PictureCrafting an Award-Winning Story: An Interview with Courtney Zoffness

Interview conducted by Scott Ray 

In April 2018, Courtney Zoffness won the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award for her short story, “Peanuts Aren’t Nuts,” which originally appeared in the American Literary Review as the winner of our 2016 Fiction Prize. Zoffness also received the 2017 Arts & Letters Creative Nonfiction Prize, an Emerging Writing Fellowship from The Center for Fiction, and a fellowship from The MacDowell Colony. Her work has been published by The Southern Review, Indiana Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Rumpus, and elsewhere, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She directs the Creative Writing Program at Drew University.

Merritt Tierce, the judge who selected the piece as the ALR contest winner had this to say about it: 

“Peanuts Aren’t Nuts” deals so masterfully with the bridge between innocence and adulthood—that rotten bridge that falls away behind with every step across. Adolescence is, in this beautiful portrait, by nature a transition from inert to thwarted, a pursuit of even and perhaps especially those yearnings one knows will not—and most likely should not—be satisfied. This fine story, told in bright sentences that catch and thrum, has a clever heart that arouses hope and makes it wear a darkness. That is to say: it feels so true.”

We at the American Literary Review were thrilled to see that Courtney Zoffness won the prestigious Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award and took the occasion as an opportunity to ask some questions about her award-winning story, “Peanuts Aren’t Nuts.” The story is about a young girl who has complicated feelings for her academic tutor, who is accused of being a “teacher-predator.”

Scott Ray: Part of the success of “Peanuts Aren’t Nuts” must owe to how delicately close the narration is to Pam. How did you arrive at this perspective? Was first person ever a consideration?
Courtney Zoffness: Pam’s perspective, in the close third person, was the first one I tried, and I didn’t consider alternatives. I like the freedom and flexibility this point of view provides: I can hew close to her adolescent thoughts, but also zoom away at pivotal, intense moments—like in the final scene when we’re presumably inside Mr. Peebles’ house, peering out the window.