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G&A: The Contest Blog

For poet and prose writer Gregory Loselle, 2009 has been a banner year in the realm of writing competitions. The high school language arts teacher from Michigan garnered several honors this year, including the Pinch Literary Award in poetry and the top prize in the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition.

Loselle, the author of the poetry chapbooks Our Parents Dancing (Pudding House Publications, 2009) and Phantom Limb (Pudding House Publications, 2008), has also received the Robert Frost Foundation Poetry Award, three prizes from the Poetry Society of Michigan, and the William Van Wert Fiction Award from Hidden River Arts, among other honors.

In addition to the year’s bright spots, Loselle encountered a couple of rough patches, as well. He shared with us that he was disqualified from two contests this past spring, and not unavoidably. One lesson for prose writers: be careful to follow word count guidelines to the letter. Loselle went over the stipulated length of a story—which was selected to receive a prize, but then pulled from competition—when using a word processor that didn’t give an overall count. “I should have been more careful,” he says.

In April he received word that a poem had won the Robinson Jeffers Tor House Foundation Poetry Prize, but it was the same poem that was selected for the Pinch Literary Award only a week before—the two submissions had gone out simultaneously. While simultaneous entries aren’t always restricted, if a piece is accepted for an award, writers should be sure to notify any other venues to which they’ve submitted, as Loselle did.

Since Loselle has met with continued success in contests, despite some misfortunes, we asked him a few questions about his approach to entering writing competitions.

How many contests do you estimate you've entered?

I'm sure I've entered several dozen—if not more than a hundred—contests over the years.  I have been very fortunate, throughout the time I've dedicated myself to always keeping something in the mail, to have won something at least yearly, if not several times a year.  

What do you look for in a contest?

Because a contest generally brings publication and a cash prize, I'm happy to enter any contest for which I have a suitable manuscript. Nothing ventured. . .

How do you select a piece to submit to a competition?
I look at the requirements of the competition first, and I always make sure that I have a group of works in different genres and of different forms to keep in active rotation. At the moment, I'm hoping to publish a book of poems I've completed, so I not only send out that whole manuscript every chance I get, but I also submit individual poems from it to keep the work active and eventually establish salability. So far, with this one book, about a third of the poems have won or placed in competitions.

Do you have an organizational strategy for tracking award deadlines, submissions, and honors received?
Seriously?  I rely on Poets & Writers!  When the competitions list is published every other month, I read through it with an eye to what I have on hand to submit, and then I enter everything I think has a reasonable chance of winning.

Organizationally, I've developed a spreadsheet of contest addresses, indexed by monthly deadlines, which helps to cut down on the repetitive work of packaging contest submissions.

What is the most rewarding aspect of receiving an award? What award has been of the most value to you?
Since I am unaffiliated with any university writing program or professional group, I receive very little feedback on my work.  Even carefully thought-out rejections are therefore valuable—but the real rush comes from knowing, when I win a competition, that someone out there “got it” about my work, that I was understood and that my words struck a chord with a receptive reader. That's wonderfully fulfilling.

Value is an unusual thing to assess in contest terms, but two things stand out: As a graduate student, I won four Hopwood Awards at the University of Michigan, which told me that I could, in fact, take myself seriously as a writer. More recently, winning the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition was a huge boost—not only for the enthusiasm for my work that it revealed to me, but for the upcoming publication of the story, "Lazarus," in the Saturday Evening Post.

Another positive experience I've had more than once this year is that two poems which had consistently not won awards—after many, many tries—and which I was thinking of “retiring” from submission, turned out to be prize winners. I would suppose that it's just a question of the work finding its destined reader—and of not giving up hope.

Have you ever had a negative experience as a result of winning a prize?
I can't say that I've ever had a directly negative experience as a result of winning a prize, but I do notice that some editors or contest administrators have a rather cavalier attitude in telling winners what to expect when it comes to delivering the award; it's very disheartening to be told of having won a competition, which is of course a great thrill, then be left hanging—sometimes for months, in my experience—with no communication as to when the award will arrive.

What piece of advice do you have for writers looking to contests as a way to get their work into the world?
Frankly, entering contests is not the most effective way to do that. An award is a one-time event, and may bring many readers, but publication is a more sure way to reach readers over time.

