Tia Jensen‘s essay, “Empty,” the Nonfiction Finalist for New Southerner‘s Literary Prize Edition, covers issues too many writers shy away from. With restraint and visceral detail, she paints a picture of suffering through hunger, poverty, and parental abuse free from self-loathing or self-pity. Her factual account is as powerful as her ownership of her own body. Jensen’s intense, brave honestly is both breathtaking and heartbreaking.
I was hungry. Ramen noodles were not available in Kentucky until I was in high school. Daddy would boil them for an hour, ’til they softened, expanded, swelled. He’d toss the water out, add spice last. Shared with four people, one packet never enough. We ate sticks of butter for snacks; not the real kind—government issued. My great grandmother received rations; Alma didn’t cook, didn’t butter, gave the useless to us. This imitation butter—cheap, oily—filled empty hollows, made our gurgling quieter. It stopped our asking. I preferred wild onions from the yard. Daddy, dead now, would hurt if he read this. He worked three jobs, but when I was little, growing, always wanting, never full enough, I noticed when I was empty.
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