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G&A: The Contest Blog

Poets Anne Carson and Brenda Hillman have won the 2014 Griffin Poetry Prizes, given annually since 2000 for books of poetry published in, or translated into, English in the previous year and submitted from anywhere in the world. They each received $65,000 Canadian (approximately $60,000).

Carson, a poet, essayist, and translator who was born in Canada and currently teaches at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, won the Canadian prize for her most recent collection, Red Doc> (Knopf). Hillman, who serves as a professor and poet-in-residence at St. Mary’s College in Morago, California, and is the author of eight previous collections, won the International Prize for her collection Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire (Wesleyan University Press).

The announcement was made late last week at an annual awards ceremony in Toronto. Scott Griffin, the founder of the prize, and trustees Carolyn Forché, Robert Hass, Robin Robertson, Karen Solie, Colm Tóibín, and David Young hosted the event.

The judges, who are selected each year by the prize trustees, were for 2014 Robert Bringhurst, Jo Shapcott, and C. D. Wright. They each read 542 books of poetry, submitted from forty different countries, including twenty-four translations.

The 2014 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist featured collections by four international and three Canadian poets. The finalists were Rachael Boast’s Pilgrim’s Flower (Picador), Carl Phillips’s Silverchest (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Mira Rosenthal’s translation from the Polish of Colonies by Tomasz Rózycki (Zephyr Press), Sue Goyette’s Ocean (Gaspereau Press), and Anne Michaels’s Correspondences (McClelland & Stewart). Each finalist received a $10,000 honorarium.

During the awards ceremony, Brazilian poet and writer Adélia Prado was honored with the Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry's 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology: A Selection of the 2014 Shortlist, edited by Robert Bringhurst and published by House of Anansi Press, is now available at retail bookstores and online. Royalties generated from the anthologies, published annually, are donated to UNESCO's World Poetry Day.

Carson (above left), and Hillman (above right, Brett Hall Jones)

Last night at the Southbank Centre in London, Irish author Eimear McBride won the 2014 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction for her debut novel A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. She received £30,000 (approximately $50,385). 

Established in 1996, the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, formerly known as the Orange Prize, is given annually for a novel written in English by a woman and published in the United Kingdom during the previous year. The shortlisted finalists included Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for Americanah (Knopf); Hannah Kent for Burial Rites (Little, Brown); Jhumpa Lahiri for The Lowland (Knopf); Audrey Magee for The Undertaking (Atlantic Books); and Donna Tartt for The Goldfinch (Little, Brown).

The judges for this year’s prize were Mary Beard, Denise Mina, Caitlin Moran, Sophie Raworth, and chair of judges Helen Fraser, who called McBride’s winning book “an amazing and ambitious novel that impressed the judges with its inventiveness and energy. This is an extraordinary new voice—this novel will move and astonish the reader.”

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, which tells the story of a young woman struggling with sexual abuse and her brother’s brain tumor, is written in an experimental stream-of-consciousness style. McBride wrote the book in six months, and spent almost nine years trying to get the book published. It was finally picked up by the small UK-based Galley Beggar Press, which published it as their second book. The book has gone on to win the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year award and the Goldsmiths prize.

At last night’s award ceremony, McBride said of her win, “I hope it will serve as an incentive to publishers everywhere to take a look at difficult books and think again. We are all writers but we are all readers first. There is a contract between publishers and readers which must be honored, readers must not be underestimated.”

 Photo: Reuters

For the eighth installment of our Winners on Winning series, we spoke with Chris Hosea, the winner of the 2013 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets for his debut collection, Put Your Hands In. The prize, given annually to a poet who has not yet published a book, includes $5,000, publication, and a residency at the Vermont Studio Center. Hosea's winning manuscript, selected by John Ashbery, was published by Louisiana State University Press in March. Hosea received his MFA in poetry from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, and is a senior copywriter at H4B Chelsea. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

What kind of impact has winning the Whitman Award had on your career?
I'm pretty sure the Whitman Award helped me recently to land a new job, with better pay and more impressive-sounding title, in advertising. Creative distinctions, and particularly established institutional honors, are valued in such industries. 

