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G&A: The Contest Blog

Last night in New York City, George Saunders took home the 2014 Story Prize for his collection Tenth of December. The coveted $20,000 award, now in its tenth year, honors short story collections published in the previous year.

Saunders beat out Andrea Barrett for Archangel (Norton) and Rebecca Lee for Bobcat and Other Stories (Algonquin), who each received $5,000. All three finalists read from and discussed their work with Story Prize director Larry Dark as part of the evening's event.

George Saunders discusses his work at the Story Prize ceremony.

Saunders, who lives in Oneonta, New York, is the author of six previous books, including the story collections CivilWarLand in Bad DeclinePastoralia, and In Persuasion Nation, which was a finalist for the Story Prize in 2007. Tenth of December (Random House), spent ten consecutive weeks on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list, reaching as high as the number two spot. Among numerous other accolades, Saunders received the 2013 PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story and was included in Time's 2013 list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

In his on-stage interview, Saunders discussed his process, the role of sound in his work, and how putting himself inside his characters and “turning to the truth” helps him find what he’s looking for in a character or story. Saunders, who once penned a 700-page novel before scrapping it to turn to stories, praised the short form in his acceptance speech, adding that often the smallest details of the human experience are what ultimately matter most. “We don’t have anything but those small motions of the heart and mind,” he said. “Short stories remind us of that.”

Dark and Story Prize founder Julie Lindsey selected the three finalists from among ninety-six books entered in 2013, from sixty-four different publishers. Three final judges—Stephen Ennis, director of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin; award-winning author Antonya Nelson; and Rob Spillman, founding editor of Tin House—chose the winner.

“George Saunders offers a vision and version of our world that takes into account the serious menace all around us without denying the absurd pleasures that punctuate life,” the judges said in a statement. “This book is very funny and very sad.”

Claire Vaye Watkins won the 2013 prize. The award is the largest first-prize amount of any annual U.S. book award for fiction.

Ansel Elkins of Greensboro, North Carolina, has been named the winner of the 2014 Yale Series of Younger Poets prize. Her collection, Blue Yodel, will be published by Yale University Press in April 2014. She will also receive one of five writing fellowships at the James Merrill House in Stonington, Connecticut.

Courtesy Yale University Press

Carl Phillips praised the manuscript, his fourth selection as final judge of the series. “Through her arresting use of persona, in particular, Ansel Elkins reminds us of the pivotal role of compassion in understanding others and—more deeply and often more disturbingly—our various inner selves,” he said. “Razor-edged in their intelligence, southern gothic in their sensibility, these poems enter the strangenesses of others and return us to a world at once charged, changed, brutal, and luminous.”

Elkins is also the recipient of a 2013 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, the 2012 North American Review James Hearst Poetry Prize, the 2012 Fugue Poetry Prize, and the 2011 “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Prize. She received her MFA from the University of North Carolina in Greensboro. Born and raised in Alabama, Elkins writes, “Much of my work explores the South as a complex place of racial violence and isolation, but also familial love.”

Elkins’s book will be the 109th volume in the Younger Poets Series. Given annually since 1919 to a poet under the age of forty for their first collection, the prize is the oldest literary award in the United States. Eryn Green’s Eruv, also chosen by Phillips, received the 2013 prize, and will be published in April. Past winners include John Ashbery, Jack Gilbert, Robert Hass, Adrienne Rich, and Jean Valentine.

The finalists for the thirty-fourth annual Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, which are awarded in ten categories, were announced last week.

The finalists in poetry are Joshua Beckman for The Inside of an Apple (Wave Books), Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge for Hello, the Roses (New Directions), Ron Padgett for Collected Poems (Coffee House Press), Elizabeth Robinson for On Ghosts (Solid Objects), and Lynn Xu for Debts & Lessons (Omnidawn).

The finalists in fiction are Percival Everett for Percival Everett by Virgil Russell (Graywolf Press), Claire Messud for The Woman Upstairs (Knopf), Ruth Ozeki for A Tale for the Time Being (Viking), Susan Steinberg for Spectacle: Stories (Graywolf Press), and Daniel Woodrell for The Maid’s Version: A Novel (Little, Brown).

The finalists for the Art Seidanbaum Award for First Fiction are NoViolet Bulawayo for We Need New Names (Reagan Arthur Books), Jeff Jackson for Mira Corpora (Two Dollar Radio), Fiona McFarlane for The Night Guest (Faber & Faber), Jamie Quatro for I Want to Show You More (Grove Press), and Ethan Rutherford for The Peripatetic Coffin and Other Stories (Ecco).

Fiction writer Susan Straight will receive the Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement. Straight is the author of eight novels, most recently Between Heaven and Here (McSweeney’s, 2012). Straight writes about Rio Seco, a fictional town inspired by Riverside, California, where she currently resides.

The winners will be announced during an award ceremony on April 11 at the University of Southern California. The event is open to the public, and tickets will go on sale for $10 on March 17. For more information on the event, and a list of finalists in the additional categories of biography, current interest, graphic novel/comics, history, mystery/thriller, science and technology, and young adult literature, visit the L.A. Times Book Prizes website.

In the video below from TEDx Redondo Beach, Susan Straight talks about why she became a writer.