This year's round of grants for feminist writers of fiction given by the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund will close to entries on December 31. The application period for the grants, ranging from five hundred to fifteen hundred dollars, is open annually in the month of December for fiction writers and in June for poets and creative nonfiction writers.

Women fiction writers working on a specific project that would benefit from a grant by the Deming fund should submit a resumé, a project outline, a budget, and a writing sample of up to twenty-five pages by the end of this month, along with an application that one can attain by sending an SASE to the organization. There is a twenty-dollar fee to apply.

Last year's winners are Joan Connor of Athens, Ohio, and Evelyn Somers Rogers of Boonville, Missouri, who each received a one-thousand-dollar grant. Connor, who teaches at the University of Ohio, is the author of four books of fiction and creative nonfiction. Rogers writes fiction "about women's experience," according to her profile on the University of Missouri Web site, where she is associate editor of the Missouri Review

Crazyhorse, a literary journal published by the College of Charleston, announced on Monday that the deadline for its poetry and fiction prizes has been extended. Explaining that they needed a little more time to get their new Web site—complete with electronic submission system—up and running, the journal says that it will now accept entries for the Lynda Hull Memorial Poetry Prize and the Crazyhorse Fiction Prize until January 15.

Writers may submit up to three poems or a story of no more than twenty-five pages via the online entry system or regular mail. A sixteen-dollar entry fee includes a one-year subscription to the magazine. Guidelines are detailed on the Crazyhorse Web site.

The 2009 prize winners are Kary Wayson, a Seattle poet, for "Lives of the Artists," and Elizabeth Oness of Houston, Minnesota, for her story "Protect and Serve." James Tate was the poetry judge, and Ann Patchett selected the winning story. The names of the 2010 judges will be revealed when the winners are announced in the spring. Writers such as Billy Collins, Dean Young, Mary Ruefle, Charles Baxter, and Dan Chaon have served as judges during the awards' nine-year history.

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has announced the recipients of its annual fellowships in creative writing, given this year to prose writers. Forty-two writers, representing seventeen states and Washington, D.C., each received a twenty-five thousand dollar grant.

The fellows in fiction are:
Salar Abdoh, Lina Meruane, Matthew Sharpe, and Teddy Wayne, all of New York City
Jasmine Beach-Ferrara of Boston
Sean Brendan-Brown of Olympia, Washington
Serena Crawford and Ismet Prcic, both of Portland, Oregon
Michael Czyzniejewski of Bowling Green, Ohio
Barry Gifford and Michael David Lukas, both of Berkeley, California
Frances Hwang of South Bend, Indiana
Ben Jahn of Albany, California
Adam Johnson and Suzanne Rivecca, both of San Francisco
Sheri Joseph of Atlanta
Roy Kesey of Ukiah, California
Dylan Landis of Washington, D.C.
Margaret McMullan of Evansville, Illinois
Alison Moore of Driftwood, Texas
ZZ Packer of Austin, Texas
Rae Paris of Tempe, Arizona
Aimee Phan of Oakland;
Lewis Robinson of Portland, Maine
Robert Rosenberg of Lewisburg, Pennsylvania
Anne Sanow of Provincetown, Massachusetts
Gregory Blake Smith of Northfield, Minnesota
Leah Stewart of Cincinnati
Melanie Sumner of Rome, Georgia
Padma Viswanathan of Fayetteville, Arizona
Matthew Vollmer of Blacksburg, Virginia
Vinnie Wilhelm of Guilford, Connecticut
Simone Zelitch of Philadelphia

The fellows in creative nonfiction are:
Matthew Batt of Saint Paul
Douglas Bauer of Boston
Donovan Hohn of New York City
Daniel Raeburn of Chicago
Paul Reyes of Little Rock, Arkansas
Rebecca Solnit of San Francisco
Christina Thompson of Lincoln, Massachusetts
Joan Wickersham of Cambridge, Massachusetts
Frank B. Wilderson III of Irvine, California

The NEA received nearly one thousand eligible applications, 24 percent of which were in creative nonfiction and 76 percent in fiction. The ratio of awards given in each genre closely reflects the makeup of the application pool, with 21 percent of fellowships granted to creative nonfiction writers, and 79 percent to fiction writers.

