Meet Our 2022 Spring Memoir Grand Prize Winner

Laura Green-Russell on the strength it takes to write a deeply personal piece—and the shock she felt when she won.

Meet Our 2022 Spring Memoir Grand Prize Winner

The last story Laura Green-Russell got published was a piece about her family’s horse, which she sent in to a magazine when she was 12 years old. Today, Laura prints out her favorite paragraphs she’s written and hangs them on the wall of her office to remind her that she can do it — pursue writing and follow her dreams. 

We are so excited to introduce Laura as our 2022 Narratively Spring Memoir Grand Prize Winner. Laura sat down with Narratively to chat about her story, Murder to Middle School, how she felt when she won, and what the writing process behind her award-winning submission was like.

In your story, you cover a lot of extremely hard things that you went through. Can you talk about what the process of writing that was like?

I grew up in a household where we just didn’t talk about things. And I just didn’t know that there was an easy way to tell my kids what I had seen, because I didn’t really feel normal about it. And I always thought that people would look at me differently, and people did look at me differently. I always thought that they looked at me and pitied me, and I didn’t like that. So I didn’t talk about this at all for a period of like 10 years.

As I got older, I learned that people saw strength in me, and I think only I was seeing the pity. It took me a long time to learn how to be vulnerable, learn to share my story, and then learn to open up to my kids and let them know the whole story. It’s a hard story, it’s something that I didn’t want them to know until they were old enough to really understand. They knew that my dad was dead and they knew that he died in a tragic way. But they didn’t know I was there and witnessed it for a long time. 

[Once I got it down on paper], my writing mentor gave me the option to read the first chapter out loud, or she would read it out loud, because that’s how we edit. And it was way harder than I thought it was going to be. It’s still not easy to read it. 

How did you decide that you wanted to publish your story (or submit it to a prize)?

I didn’t think I would win, so it was easy to submit. I had only submitted one other piece before. My writing mentor said I might have to submit a thousand times before I would ever get published, but she wanted me to keep submitting, so that when my book was finished, I might have pieces that were published — so winning was not something I ever thought about. My brain had not even gone there, and I’m still trying to process it, quite frankly.

When I won, I was in major shock. Other people were crying and happy for me. And I couldn’t even cry. I had mixed emotions of terror, like: how am I going to tell my family that this could actually be released? And am I ready for it to be released? I had always thought, yeah, I might publish this, I might just have this self-published and give it to people that I choose to give it to. I really hadn’t thought about my story being out there, and exposing myself to whoever wanted to read it.

Has your family read your piece or do they plan to when it’s released?

I asked my mom from the very beginning if she wanted to read any of it and she said she didn’t want to read anything until it was done. I’ve told my family that the writing process has been very therapeutic, and that it’s just my feelings — you have to know that I’m writing from my point of view. And it doesn’t mean anything else.

I don’t talk about my mom a lot in this piece. But in my book, I talk about her a lot more, and I’m pretty hard on her. She was pretty hard on me growing up, but I got through this because of her. I think she was the reason I made better choices, and I didn’t go down all the bad paths. It’s because she raised us to be really strong. And that voice in my head was always her.

I just asked my mom if she wanted to read this before it goes out and she actually said yes. And I’ll be curious to see what she says. I keep telling myself it’s my feelings and my journey, you know? And I think that’s what we always have to remind ourselves — it’s our story.

The last piece Laura got published: a story about her horse, Chinook, when she was 12 years old.

What do you hope people take away from your story?

I really want people to feel stronger from it, feel empowered. Because one thing I never did growing up was use this as an excuse — no matter what you go through, there’s never an excuse for bad behavior. I wanted to drink too much, sometimes I wanted to do drugs — I thought about these things to dull the pain. And life was hard sometimes. But I always have that thing in my brain saying: You got to be stronger than that. You got to be tougher than that. You got to do better than that.. And I know not everyone can — but if one person can learn that you can sometimes just fight…that’s what I would want. 

What do you think is powerful about nonfiction storytelling?

I think it’s the vulnerability and the way that people just put themselves out there. Now, when I walk down an aisle at a bookstore, and I’m looking at memoirs on a shelf, I look at it completely differently. The time and the effort. It’s incredible the time and effort that people put into bearing their souls. I used to pick up a book and think about it in relation to price, and now I just think, hours, months, years — blood, sweat, tears. It’s someone’s life. It’s painful. I think nonfiction has gotta be the hardest thing in the world.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity

Read Laura’s grand prize winning story: Murder to Middle School