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“I get to start with just a kernel of truth from my life and spin it way, way out of control,” said Jodi Bloom, winner of the 1997 Washington Review fiction prize, before an in-crowd of local literary types at the venerable bimonthly’s annual awards reception at D.C. Arts Center last Sunday. The reading space is a dark room with black-painted walls, and Bloom’s frizzy hair bobbed in the light as she explained her impulses for writing: “I’m a great liar on paper, but I suck at lying in person.”

Bloom, a writer in Takoma Park, said her winning story, “Big Guns,” sprang from her own experiences dealing with fertility clinics and an orchestrated visit she once paid to a gun shop in Silver Spring for “research purposes.” The story was first published in the February-March 1997 issue of Washington Review. “Big Guns” details the plight of Myra and Arnie, a couple struggling to get pregnant. Arnie splits when the rigors and financial costs of surmounting infertility prove to be too much; Myra finds herself alone in their home just as a double murder takes place in the neighborhood. She buys a handgun to settle her nerves. Bloom’s “research” paid off in her brilliantly accurate portrayal of the characters in a gun shop. There’s an old adage among fiction writers that if there’s a gun on the table in a story, it needs to go off by the time the story ends—Bloom doesn’t disappoint.

Poetry winner Chris Stroffolino came up next as “the hyperextended elbow of the avant-garde” and one of “the incubating rabid dogs of poetry.” His own wisecracking work and rapid-fire delivery justified the overblown description; it was sort of a joke at his expense, which he seemed happy to be in on. For the reading of his poem “18 1/2 Minute Gap,” he attempted a Richard Nixon impersonation, but he couldn’t sustain it beyond the first line without cracking. His breathless performance worked like an off-kilter stand-up comedy routine; while reading poems such as “An Infantilization of Infantry,” Stroffolino—and his audience—couldn’t help but laugh at his self-consciously awkward setups even before he got around to delivering the punch lines.

“Should I read that award-winning thing, or no?” asked Stroffolino, referring to his poem “After Viewing Dave Rosenthal’s Snarp’s Cameo,” which was published in the June-July 1997 issue of the Review. He peered out into the crowd, trying to gauge reaction and determine the length of his welcome. “I’m a teacher,” said Stroffolino, by way of apology. “I’m used to captivated audiences. It starts affecting everything one does.”—Colin Bane