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G&A: The Contest Blog

For the fourth installment of our ongoing Winners on Winning series, we spoke with poet Christopher Salerno, who was chosen by D. A. Powell as the winner of the 2013 Georgetown Review Poetry Contest for his collection ATM. He received $1,000, and his book was published in March by Georgetown Review Press. His previous collections include Minimum Heroic, which won the Mississippi Review Poetry Prize in 2010, and Whirligig, which was published by Spuyten Duyvil in 2006. He is an assistant professor of English at William Paterson University in New Jersey.

What kind of impact has winning the Georgetown Review Poetry Prize had on your career?
I’m actually up for tenure this year at the university where I teach, and so clearly a prize of any kind is useful for that business. But more important, in terms of my writing, the prize has afforded me the time and perspective to clear the deck, and to be patient and thoughtful about what comes next. I realize that I don’t need to be pushing out books on any kind of set schedule. If it happens, great. Also, I’m sending myself on a modest reading tour this spring, which will allow me to connect with other writers and audiences who may not know about my work.

Has winning this award, or previous awards, changed the way you approach your work?
Absolutely. Winning this award for ATM, and winning an award for my previous book, Minimum Heroic, has given me insight into my revision process, and what it means to “finish” a manuscript. It’s also made me think about the notion of a “project” or themed book, such as ATM. Some presses responded more strongly to the cohesive nature of this manuscript, as opposed to my previous, loosely-knit collections.

Have you ever entered a contest that you didn't win?
Yes. I’ve entered more contests over the years that I can remember. But fewer and fewer as my career has moved along. To some degree I’ve used rejection to push me back into the manuscript and think more about it. I’ve also developed more awareness and respect for what certain presses do and what kind of work they publish, and so if my book doesn’t make the cut I am more inclined to wonder why. I’m rarely satisfied with my work anyway, and I find great enjoyment in pushing the manuscript around to see what other potential is there. 

What advice would you offer to writers thinking of submitting to writing contests?
There are two things I’ve learned. First, you must familiarize yourself with the judge’s work and the work published by the press or publisher holding the contest. You’d be crazy to throw your $20 at a press just because you think it’s grand. How do you see your work fitting there? My advice would be to send, but only if you think it’s a good fit. Secondly, it’s wise to keep in mind that, after winning a prize, it is unlikely that the press will publish that winner’s follow-up book. Some presses are loyal to authors, and others seek the freshness of new contest books. 

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

The American Poetry Review is currently accepting submissions for the Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize for Younger Poets. The annual prize is given for a poem or group of poems written by a poet under 40. The winner will receive $1,000 and publication in the September/October 2014 issue of the American Poetry Review.

Poets may submit one to three poems totaling no more than three pages with a $15 entry fee. The deadline is May 15; poets may submit using the online submission system, or by postal mail to the American Poetry Review, Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize, UARTS/320 South Broad Street, Hamilton #313, Philadelphia, PA 19102. The editors of the American Poetry Review will judge. The winner will be announced by July 1.

Established in 2010, the prize honors the late Stanley Kunitz and his dedication to mentoring young poets. Kunitz (1905-2006) taught at Bennington College, Brandeis, Columbia, Princeton, Queens College, Rutgers, University of Washington, Vassar, and Yale. He helped found the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, as well as Poets House in New York City. From 1969 to 1977, he served as the judge for the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize, selecting the work of emerging poets such as Carolyn Forché and Robert Hass.

Previous winners of the Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize prize include Ocean Vuong, Alex Dimitrov, and Elly Bookman.

Photo credit: Middle Tennessee State University

For the third installment in our weekly Winners on Winning series, we spoke with poet Dexter L. Booth, who was selected by Major Jackson as the winner of the 2012 Cave Canem Poetry Prize for his collection, Scratching the Ghost, which was published in 2013 by Graywolf Press. He teaches poetry and English composition at Arizona State University.

What kind of impact has winning the Cave Canem Poetry Prize had on your career?
A few months after I found out I was selected for the prize I was contacted by the University of Arizona’s Poetry Center and the Pima Writers’ Workshop. At this point the book didn’t even have a cover image and wasn’t real to me yet. I drove to Tucson to give a reading, lecture, and run a workshop that summer. It was the first time I had ever been invited to be a part of something like that. I met a bunch of great writers and made some connections in the academic community, some of which have led to friendships that I’ve come to deeply value.

