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G&A: The Contest Blog

Artist Trust has extended the deadline for its annual Grants for Artist Projects. Poets and prose writers now have until June 25 to submit entries for grants of up to fifteen hundred dollars to support specific literary endeavors. Grant applications will be available online in May.

The recipients will be selected by a panel of Washington state writers. Last year's eleven grantees were chosen from a pool of 167 entries by poets Samuel Green, the state poet laureate, and Dennis Held and fiction writers Adrianne Harun, Philip H. Red Eagle, and Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner.

The recipients—six women and five men—included four poets, five fiction writers, and two creative nonfiction writers. Five out of the eleven were residents of Seattle, King County, less than the average of the applicant pool across disciplines, which has been comprised of over 60 percent King County residents for the past several years. Most 2009 winners in literary arts received the full fifteen-hundred-dollar award.

In the video below, 2009 grantee Oliver de la Paz, who received funds to purchase a laptop and work on his poetry manuscript "Grace Equations," reads with New Jersey poet Evie Shockley.

Choosing the contest that would be a good fit for your book manuscript is a soft science. The partialities of the first readers, the potential of competing manuscripts, and the opinion of a judge are hardly predictable, but perhaps taking a look at the titles published by a sponsoring press could offer some insight into whether your writing would mesh with a publisher's catalogue. Below, we've taken a quick look at writers published by a few of the presses that have contests taking place in the coming months.

Ahsahta Press
Sawtooth Poetry Prize, judged by Terrance Hayes
Representative Poets: Sandra Alcosser, Dan Beachy-Quick, Brian Henry, Brenda Iijima, Rusty Morrison, Susan Tichy

Dream Horse Press
American Poetry Journal Book Prize, judged by J. P. Dancing Bear
Representative Poets: Amy Holman, Judith Skillman, Theodore Worozbyt

Ohio State University Press
Prize in Short Fiction
Representative Fiction Writers: Paul Eggers, Trudy Lewis, Gerald Shapiro, J. David Stevens

Omnidawn Publishing
Chapbook Competition, judged by Elizabeth Robinson
Representative Poets: Lyn Hejinian, Bin Ramke, Martha Ronk, Keith Waldrop, Rosmarie Waldrop

Sarabande Books
Morton and McCarthy Prizes, judged by Amy Gerstler in poetry and Francine Prose in fiction
Representative Poets: Monica Ferrell, Kiki Petrosino, Jean Valentine
Representative Fiction Writers: David Crouse, Alyce Miller, Paul Yoon

Starcherone Books
Starcherone Prize for Innovative Fiction, judged by Stacey Levine
Representative Fiction Writers: Peter Conners, Raymond Federman, Joshua Harmon, Janet Mitchell, Leslie Scalapino

Tupelo Press
Snowbound Series Chapbook Award, judged by Patricia Fargnoli
Representative Poets: Theodore Deppe, Jennifer Militello, G. C. Waldrep, Joshua Marie Wilkinson

In the video below (accompanied by eight others on YouTube), Omnidawn Publishing's Ken Keegan opens a reading of four more of the press's poets: Gillian Conoley, Richard Greenfield, Donald Revell, and Michelle Taransky.

The 2009 winners of the United Kingdom's Costa Book Awards, formerly the Whitbread Literary Awards, were revealed last night. In poetry, three-time Costa nominee Christopher Reid won for his collection A Scattering (Arete Books), also shortlisted for the soon-to-be-announced Forward Prize. Colm Tóibín won for his novel Brooklyn (Viking) and Raphael Selbourne received the first novel award for Beauty (Tindal Street Press). Each received five thousand pounds (approximately eight thousand dollars).

From among the genre honorees, this year's judges, Tom Bradby, Josephine Hart, Marie Helvin, Gary Kemp, Dervla Kirwan, and Caroline Quentin, will select an overall winner, to be announced on January 26. Competing against the poetry and fiction winners are children's book prize recipient Patrick Ness, honored for The Ask and the Answer (Walker Books), and biographer Graham Farmelo, who won for The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius (Faber and Faber). The author of the "Book of the Year" will receive twenty-five thousand pounds (approximately forty thousand dollars).

In the video below, Tóibín reads from his winning novel at the 2009 PEN World Voices Festival.

Make 2010 the year of submitting your debut book manuscript. While first book prizes aren't the only option for emerging writers—there are plenty of opportunities out there that welcome published and unpublished writers—we've compiled a list of prizes to check out in the new year that include publication specifically of first books of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.

Debut poetry book publication prizes are offered by:
ABZ Press
American Poetry Review
BOA Editions
Bread Loaf Writers' Conference 
Cave Canem Foundation

Carolina Wren Press
(This press's contest also accepts second book manuscripts.)
Cleveland State University
Crab Orchard Series in Poetry
Elixir Press (This press's contest also accepts second book manuscripts.)
Fence Books (Open to women poets only; this press's contest also accepts second book manuscripts.)
Four Way Books

Kore Press
(Open to women poets only.)
New Issues Poetry & Prose
Omnidawn Publishing (This press's contest also accepts second book manuscripts.)
Pavement Saw Press
Persea Books (Open to women poets only.)
Perugia Press (Open to women poets only; this press's contest also accepts second book manuscripts.)
Silverfish Review Press
Tupelo Press
University of Iowa Press
University of Pittsburgh Press
Wick Poetry Center

Yale University Press

Zone 3 Press

Debut fiction prizes are offered by:
Bread Loaf Writers' Conference
James Jones Literary Society

Livingston Press
University of Iowa Press

A debut creative nonfiction book prize is offered by the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference.

If your manuscript is still in progress, check out the Milton Center, which offers a fellowship to Christian writers to finish a first book of poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction, and the University of Wisconsin's Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing Fellowships, which award three poets and three fiction writers a stipend and an academic year in residence to work on first collections or novels.

To close out 2009, we scanned the past year's Recent Winners listings for some of the stats on the awards we've announced in our pages. The grand total of prizes given in 2009 to poets, fiction writers, creative nonfiction writers, and literary translators is $9,486,425.

Fifty-five percent of winners announced in our pages during the past twelve months were female, and forty-five percent male. There were more female winners than male named in every issue with the exception of March/April 2009.

The majority of the year's funds were awarded in poetry, with over four-and-a-half-million dollars given, 47 percent of the total awards amount for the year. Fiction writers saw nearly 41 percent of prizes, approximately 3.9 million dollars. Creative nonfiction writers received about 9 percent of prize money, over eight hundred thousand dollars, and translators took home 3 percent of funds, a little less than three hundred thousand dollars.

Writers from all fifty U.S. states and the District of Columbia, as well as a number of writers living abroad in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Americas, received literary awards this past year.

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

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