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G&A: The Contest Blog

For the second installment in our weekly Winners on Winning series, we spoke with poet Denice Frohman, who won a 2012 Leeway Foundation Transformation Award. The annual award gives an unrestricted $15,000 to women and transsexual, transgender, and genderqueer artists living in the Philadelphia area who create art for social change. Frohman was also named the 2013 Women of the World Poetry Slam Champion and received the 2013 Hispanic Choice Award for Creative Artist of the Year. Her debut album, Feels Like Home, is a mix of spoken word poetry and original music.

What kind of impact has winning the Leeway Transformation Award and other prizes had on your career?
Receiving the Transformation Award was a critical step for me in transitioning to a full-time, self-sustainable writing career. It afforded me the financial stability to quit my day-job, write, complete my debut CD, apply to residencies, attend poetry festivals, and begin a rigorous national tour as part of the spoken duo, Sister Outsider Poetry, alongside award-winning poet Dominique Christina. Winning awards can help create a larger platform for your work to be heard. I think that is true for both the Transformation Award and other awards I've received. In my opinion, it becomes even more important to be intentional with the work that you put out because you have a special opportunity to engage a larger audience in important social and political conversations.

Has winning this award, or previous awards, changed the way you approach your work?
I don't think I would say it has changed the way I approach my work.

Have you ever entered a contest that you didn't win?
The first time I applied for the Transformation Award I did not receive it. However, it was a really important step for me, because the process of applying required me to give language to my work in a way that I had not done before. I encourage anyone who is serious about their craft to apply for a grant—whether or not you receive it you will walk away with a clearer vision of your work and why the work matters. 

What advice would you offer to writers thinking of submitting to writing contests?
First, look at applying locally. There is no better way to build these skills than in your back yard. Get a sense of what the foundation or publication is looking for and see if your work fits in with those guidelines. I do not recommend "chasing funds"—in other words, do not change the work you do to fit a particular funder. You are much better off doing more research to find a place that is looking to fund the kind of work you are already doing. 

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

In conjunction with the new May/June 2014 Writing Contests issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, we are excited to introduce Winners on Winning, a new regular feature in which we will talk to recent winners of writing prizes, grants, and fellowships who will share their experiences on how winning—and losing—has affected their careers.

For the first installment, we spoke to Rebecca Dunham, winner of the 2013 Milkweed Editions Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry for her collection Glass Armonica ($10,000 and publication for a writer from the Upper Midwest). Dunham is the author of two previous poetry collections: The Miniature Room (Truman State University Press, 2006), which won the T. S. Eliot Prize, and The Flight Cage (Tupelo Press, 2010). She is a professor of creative writing at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

What kind of impact has winning this prize had on your career?
One of the most rewarding effects of winning the Lindquist & Vennum Prize is that I’ve had the opportunity to meet and develop relationships with more poets from the Midwest. I’ve also had the amazing experience of collaborating with a Minneapolis choreographer, Maggie Bergeron, on a ballet inspired by Glass Armonica. The Lindquist & Vennum Prize is sponsored by a Minneapolis law firm and comes with a generous cash prize. This has allowed me to travel and promote the book, as well as take the summer off from teaching to focus on my writing.

Has winning this award, or previous awards, changed the way you approach your work?
Honestly, I hope it hasn’t. It can take a while to find the right match between a manuscript and a judge, and I try to focus on the writing itself. Having had books published via winning contests has, however, given me more confidence that what I’m writing will someday find itself into the world.

Have you ever entered a contest that you didn't win?
I have racked up more rejections than I care to count. I try to separate the writing from the rejection, but it can be hard. I submitted Glass Armonica to presses and contests for two years, under different titles, and the manuscript changed a lot over that period of time. The one upside to rejection was that before sending the book out again, I would always comb through it, revising, adding or removing poems, etc. Glass Armonica is a tighter and more polished book than it was the first time I sent it out into the world.

What advice would you offer to writers thinking of submitting to writing contests?
Remember that entering writing contests is the business side of writing, not the creative part of it. I try to handle submissions as dispassionately as possible. I read the guidelines, follow them precisely – sort of like doing one’s taxes. I use a spreadsheet to keep track of where my manuscript is under consideration, and then I try to put the contest out of my mind. For me, that’s the best way to keep anticipation and anxiety from crowding out the pleasure I take in writing.