Vela Magazine, an online journal that publishes works of nonfiction written by women and inspired by travel, has launched its inaugural nonfiction contest for women. The winner will receive $500 and publication. The deadline is March 31; there is no entry fee.  

The editors seek a “strong voice, a compelling narrative, and/or a powerful driving question. We’re interested in a wide range of essays and stories, including literary journalism, personal essays, memoir, and expository or experimental essays.”

Women writers may submit a previously unpublished essay of up to 6,500 words along with a cover letter via the online submission system. While there is no entry fee, donations to the magazine are accepted with submissions; those who donate will receive a PDF titled Women We Read This Year, an annotated compilation of writing by women from 2013, drawn from the magazine’s weekly Women We Read This Week column.

In addition to the winner, two finalists will also have their work published.  All entries will be considered for publication.

Michelle Orange, the author of the essay collection This Is Run­ning For Your Life (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), will judge.

Vela Magazine was founded in 2011 by nonfiction writer Sarah Menkedick in response to the gender disparity in publishing, which is tracked each year through VIDA’s annual count. “As long as [this disparity] continues to be the case,” Menkedick writes in the magazine’s manifesto, “then I believe in creating a separate space in which women can write what they want to write, with the same intellectual freedom as men; without a major overhaul of self and world views.”

The biennial South Carolina First Novel Prize, sponsored by Hub City Press and the South Carolina Arts Commission, is currently open for submissions. The winner will receive $1,000, publication, and national distribution for a first novel.

Residents of South Carolina who have lived in the state for at least one year and who have not yet published a novel are eligible. Writers may submit a novel manuscript between 150 and 400 pages with a $35 entry fee by March 3. Submissions may be sent via postal mail or hand-delivered to the South Carolina Arts Commission offices. Visit the website for complete submission and eligibility requirements.

Novelist Ben Fountain, author most recently of the novel Billy Flynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Ecco, 2012), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was shortlisted for the National Book Award, will judge.

Susan Tekulve of Spartanburg won the 2012 prize for her novel In the Garden of Stone, which was published by Hub City in May 2013. Matt Matthews of Greenville won for his novel Mercy Creek in 2010, and Brian Ray of Greensboro won in 2008 for Through the Pale Door.

In addition to publication and promotion by Hub City Press, the winner will also receive significant promotion from the South Carolina Arts Commission and the Humanities Council of South Carolina, including an invitation to appear at the 2015 South Carolina Book Festival, as well as a number of other festivals, bookstores, colleges, and libraries throughout the country.

Established in 1995, the Spartanburg, South Carolina–based non-profit Hub City Press publishes six books a year by emerging and established writers. For more information about the First Novel Prize, visit the South Carolina Arts Commission website or call (803) 734-8696.

In the video below from the National Book Foundation, Ben Fountain reads from Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

The Huffington Post, the AARP, and Simon & Schuster have teamed up to launch a new memoir contest for writers over the age of fifty. One grand prize winner will receive $5,000 and a publishing contract with Simon & Schuster.

Writers born before December 31, 1964, and who are residents of the United States may submit a synopsis and the first 5,000 words of a memoir by February 15. Submissions must be sent electronically via e-mail. There is no entry fee.

Complete guidelines and eligibility requirements can be found here.

Ten finalists will be invited to submit their complete memoir by June 15. Final manuscripts should be between 20,000 to 50,000 words in length. The winning work will also be excerpted in AARP The Magazine and will be featured on the Huffington Post website.

Judges will include editors from each sponsor, including the Huffington Post’s Arianna Huffington and Huff/Post 50 editor at large Rita Wilson, a top editor from Simon & Schuster, and AARP editorial director Myrna Blyth. “We’re searching for the next great memoir,” says Blyth. “We want to find a gifted writer who can tell a remarkable story of his or her life. We believe this memoir contest could really be the chance of a lifetime.”

The winner will be announced in September. To receive a list of contest results, entrants may send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to AARP & Huff/Post 50 Memoir Contest Winner’s List Request, 601 E Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20049.

The Poetry Society of America (PSA) has announced that poet Gerald Stern will receive the 2014 Frost Medal, the organization’s most prestigious award, given annually for distinguished lifetime achievement in poetry.

The son of immigrants from Poland and Ukraine, Gerald Stern was born in 1925 in Pittsburgh. He is the author of eighteen books of poetry, including most recently In Beauty Bright (Norton, 2012), as well as two chapbooks and four essay collections. His collection This Time: New and Selected Poems, received the National Book Award in 1998, and in 2000 he was appointed the first poet laureate of New Jersey. Among numerous other accolades, he has also received the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He studied at the University of Pittsburgh and Columbia University, and has taught literature and creative writing at Temple University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Drew University, and the Iowa Writers' Workshop. He lives in Lambertville, New Jersey.

Stern will be honored, along with the recipients of PSA’s annual Shelley Award, Chapbook Fellowships, and a number of other annual poetry awards, at a ceremony on April 9 in New York City. Admission is free and open to the public.

Previous Frost Medal winners have included Robert Bly, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lucille Clifton, Robert Frost, Allen Ginsberg, Marianne Moore, Marilyn Nelson, Charles Simic, and Wallace Stevens.

In the video below, Gerald Stern reads his poem “The Dancing” for Public Television’s Poetry Everywhere series.

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