Has winning this award, or previous awards, changed the way you approach your work?
I'm certain that contest judge John Ashbery's comparison between my poems and Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descebding a Staircase, and even more Ashbery's remarks about derision and eroticism in Put Your Hands In, will affect my writing for the rest of my life.

Have you ever entered a contest that you didn't win?
I have entered hundreds of contests and spent thousands of dollars on fees. If you don't play, you can't win. 

What advice would you offer to writers thinking of submitting to writing contests?
Sequencing is important. Give yourself at least a month to order and reorder the poems in your book. Also, contest screeners are often (though by no means always) young students who haven't read a lot of poetry before: so include some lyrical candy up front. 

For more Winners on Winning, read the current issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, and check back next Wednesday for a new installment.

Hosea: Myles Paige

Submissions are open for the 2014 Paz Poetry Prize, sponsored by the Center for Literature and Theater at Miami Dade College and the National Poetry Series. An award of $2,000 and publication of a bilingual edition by Akashic Books will be given for a poetry collection written in Spanish by a U.S. resident. A translator will translate the winning entry from Spanish to English.

Submit a manuscript of at least 48 pages by June 15. There is no entry fee. Submissions can be sent by mail to the National Poetry Series, Paz Prize for Poetry, 57 Mountain Avenue, Princeton, NJ 08540. Richard Blanco will judge.

The biennial Paz prize was established in 2012 to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Center for Literature and Theater at Miami Dade College. In response to why the prize was started, Lissette Mendez, the programs director at the center, says, “It’s hard for poets to publish, but poets who write in English have many contests they can enter in the U.S., as well as many independent presses and university presses to which they can submit manuscripts. It’s not quite that easy for poets who write in other languages—most publishers of foreign language books are in other countries. And then there is the issue of translation. The Paz Prize really works as a shortcut—publication in the U.S. by a wonderful, highly respected independent press in a bilingual edition. And our partner, National Poetry Series, is one of the most important poetry organizations in the country. It’s a wonderful thing to help a writer’s work get to the greater world, to help her or him find readers.”

Akashic Books, the Brooklyn-based press that will publish the winning collection, describes itself as committed to publishing work by authors who “are either ignored by the mainstream, or have no interest in working within the ever-consolidating ranks of the major corporate publishers.”

The 2012 winner of the Paz Prize, Dinapiera Di Donato, is a Venezuelan poet living in New York City. She won for her collection Colaterales/Collateral, which was chosen by Victor Hernandez Cruz, and translated by the poet Ricardo Alberto Maldonado.

The prize is named after the Mexican poet, essayist, and diplomat Octavio Paz (1914-1998), who wrote numerous poetry collections in Spanish from 1933 to 1989. He won the Cervantes Award in 1981, the Neustadt Prize in 1982, and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990.

Paz: La Jornada

Submissions are currently open for the third annual International Short Story Prize, sponsored by the Cavan, Ireland–based literary magazine the Moth. The winner will receive €3,000 (approximately $4,082), and publication in the autumn 2014 issue of the Moth.

A second-place prize of €1,000 (approximately $1,361) and a third-place prize that includes a weeklong writing retreat at Circle of Misse in Missé, France, and €250 (approximately $340) for travel expenses, will also be given. Both winners will receive publication of their stories in the autumn 2014 issue of the Moth, and will be invited, along with the first-place winner, to read at the Winding Stair Bookshop in Dublin in September.

Submit a story of up to 6,000 words with a €9 (approximately $12) entry fee by June 30. Submissions can be sent through the online submission system, or by mail, with the required entry form, to the Moth Short Story Prize, the Moth, 81 Church Street, Cavan, Co. Cavan, Ireland. Irish fiction writer Mike McCormack will judge. McCormack is the author of two short story collections, most recently Forensic Songs (The Lilliput Press, 2012), and two novels. A recent interview with McCormack can be read on the Moth website.

The International Short Story Prize was established in 2012. The 2013 winner, Meadhbh Ní Eadhra of Galway, Ireland, won for her story “Ghosties,” which was chosen by Martina Evans. Visit the Moth website to read the winning entry.