When the book was released I flew to New York City and read at NYU and met Cornelius Eady. Because Cave Canem is based in New York I also had my first face-to-face meeting with Alison Meyers, the executive director of Cave Canem, and a few others I had been in touch with via email for over a year. I was introduced to a lot of Cave Canem fellows and they were all incredibly nice and extremely supportive.

Working with Graywolf Press has also been a humbling experience. They are so accommodating and flexible. I owe a lot of the publicity credit to them. Jeff Shotts is an amazing editor and he really cares about Graywolf’s authors. Though I’ve made quite a few connections and have been given a number of opportunities, I’m not one to brag about the details. I am very fortunate and I think winning this prize has made my career.

Has winning this award, or previous awards, changed the way you approach your work?
When I first found out the book was going to be published I was both elated and petrified. I had been sending it out, but I didn’t expect anything other than rejection; that’s a part of the process, a type of battle scar. Suddenly my poems went from being read by teachers, friends, and fellow poets, to having a readership that extended outside of the people I knew. I was so used to writing in solitude and sharing with a chosen few, the thought of the poems packing their sacks and heading out into the world with just one another to rely on was mortifying. For about six months or so I couldn’t write anything new. I had written a lot while sending out the manuscript but suddenly worry over the reception of the book became very crippling. After the buzz of congratulations died down a bit I made a concentrated effort to put it out of my mind. My work had already naturally evolved and I was writing poems that were longer and noticeably more demanding. I threw myself into those new poems as a way of ignoring the book. All of my poems are written out a desire to understand the world; the poems from the book are a part of my evolution as a writer, of course, but I don’t see the publication of the book itself as having any direct impact on the way I write.

Have you ever entered a contest that you didn't win?
Richard Siken said that sending out your work and getting rejections is a form of participation in the literary community. Pretty early into my MFA I made it a habit to submit my work to various journals and contests. I received a lot of rejections. The first rejection is always rough on anyone, but you get used to it. I was the poetry editor for Hayden’s Ferry Review for a year and I got to see the submission process from the inside. So many poems come through—many of them don’t even make it to the editor, and though a lot of what does is strong work, it doesn’t always meet the taste or aesthetic of the person who reads it. Contests work the same way.

What advice would you offer to writers thinking of submitting to writing contests?
Be patient and persistent. Rejection is just a part of what we do as artists. People often see the name of the judge for a contest and think their work is perfect and that there’s no way they can’t win, but in reality [a submission] has to go through a lot of hands before it reaches that judge. This can get expensive since there are so may contests out there, but I don’t think submitting to everything is prudent. Do some research and pick a few contests to send to. Send your best work but know that every other person who submitted is doing the same. If you aren’t selected, read the work that was and see what you can learn from it. Consider submissions to be an exercise in participation and don’t think about winning or losing or being rejected. Once the poems are sent, take a walk. When you get back home start writing new poems. If the poems are turned down, take another walk, start another poem. Rinse. Repeat.

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 Paris Review's Writer-in-Residence program. Cosponsored by the Standard’s East Village hotel in New York City, the three-week residency, valued at $7,500, is given to a poet, a fiction writer, or a creative nonfiction writer with a book under contract. The resident will receive a room free of charge at the Standard’s East Village hotel for the first three weeks in July, as well as breakfasts, unlimited coffee, and a small reception at the end of the residency.

To apply, submit a description and sample of the work-in-progress totaling no more than 50 pages, a letter from the publisher confirming that the work is under contract, a brief letter of intent, and an optional sample of previous work totaling no more than 50 pages by May 1. All materials must be submitted electronically to residency@theparisreview.org. The editors of the Paris Review and Standard Culture will judge.

The residency program was launched in the fall of 2013. The inaugural resident, fiction writer Lysley Tenorio of San Francisco, spent three weeks in January at the Standard’s East Village hotel working on his novel.

The winner will be announced on June 7, 2014.

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. 

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