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G&A: The Contest Blog

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced yesterday the winners of its 2010 "Genius" Fellowships, among them one author. Lauded Chinese American fiction writer Yiyun Li, who struggled for several year with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to prove herself of the "extraordinary ability" required for citizenship, received the five-hundred-thousand-dollar award, given out-of-the-blue to innovators in all fields and "designed to provide an extra measure of freedom, visibility, and opportunity."

Li, an alumna of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and author of the story collections Gold Boy, Emerald Girl (Random House, 2010) and A Thousand Years of Good Prayers (Random House, 2005) and the novel The Vagrants (Random House, 2009), has previously won a Whiting Writers Award, the Plimpton Prize from the Paris Review, the Frank O'Hara International Short Story Award, and the Guardian First Book Award, among other honors. The mother of two and assistant professor at University of California in Davis told the Los Angeles Times that she anticipated the fellowship funds will allow her to focus more on writing and a little less on teaching.

Joining Li in this year's honor roll are twenty-two other "explorers and risk takers" including sign language linguist Carol Padden, type designer Matthew Carter, historian Annette Gordon-Reed, jazz pianist Jason Moran, and journalist and screenwriter David Simon, known for his work on the television series Homicide: Life on the Streets and The Wire. The complete list is posted on the MacArthur Foundation Web site.

Among the writers to have won the award in the past are John Ashbery, Edwidge Danticat, Ann Lauterbach, Jonathan Lethem, Heather McHugh, and David Foster Wallace.

In the video below, Li discusses her connection to Winnie the Pooh (which she read first as Willie Ille Pu—the Latin translation), happiness, and what authors she'd like to meet one-on-one.

The fifteen-year-old literary journal Alligator Juniper, published by Prescott College in Prescott, Arizona, is holding its annual writing contest until October 1. One winner in each genre—poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction—will receive one thousand dollars and publication in the magazine, which has a circulation of fifteen hundred.

The 2010 winners are Lillian-Yvonne Bertram for her poem "In Leaving My Lover Teaches Me Half a Bible Story," Laurie Anne Doyle for her story "Wings Raised Up," and Miles Fuller for his essay "The Mormon Martyr’s Guide to Chemical Reactions."

Former managing editor Jeff Fearnside, who recently left the post to work on his own writing, let us in on a few details about the journal and the competition.

What makes this competition unique?
It is judged almost entirely by undergraduate students enrolled in the Literary Journal Practicum course at Prescott College, under the guidance of published writers and teachers. I worked as an editor in graduate school for the national journal Willow Springs, and I can attest that what these students do at Prescott College is comparable to graduate-level work. The results speak for themselves: Alligator Juniper has won the Association of Writers and Writing Programs National Program Directors’ Prize for Undergraduate Literary Magazines in content for its 2000, 2003, and 2008 issues. No other journal has won this prestigious award more than once.

What are the judges looking for in a submission?
Quite simply, the very best writing. Naturally, how that is defined varies from year to year, depending on the individual tastes of the student editors. Prescott College’s mission focuses on the environment and social justice, and our editorial tastes may occasionally and incidentally reflect this, though by no means are we limited to any aesthetic or literary school; we’ve published work in styles ranging from traditional to experimental, and reflecting a wide range of themes.

How many finalists are offered publication?
It varies, as we select work based on quality, not a particular quota, but typically we publish fifteen to twenty finalists total in addition to the three winners.

An entry fee of fifteen dollars, which includes a copy of the prize issue, is required with each submission, and all entries must be made via postal mail. Complete guidelines are available on the Alligator Juniper Web site.

This week two literary organizations with an interest in writing and social justice honored authors with an array of awards. The Dayton Literary Peace Prize and the PEN American Center's Literary Awards recognized the work of writers including Anne Carson, Don DeLillo, Dave Eggers, Marilyn Hacker, and Marlon James.

James won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize in fiction, given in recognition of a work that promotes global understanding, for his novel The Book of Night Women (Riverhead Books), and Eggers was awarded the prize in nonfiction for Zeitoun (McSweeney's Books). Each received ten thousand dollars. The runners up, who each received one thousand dollars, are Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for her story collection The Thing Around Your Neck (Knopf) and, in nonfiction, Justine Hardy for In the Valley of Mist (Free Press).

"From religious discrimination and immigration to racism and xenophobia, this year’s winners tackle challenging issues which are too often debated with sound bites and rhetoric only,” said Sharon Rab, chair of the prize, which will be presented on November 7 in Dayton, Ohio. “With wisdom, grace, and humanity, these books deliver much-needed relief from the political discourse, offering light instead of heat, and hope rather than despair.”

Over on the east coast, PEN American Center awarded Pulitzer Prize–winner Paul Harding received the thirty-five-thousand-dollar PEN/Robert Bingham Fellowship for Writers for his debut novel, Tinkers (Bellevue Literary Press). The twenty-five-thousand-dollar PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction went to Don DeLillo, and Susan Choi won the ten-thousand-dollar award for a midcareer fiction writer, the PEN/W.G. Sebald Award. Marilyn Hacker won the five-thousand-dollar PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, given to recognize a distinguished body of work.

