Theresa Kishkan's Full Citation on Matt Rader Winning the Inaugural Charles Lillard Founders' Award (2016)

More than forty years ago, my friend Charles Lillard showed me a manuscript-in-progress. Ostensibly notes towards a natural and cultural history of crows and ravens, it had a beautiful integrity as a work unto itself. Anecdotes, observations from the writer and others, passages of poetry, translations from Indigenous, Romance, and Classical languages, all gathered together: and its writer was perplexed about what he ought to do with it. Even then, the literary world tended towards logical narratives within well-defined parameters. I’ve often wondered what happened to that particular rookery of wonders.

I thought of that manuscript when I read, read again, moved away from, then returned to Matt Rader’s lyrical extract from “The Lives of North American Horses,” my choice for the inaugural Charles Lillard Founders’ Award for Creative Nonfiction. What is Matt’s piece exactly? At first reading, it’s a collection of material about horses, organized at random—horses in wild and civilized spaces, actual and liminal. Or is it? On second reading, I saw how elegantly it was curated, its sense of the historical present; a linear narrative moving through the herd as a parent and children observe horses in pastures; Elizabeth Bishop’s courtesy to horses; “Achilles’ horses weeping on the field of battle for Patroclus.” There are deep philosophical questions in this piece: “How long must something go feral before it becomes wild again?”

I kept returning to “The Lives of North American Horses.” It does reward careful reading. It is attentive to detail and language, and also to mystery. I thought of Eduardo Galeano’s Children of the Days: a Calendar of Human History and Anne Carson’s Eros the Bittersweet. Matt belongs in this company of practitioners of the wondrous. (As did—does—the late Charles Lillard.)