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

Dunham: Mark Pioli

Today in New York City, the Pulitzer Prize board announced the winners and finalists of the 2014 Pulitzer Prizes. Of the twenty-one prize categories, awards in letters are given annually for works published in the previous year by American writers.

The winner in fiction is Donna Tartt for The Goldfinch (Little, Brown). The finalists were Philipp Meyer’s The Son (Ecco) and Bob Shacochis’s The Woman Who Lost Her Soul (Atlantic Monthly Press). The winner in poetry is Vijay Seshadri for 3 Sections (Graywolf Press). The finalists were by Morri Creech’s The Sleep of Reason (The Waywiser Press) and Adrian Matejka’s The Big Smoke (Penguin).

A complete list of winners and finalists in each of the twenty-one categories is available on the Pulitzer Prize website. Winners will each receive $10,000.

Last year’s winners included fiction writer Adam Johnson for The Orphan Master’s Son (Random House) and poet Sharon Olds for Stag’s Leap (Knopf).

The Pulitzer Prizes, administered by the Columbia University School of Journalism, were established in 1911 by Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian-American journalist and newspaper publisher, and were first awarded in 1917. Longtime prize administrator Sig Gissler, 78, recently announced that he will retire later this year. The Pulitzer board has formed a committee to nominate his replacement; inquiries about the position can be directed to Susan Glancy at nominations@columbia.edu.

Submissions for the 2015 prizes will open in May. 

The Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry announced the shortlist for its 2013 Griffin Poetry Prize on Tuesday. Two awards of $65,000 CAD (approximately $59,253) each are given annually for poetry collections published during the previous year, one by a poet living in Canada and another by a poet living internationally.

The international finalists include Rachel Boast for Pilgrim’s Flower (Picador), Brenda Hillman for Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire (Wesleyan University Press), Carl Phillips for Silverchest (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), and Mira Rosenthal for her translation from the Polish of Tomasz Rózycki’s Colonies (Zephyr Press). The Canadian finalists include Anne Carson for Red Doc> (Knopf), Sue Goyette for Ocean (Gaspereau Press), and Anne Michaels for Correspondences (Knopf).

The seven finalists will each receive $10,000 CAD (approximately $9,114) and will be invited to read on June 4 at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto. The winners, who will each receive $65,000 CAD (approximately $59,253), will be announced on June 5 at the Griffin Poetry Prize Awards ceremony.

The 2014 judges, chosen by the Griffin Trust trustees, are Robert Bringhurst of Canada, Jo Shapcott of the United Kingdom, and C. D. Wright of the United States. They read 539 poetry collections, including 24 translations, from 40 countries.

Based in Toronto, the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry was founded in 2000 by chairman Scott Griffin and trustees Margaret Atwood, Robert Hass, Michael Ondaatje, Robin Robertson, and David Young. Carolyn Forché joined as a trustee in 2004.

Publishers may submit books for consideration by the annual deadline of December 31. Visit the Griffin Trust website for more information and complete guidelines.

Fady Joudah and Candian poet David W. McFadden won the 2013 Griffin Poetry Prizes. Joudah won for his translation from the Arabic of Palestinian poet Ghassan Zaqtan's Like a Straw Bird It follows Me (Yale University Press); McFadden won for his collection What's the Score (Mansfield Press).

Phillips: Dinty W. Moore; Carson: Peter Smith.

The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, formerly the Orange Prize, has announced the shortlist for its 2014 award. Now in its nineteenth year, the £30,000 (approximately $50,000) London-based prize is given to a woman writer from any country for a novel written in English and published in the previous year.

The finalists are Nigerian American author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for Americanah (Knopf), Australian author Hannah Kent for Burial Rites (Picador), British American author Jhumpa Lahiri for The Lowland (Bloomsbury), Irish author Audrey Magee for The Undertaking (Atlantic Books), Irish author Eimear McBride for A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (Faber & Faber), and American author Donna Tartt for The Goldfinch (Little, Brown).

This year’s shortlisted books were selected from a longlist of twenty. The shortlist boasts one previous Orange Prize winner, one previously shortlisted author, and three debut novelists.

The judges for the 2014 prize are Helen Fraser, the chief executive of the Girls’ Day School Trust; Mary Beard, a professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge; writer Denise Mina; Times columnist, author, and screenwriter Caitlin Moran; and Sophie Raworth, a BBC broadcaster and journalist.

“We are very excited by the books we have chosen for the shortlist,” said Helen Fraser, the chair of judges, in yesterday's announcement. “Each one is original and extraordinary in its own way—each offers something different and exciting and illuminating.” The winner will be announced at a ceremony in London on June 4.

