hear my landlord singing to his baby son late at night), and the two seem to speak to each other in some way that I have to work through and tease out.”

About writing, Horneber says, “I see the writing life as very privileged. It is a luxury to spend so much time examining life. It is a luxury to fill my house with books and spend my mornings with my computer and coffee. I’m fortunate to live at a time and to be at a stage in my life where all this is possible. I tell myself this at six in the morning when the alarm is going off. On my better days, at least.”


Anne Pinkerton is an MFA candidate at Bay Path University in Longmeadow, MA. She holds a BA from Hampshire College and works at Mount Holyoke College directing digital communications for their Alumnae Association. She lives with her husband, two dogs, and four cats. In her limited free time, she volunteers at a local animal welfare organization and plays music.