Receiving three thousand dollars each are Anne Carson, who won the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation for her translation from the Greek of An Oresteia (Faber and Faber), and Michael Henry Heim, who won the PEN Translation Prize for his translation from the Dutch of Wonder by Hugo Claus (Archipelago Books). The one-thousand-dollar Open Book Award (formerly the Beyond Margins Award) in poetry went to Sherwin Bitsui for his collection Flood Song (Copper Canyon Press).

The PEN Literary Award winners will be feted on October 13 in New York City.

In the video below, Eggers discusses the experience of the New Orleans man and his family whose story he adapted in his winning book.

On Sunday night the Munster Literature Centre in Cork, Ireland, announced the winner of this year's Frank O'Connor Short Story Award. North Carolina fiction writer and poet Ron Rash won the thirty-five-thousand-euro prize—the richest purse given for the short story form—for his collection Burning Bright (HarperCollins), set in the landscape of Appalachia spanning time from the Civil War to the present. In American currency, the prize is worth nearly forty-six thousand dollars.

This is not the first time Rash, professor of Appalachian studies at Western Carolina University, has seen his fiction contending for a major honor. His novel Serena (Ecco, 2008), the story of a powerful couple's unraveling relationship in the North Carolina mountains where they'd built a logging empire, was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

The shortlisted authors for this year's Frank O'Connor Award are Robin Black for If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This (Random House), Belle Boggs for Mattaponi Queen (Graywolf Press), T. C. Boyle for Wild Child (Viking), David Constantine for The Shieling (Comma Press), and Laura van den Berg for What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us (Dzanc Books).

To have a title considered for the 2011 award, authors, publishers, and agents may submit books by March 31, 2011. Eligibility rules and guidelines for entry are available on the Munster Literature Centre Web site.

From Françoise Sagan's Bonjour Tristesse to Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, James Joyce's The Dead to Annie Proulx's Brokeback Mountain—Shakespeare and Company says the novella, a "small but perfectly-formed" literary object, "holds an important place in literature." The Paris bookstore known for its support of aspiring writers recently launched its first Paris Literary Prize to promote the form in contemporary practice.

One writer who has not published a novel, novella, or short story collection will receive an award of ten thousand euros, cosponsored by the recently established de Groot Foundation, and a weekend stay in Paris next June, during which the award will be presented. Two runners-up will also receive a weekend trip to the city of lights.

The deadline for the first three thousand words of a manuscript is December 1, and submissions must be accompanied by an entry fee of fifty euros (approximately sixty-five dollars). Finalists, announced next February, will be asked to submit their complete manuscripts (of twenty- to thirty-thousand words) by March 20, 2011.

Guidelines and more information about how to enter are available on the Paris Literary Prize Web site.

In the video below, the luminous Jean Seberg dances with melancholy in Otto Preminger's film adaptation of Bonjour Tristesse (Hello Sadness), accompanied by the English version of the film's eponymous song.

The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture has named an author the 2010 recipient of the Hiett Prize in Humanities. The fifty-thousand-dollar prize, given to honor a person "whose work in the humanities shows extraordinary promise and has a significant public component related to contemporary culture," goes this year to memoirist, literary journalist, and former whiz kid Mark Oppenheimer.

Currently a visiting professor of creative writing at Wellesley College near Boston, Oppenheimer is the author of the memoir Wisenheimer: A Childhood Subject to Debate, in part a story of his precocious youth in words, published by Free Press in April. He is also the Beliefs columnist for the New York Times, and his essays have appeared in Slate, the New York Times Magazine, the Forward, Details, among other magazines and newspapers. He is preceded as a Hiett Prize recipient by educators and writers in the fields of history, journalism, and ethnic studies.

Application information for the 2011 award will be posted in January. In the meantime, information about the prize and its recipients is available on the Dallas Institute Web site.

In the video below, Oppenheimer talks about one of the themes of his memoir: his early years as a competitive debater.

The National Book Foundation (NBF), sponsors of the National Book Awards, announced yesterday their plans to celebrate Tom Wolfe at this year's awards ceremony. The innovative journalist and novelist who also holds a doctorate in American studies from Yale University will receive the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters alongside the 2010 National Book Award winners.

Wolfe, responsible for coining popular phrases such as "good ol' boy," "the right stuff," and "the Me Decade," is the author of culturally-keen nonfiction works including The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test  and The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, and three novels, I Am Charlotte SimmonsA Man in Full, and The Bonfire of the Vanities. According to NBF executive director Harold Augenbraum, Wolfe's work, along with that of the NBF's 2010 Literarian Award recipient, Sesame Street cocreator Joan Ganz Cooney, "led to enormous changes in our view of the world and took established media in new directions."

The author, who joins a list of past recipients that includes Joan Didion, Maxine Hong Kingston, Norman Mailer, Toni Morrison, and John Updike, will receive the award on November 17.

In the short video below, Wolfe (sans white suit, circa 1970) talks about the expression of language in his native American South with media maven Marshall McLuhan.

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