 Photo: The Winding Stair bookstore in Dublin.

For the seventh installment of our Winners on Winning series, we spoke with Paisley Rekdal, the winner of the 2013 University of North Texas Rilke Prize for her poetry collection, Animal Eye, published in 2012 by the University of Pittsburgh Press. The $10,000 prize is given annually to a midcareer poet. Animal Eye was also a finalist for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Prize and the Balcones Poetry Prize. Rekdal's previous books include an essay collection, The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee; a hybrid-genre memoir, Intimate; and three previous books of poetry, A Crash of Rhinos, Six Girls Without Pants, and The Invention of the Kaleidoscope. She teaches at the University of Utah. 

What kind of impact has winning the Rilke Prize had on your career?
The Rilke Prize relieved me of certain fears about the current direction of my writing, in particular the kinds of aesthetic interests and experiments with which I was, and am now, engaged. That kind of validation is probably the biggest reward any prize can give, outside of a sudden influx of cash. In terms of connections, the Rilke prize put me in direct contact with Bruce Bond, Corey Marks, and Lisa Vining at UNT, which led to some wonderful conversations over my week there about art and reading, the state of the lyric, and the best place to buy cowboy boots. As for what the prize itself allowed me to do financially, it helped pay for a new roof, which (considering my bathroom ceiling that winter was literally uddered with snowmelt-filled paint balloons) was a true blessing.

Has winning this award, or previous awards, changed the way you approach your work?
Like any good American or egomaniac, I love awards, but I can't write for them. I don’t think anyone does. In terms of the seriousness with which I take my work, however, prizes have certainly given me the confidence to be more ambitious.

Have you ever entered a contest that you didn't win?
I can’t begin to list all the contests that I’ve entered and haven’t won. The upside of being a 95% loser, 5% winner (if I’m lucky that year) is that I’ve learned how to brush off the rejection and continue to write, even within hours of a serious disappointment. Disappointment is, in fact, a great thing for a writer (if by "great" we also mean "getting kicked in the groin"), since it forces you either to learn how to enjoy the writing process itself or give up. Over the years, I’ve also been a judge for small and large contests across the nation, and these experiences have taught me that, once you’ve winnowed the best manuscripts down to a small handful, picking a single winner is frighteningly arbitrary. Being a finalist or semifinalist really is a good sign, as I tell my students: it means that your skills are recognizable, even if they aren’t the ones the judge-of-the-moment loves most.

What advice would you offer to writers thinking of submitting to writing contests?
Gird your loins. And take nothing—whether it’s failure or success--personally.

For more Winners on Winning, read the current issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, and check back here every Wednesday for a new installment.

Submissions are currently open for the Thurber House’s John E. Nance Writer-in-Residence award. The four-week residency is offered from September to October 2014 to a fiction writer or nonfiction writer who has had a book published within the past three years. The resident will be provided with a $4,000 stipend and a two-bedroom apartment in the former home of fiction writer and cartoonist James Thurber in Columbus, Ohio. Travel and food are not included. The resident is also asked to participate in three community outreach activities offered by the Thurber House, such as giving readings or teaching writing classes.

To apply, submit two copies of a book published in the past three years, along with three short stories, essays, or chapters of a novel or book of nonfiction with an optional table of contents totaling no more than 50 pages by June 2. There is no entry fee. Self-published books are not eligible. Submissions should be mailed with the required entry form to Thurber House, 77 Jefferson Avenue, Columbus, OH 43215. The resident will be chosen by July 7.

Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, James Thurber (1894-1961) was a prolific humorist, short story writer, and cartoonist. Though he spent most of his career in New York City, Thurber attended college in Ohio and worked at the Columbus Dispatch as a reporter from 1920 to 1924. He is buried in Columbus’s Greenlawn Cemetery.

Established in 2012 by Sally Crane, the annual John E. Nance Writer-in-Residence award is named after John Nance, a photojournalist who was the Thurber House writer-in-residence in 1995 and 1998. Previous residents include fiction writer Katrina Kittle and creative nonfiction writer Liza Monroy.

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