2021 Irene Adler Prize

Isabella Goodman is the winner of the 2021 Irene Adler Prize for women writers for her essay, “A Catalog in Friendship.” It appears below.

Goodman, who receives $1,000 toward her education, is pursuing her B.A. in journalism with a minor in art history from American University.

For the first time in prize history, three honorable mentions were awarded. Matisse Haddad (“Where It Hurts”) is pursuing her M.F.A. in screenwriting at the AFI Conservatory. Natasha Maki Jessen-Petersen (“Fresh Paint”) is seeking her M.A. in data journalism at Stanford University. Lara Miller (“The Alchemy of Pain”) is working on her M.F.A. in playwriting at Carnegie Mellon University.

A Catalog in Friendship

By Isabella Goodman

I keep a list in my notes app. It’s filled with a life half-chronicled: half-drunk, half-asleep, half-formed. “Gloria, x3” is a reminder of when we listened to Laura Branigan’s song on repeat, and I can see Nell’s face as she asks me to please, play it one more time. Next, there’s a jumble of letters and words that make no sense to me now, though I can still feel remnants of what must have been elation urging me to write something, anything, to mark the moment.

I take my best friends from college to the small, lakeside cottage where I spent summers getting scraped knees and lessons in how to endure. It’s too cold to swim now, so instead, we rewrite. I smooth over the soreness of the anxious little girl I once was and make better memories in every spot I once resented, changing the story of 34 Thomas Road with every dance and laugh. This year, I have held on to Jessa and Phoebe for dear life. Writing them into this history is an act of absolution, one that I’ll never stop being grateful for.

I write a text to Sarah. Actually, I write at least thirty texts to Sarah, but I only send one. I wish her a happy nine months sober, omitting the part where I ask how I fit into her life now. I say I’m glad she’s doing so well, omitting the part where I wonder where we’d be without the isolation and grief. I choose to take the celebrations as they come; we can deal with the rest later. I don’t omit anything when I tell her how much she means to me.

“Sometimes love sustains, sometimes it isn’t enough” is what I write on the title page of Memorial by Bryan Washington. Similar fragments crowd the rest of the book. I hope that when I send it to Clara, she has enough room to add her own thoughts. We grew up where the book takes place and though we live on separate coasts now, we always make time to talk about the things you can only say to the person who’s known you the longest. I make a note every time a sentence sounds eerily like a piece of Clara’s advice and underline the jokes I know she’ll laugh at. I can’t tell how much I’m writing to her and how much I’m writing to myself, but I know she’ll understand anyway.

This past year, I haven’t written the great American novel or published a poignant think-piece that captures the attention of Twitter for the day. What I’ve been doing barely even looks like writing, but right now, it’s the only thing I know how to do. The women around me are a sustaining force of joy, so I’ll forever be writing to and for them in every way that I can. One day, I’ll do them justice with my writing. Until then, I’ll keep cataloging our moments.