This year's judging panel, which reviewed an estimated twenty-five thousand manuscript pages, included Michael Chabon, Bobbie Ann Mason, Kelly Link, William Henry Lewis, and Francisco Goldman.

The NEA's creative writing fellowships are given in alternating years to prose writers and poets. The next deadline, for poets, is March 4, 2010.

In the video below, creative nonfiction fellow Joan Wickersham reads from her 2008 book The Suicide Index (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), a finalist for the National Book Award.

Underwater New York, an online literary and arts anthology fascinated with the hidden treasures of New York City’s waterways, has teamed with Manhattan’s American Folk Art Museum to offer its first story prize. Stories submitted for the contest must be on the theme of a New York City shipwreck—real or imagined, though actual remnants of about one hundred seventy broken vessels inhabit the waters off the city’s coast, according to the Underwater New York Web site, which hosts a gallery of wreck paintings and photos for inspiration.

The winning work will be published in Underwater New York and the writer will be invited to present his or her story at the American Folk Art Museum on March 5, 2010, accompanied by shipwreck-themed readings and music and the exhibit Thomas Chambers (1808–1869): American Maritime and Landscape Painter. There is no cash award, but there isn’t an entry fee, either. The deadline is February 12, and full submission information is available on the publication's contest page.

If you’re in the know about other free, place-based literary contests such as this one, drop us a comment, or e-mail us at editor@pw.org.

In the video below, Underwater New York celebrates the launch of its Web site.

Earlier this week the Jentel Foundation, sponsor of the Jentel Artist Residency Program, and the Pushcart Prize announced that they have teamed up to grant three residencies to winners of the annual award, which honors poems, stories, essays, and "literary whatnot" nominated by magazines and small presses. This year's recipients of monthlong residencies in the Bighorn Mountains of Sheridan, Wyoming, are Heidi Hart of Salt Lake City and New Yorkers Beena Kamlani and Tom Sleigh.

The residents were chosen from a pool of entries sent in by thirty Pushcart winners who were invited to apply by Pushcart Press editor Bill Henderson. Jim Charleton, a member of the Pushcart board and the application panel of Jentel’s residency program, selected the winners.

The nomination period has closed for the 2009 Pushcart Prizes. The next deadline for presses and magazines to submit outstanding works—all published in 2010—is December 1 of next year.

Jentel is currently accepting applications for its May through December residencies until January 15. U.S. writers who are at least twenty-five years old are eligible for monthlong stays, which include a private room and work space. Each resident also receives a four-hundred-dollar stipend.

 

Last night United States Artists (USA) announced seven writers as 2009 winners of the organization's fifty-thousand-dollar fellowship award, given annually to a total of fifty artists nationwide. The fellows are poets Ai, Brian Turner, and Kevin Young; fiction writers Antonya Nelson, Sapphire—also known for her poetry—and Justin Torres; and graphic novelist Gilbert Hernandez. Playwright Nelo Cruz also received an award.

The recipients were selected from a pool of writers nominated by fellow artists, critics, scholars, and other literary professionals. Nominated writers then submitted applications, and a peer panel chose the winners. This year's panel in literature was comprised of Jeff Chang, Anne García-Romero, Major Jackson, Alan Michael Parker, and Robert Polito.

Garcia-Romero made reference to Federico García Lorca's theory of duende—the power of the unknown that drives the creation of new things—in a write-up about the nominees and recipients of this year's award. "These writers provide us with a stirring collection of texts that reflect the complexity of twenty-first century life in this country," she says. "Infused with duende, these 'newly created things' will also have the potential to change the shape of the way we live."

According to USA, the organization has granted artists ten million dollars since the awards' creation in 2006. A poll of the inaugural winners showed that the majority of the funds were used to develop new projects, finish a project, purchase supplies, or facilitate work-related travel. Fellows also used their grants to volunteer for an arts-related cause or present their work to the public.

In the video below, fellow Brian Turner recites the title poem for his multiple-award-winning debut collection, Here, Bullet (Alice James Books, 2005).

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