When an email about the 2021 “Kenyon Review” Short Nonfiction Contest popped up in her inbox, Brigitte Leschhorn, Instructor in English, was drawn to submitting—especially after seeing that the contest judge was writer Roxane Gay.
“This one seemed really special, and I’ve always admired Roxane Gay. She’s just such an impressive writer… I honestly submitted thinking like, this essay is super unusual, it’s not going to win, but it feels good to sort of share it with someone. It feels good that Roxane Gay will get to read it no matter what she thinks. I really didn’t expect to get a phone call saying that I had won the whole thing,” said Leschhorn.
Leschhorn’s lyric essay, titled “And We Inherit Everything,” won the First Prize of the “Kenyon Review”’s Third Annual Short Nonfiction Contest, beating over 500 submissions. According to the “Kenyon Review” April 2021 Newsletter, Gay described every line in Leschhorn’s piece as “lush [and] exquisite. ‘We live at the mouth of grief,’ the essay begins, and from there we are taken on a lyrical journey about grief, yes, but also the wounds of family and the myths of the people to whom we belong.”
Leschhorn was thankful for Gay’s comments and appreciated her praise.
“It just turned out that I was fortunate enough that my writing got recognized by someone who is so multi-talented, and her words will stay with me forever. Really the biggest thing is the fact that Roxane Gay was the judge. And she called my writing exquisite. That’s the biggest compliment I’ve ever received, certainly,” said Leschhorn.
According to Leschhorn, “And We Inherit Everything” originally started out as an exploration of her multiracial identity, an effort to figure out the complex relationships between her different ancestries and identities. Her essay is also centered around the folktales of women that she grew up listening to.
“To me, it was important to figure out what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a woman of mixed heritage, and how do you balance between the trauma and the pride you have in that heritage simultaneously—balance between acknowledging sort of my whiteness in terms of the oppression that that means in Latin America, particularly in Panama, but also how to honor my indigenous and African ancestry at the same time,” said Leschhorn.
Leschhorn continued, “So it’s just a messy exploration of what that means for me right now. It’s non-conclusive, I don’t have an answer, I don’t have any solution for people in a similar situation. But I am, you know, struggling with what it means to be in this identity, and particularly in the U.S. So it’s more like making that visible to the world: this is how one struggles.”
“And We Inherit Everything” will be published in the November/December 2021 “Kenyon Review,” and Leschhorn will receive a scholarship to attend the “Kenyon Review” Writers Workshop.
Kate McQuade, Instructor in English, shared her immense joy at Leschhorn’s accomplishment.
“I am beyond thrilled for Brigitte! She is a phenomenal writer, someone from whom I have learned so much about writing and pedagogy, and I feel incredibly lucky to call her my colleague. And I suspect her writing students feel just as lucky to have her as their teacher,” McQuade wrote in an email to The Phillipian.
Leschhorn, who joined the Andover community last year, currently teaches English-100 and English-300.
“I think one of the things that I love the most about both my classes is the kind of learning community that we’ve been able to build together. They’re just really, really amazing students who are getting to try all kinds of things. My ENG100 classes are doing weekly workshops where they workshop each other’s writing. And that’s one thing to do with analytical writing, but we’ll be doing that with personal essay writing next. They are just like, okay, we’re game, we’re going to do this, and we’re going to get something out of it. And they’re just so amazing at that,” said Leschhorn.
Germán Sanz-Rios ’24, a student in Leschhorn’s English-100 class stated that he feels very proud to be Leschhorn’s student and appreciates Leschhorn’s detailed feedback.
“This is my first year at [Andover,] and it hasn’t even been a normal one. Yet, whenever I join the Zoom to my online English-100 class, Ms. Leschhorn is always there to welcome me. Ms. Leschhorn is also very specific. She can easily pinpoint what we need to improve on and what we need to fix. She also incorporates several cultural components that broadens my perspective. It’s a very unique experience. As for the writing contest that she won, I’m very proud to be her student. Being told “good job” or “interesting thought” by a winner of an official writing contest makes me feel respected, like I’m truly improving my English skills,” wrote Sanz-Rios.
Leschhorn’s English-300 classes have had active conversations about connecting the texts they explored with current events.
“They’ve just always been open to the conversation, self-reflection, and educating themselves, and I’ve been so proud of the work they do. I know that one of the things like, probably now my English-300 students will know why it’s so important for me that they connect with the text and that one of the essays I had them write was where they included their personal experience as part of the evidence of understanding and analyzing the text. And it comes from my own experience with writing a personal essay—I think it is a crucial self-reflection tool. And so that’s one of the things that I also hope to impart to my students,” said Leschhorn.
Frank Zhou ’22, who is in Leschhorn’s English-300 class, feels very lucky to be Leschhorn’s student and appreciates her teaching style.
“As a student of Ms. Leschhorn’s, I’ve found every class and conversation to be a masterclass in language—on the page and stage alike. Her spoken musings (whether on my work, queries, or quibbles) always buzz with an infectious intensity; her outstanding success in the K.R. Short Nonfiction Contest only confirms that her written musings do, too. I couldn’t be luckier to be her student, and couldn’t be prouder of her accomplishment.”