About Sam Szanto
Sam Szanto grew up in Eastbourne, East Sussex, the daughter of an astrologer/barrister and a psychiatric nurse.
Her numerous jobs have included ice cream seller, Lush retailer and marketing for a national blind charity. She has always had cats. She has an embarrassing richness of degrees (from Warwick, Sheffield, Bath Spa and now Newcastle), including three Master's degrees - one currently in progress, all in English-related subjects.
A gypsy by nature, Sam has lived all over the country. After 20 years in London, she moved her family (a husband, two children and the ubiquitous cat) up to Durham.
Her surname is Hungarian and is pronounced (in English) San-to. She's heard all the Santa jokes.
'Splashing Pink', a collaborative poetry pamphlet by Sam and Annie Cowell, was published by Hedgehog Press in 2023. It was selected as a Winter 2023 Pamphlet Choice by the Poetry Society. To buy a copy click here.
Sam's poetry pamphlet 'If This Was Your Mother' was selected as one of the winners of the 2023 Dreich Chapbook Contest and will be published in 2024.
Almost 100 of Sam's stories and poems have been published/ listed in competitions. As well as her many published stories, in 2023 she was placed second in the Strands International Flash Fiction Contest; in 2022 she won the Shooter Flash Fiction Contest and the Mum Life Stories Prize, and was placed second in the Writer’s Mastermind Short Story Contest. She was a winner in the 2020 Literary Taxidermy Competition and the 2019 Doris Gooderson Short Story Competition. Her story collection "Courage" was a finalist in the 2021 St Lawrence Book Awards.
As a poet, she won the 2020 Charroux Prize and the First Writers International Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared in a number of international literary journals, including The North, Northern Gravy and The Storms.
A live reading of '125', a winner in the 2020 Literary Taxidermy Competition:
A live reading of 'The Cleaner', which won first prize in the 2022 Shooter Flash Competition:
'Always Remembered', a micro-fiction piece that won first prize in the Mum Life Stories contest in 2022:
‘If No One Speaks’, the titular story of Sam’s collection and which won second prize in the Writer's Mastermind Competition in 2022:
‘Quiet Love’ won third prize in the 2021 Erewash Open Short Story Competition:
In 2023, Roi Faineant Press published 'I Can Do It In My Sleep':
Sam’s poem ‘Night-light’, written three weeks after her first child was born, won first prize in the First Writer International Poetry Competition:
‘My Son’s Life-Story Book’ was the winner of the 2020 Charroux Prize for Poetry:
My Son’s Life Story Book
This smiling woman wants my memories
for a life story book she’s compiling,
so my child will know where he came from
in the context of where he now belongs,
not here, but with a new improved mummy,
writing his next chapter alongside hers,
creating a text I’ve been removed from.
The woman squeezes past me in the hall
where he battled to crawl, my brain rattling
with the little stories I cling on to
now he is gone. She wants to take photos
of pertinent things. Take one of me, please,
I want to plead, but show her his bedroom,
an unfilled space where his cot used to be,
you can still see the glow in the dark stars
I stared at during those never-ending nights,
holding his hand through the bars of that cot,
telling stories about the sparkling stars,
We will escape to them someday, I’d say.
She can’t picture that shining happiness
that came into my battered bruised body
when his hand was in mine like a secret.
The woman wants anything I can give,
she grins as I give a lock of his hair,
tear off the scan pic attached to the fridge,
kissing goodbye to that small waving fist
to be bonded onto a nurse-clean page,
in a drawer’s belly are notes on first foods,
she stuffs them without a glance into her bag
with a snap of him Velcro-ed against me,
she wants facts the most: place of birth, date, weight,
has questions about religion, work, health,
my emotions have no place in this book,
he doesn’t need to know my life story,
such truths serve no purpose to my child,
history is just that, his story, not mine.
These books can help children to move forward,
the woman says, as she prepares to go.
Thank you for your time and the memories.
I am left in his room, staring at stars.
‘So we will leave before they come with guns’ won second prize in the Hammond House International Poetry Prize 2019 and is published in their Leaving anthology.
So we will leave before they come with guns
Leaving is peeling person
from place, the pain like tearing
skin from bone. This is our home.
Asylum seeker sounds like lunatic,
alien a green man in a spaceship,
even the word refugee is on its knees.
We must leave the home chosen in love,
where stuck fast like two parts of a skull
we danced in every room,
now, the scent of white jasmine
cannot remove war’s reek,
no music drown the sound of bombs,
we are shells in a shell in a shelled city,
so we will leave before they come with guns,
whisper away like dew,
open the door delicately, carefully
as a surgeon opening a body,
creep in the sparse dark,
cedars creaking as if in warning,
watched by faded stars we will go
feeding our kids stories
of who will be waiting at the end,
arms stretched out, superheroes
who will know we’re the same skin and bone.
Sam's poem 'Those Who Don't Exist' was highly commended by Glyn Maxwell for the 2022 AUB Poetry Prize and published in their prizewinners' anthology.
Those who don’t exist
Yesterday the woman called a hotline, asked for Jane and talked long
as the making and baking of bread, today as the sun prods knives
in her face she invisibles past cherry tree sentries, avoiding
the rollerskating child and young girl toiling with a pram,
trembling her hand
against an unmarked door, she is supported down chattering steps
to a cellar, where they blindfold her so she can’t bear witness
to those who don’t exist yet will do what she’s chosen;
the hands of a school teacher gentle her to a bed
and she gasps at the speculum and cold paste,
hands consoling hers the whole time, at the end the woman
hands over all she can, more than they’d asked for,
as she staggers up there are shouts and crashes,
the house penetrated by blankly angry men,
the woman strips off her blindfold, body
cramping, the Janes swallow cards imprinted with names
and addresses, she is seized, handcuffed and thrust
into a car, at the station she sheds clotted blood;
nobody chooses to hand over information,
the woman is released.
The Jane Collective was an underground network of amateur female abortion providers that launched in Chicago in 1965
A link to Sam reading the poem is here: https://www.facebook.com/512782722/videos/593216812540624/
'Memories' placed second in the 2022 Blandford Poetry Prize.
are squirming prehistoric creatures
burrowing under my clothes, enlivened
by tea in that mug that matches your eyes,
Revolutionary Road shown on TV,
the airline ticket from our Paris trip
leading to le labyrinthe, feet blistered
trying to make up, cover, lost miles,
there are only ends and no heart-centre.
This love was. Slowly it becomes formless,
drifting, softening, snakeskin-empty,
the part it has played in who I am now
secreted in a pocket of a coat
of courage, which does not match anything
and goes where it wants, maybe to Paris.
Sam's poem 'The Rabbit' was commended in the 2023 Chesham Literary Festival Competition
This text is copyright to Sam Szanto and should not be reproduced without permission.
In 2022, Sam's poem 'A Trail of Two Cities' was chosen by Andrew McMillan and Stephanie Sy-Quia to feature in 'The North #68' published by The Poetry Business.