Established in 1996 to celebrate and promote fiction by women throughout the world, the Women’s Prize for Fiction was renamed and took on new sponsorship last year after a longtime partnership with telecommunications company Orange. The prize is anonymously endowed, and is the UK’s only annual book award for fiction written by women. Any woman writing in English, regardless of nationality, country of residence, age, or subject matter, is eligible.

American author A. M. Homes won the 2013 Prize for her novel May We Be Forgiven. In the video below from the Guardian, British author Jeanette Winterson interviews Homes about her winning book.

The PEN/Faulkner Foundation announced today that Karen Joy Fowler has won the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for her most recent novel, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. The $15,000 prize honors a book of fiction by an American author published in the previous year.

Fowler is the author of six novels, including the bestselling The Jane Austen Book Club (Putnam, 2004), and five short story collections. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, published by Marian Wood last May, is loosely inspired by the work of psychologist Winthrop Kellogg in the early 1930s, and tells the story of a young woman raised with a chimpanzee as a sister.

Known for writing genre-bending work, Fowler also cofounded the James Tiptree Jr. Award in 1991, a literary prize given annually for works of science fiction and fantasy that explore the understanding of gender. The prize is named for science fiction author Alice Sheldon, who wrote under the pen name James Tiptree Jr.

In the following podcast from Aspen Public Radio’s First Draft series, Fowler discusses the new book, her process and inspiration, and how she came to be a writer.

The judges for this year’s PEN/Faulkner Award were Madison Smartt Bell, Manuel Muñoz, and Achy Obejas. Fowler’s novel was chosen from more than 430 novels and short story collections. In a statement released this morning, Muñoz said, “Fowler captures an altogether new dimension of the meaning—and heartbreak—of family dynamics.” Smartt Bell added, “This is a book that really does tell us something new about what it is to be human—and what it is not to be."

The finalists for the award included two short story collections, Joan Silber’s Fools (Norton) and Valerie Trueblood’s Search Party (Counterpoint); and two novels, Daniel Alarcón’s At Night We Walk in Circles (Riverhead) and Percival Everett’s Percival Everett by Virgil Russell (Graywolf). Each finalist will receive $5,000.

Fowler and the four finalists will be honored at the 34th annual PEN/Faulkner Awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., on May 10. 

In the video below, Fowler reads an early excerpt from We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, originally published in the literary magazine ZYZZYVA.

A Room of Her Own Foundation is currently accepting submissions to its annual book prizes for women writers. The To the Lighthouse Poetry Book Prize is given annually for a poetry collection; the inaugural Clarissa Dalloway Book Prize will be given annually for a book of “everything but poetry.” The winner of each prize will receive $1,000, publication by Red Hen Press, and up to $1,000 in travel expenses to promote the book. The deadline is next Tuesday, April 1.

Kate Gale, the managing editor of Red Hen Press and editor of the Los Angeles Review, will judge the Clarissa Dalloway Prize. C.D. Wright will judge the To the Lighthouse Poetry Book Prize.

Women poets may enter the To the Lighthouse Poetry Book Prize by submitting a manuscript of 48 to 96 pages (two-thirds of which must be unpublished); women fiction and nonfiction writers may enter the Clarissa Dalloway Book Prize by submitting a manuscript of 50,000 to 150,000 words. Novels, novellas, memoirs, biographies, young adult literature, and graphic novels are eligible. The entry fee for both prizes is $20; entrants may submit using the online submission system or by postal mail to A Room of Her Own, Attn: TTL or CD Book Prize, P.O. Box 778, Placitas, NM 87043.

Sarah Wetzel won the 2013 To the Lighthouse Poetry Book Prize, judged by Tracy K. Smith, for her collection River Electric with Light. The winner of the 2012 prize, chosen by Evie Shockley, was Leia Penina Wilson for her collection I built a boat with all the towels in your closet.

Founded in 2000, A Room of Her Own is a nonprofit organization that works to support women writers. Their mission is “to inspire, fund, and champion works of art and literature by women.” AROHO, which is committed to Virginia Woolf’s belief that “women need money and a room of their own if they are to write,” has channeled more than $1 million into awards, fellowships, and opportunities for women writers. Visit the website for more information.

Editor's Note: As of April 4, 2014, the deadline for both the To the Lighthouse Poetry Book Prize and Clarissa Dalloway Book Prize has been extended to July 31.

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