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G&A: The Contest Blog

Three poets and four fiction writers have received 2009 Whiting Writers' Awards, given to recognize emerging writers of "exceptional talent and promise," the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation announced last night. The recipients of the fifty-thousand-dollar prize in poetry are Jericho Brown, Jay Hopler, and Joan Kane, and the fiction winners are Adam Johnson, Nami Mun, Salvatore Scibona, and Vu Tran.

Brown is the author of the poetry collection Please (New Issues Poetry & Prose, 2008), and Hopler's first book is Green Squall (Yale University Press, 2005). Joan Kane's debut collection, The Cormorant Hunter's Wife, is forthcoming this fall from NorthShore Press.

Johnson has published two books, the short story collection Emporium (Viking, 2002) and the novel Parasites Like Us (Viking, 2003). Mun's debut novel, Miles From Nowhere, was released by Riverhead last December, and Scibona's first novel, The End, was published by Graywolf Press in May 2008. Tran's first novel, currently untitled, is forthcoming from Norton.

Awards were also given to playwright Rajiv Joseph (Animals Out of Paper, Gruesome Playground Injuries), and nonfiction writers Michael Meyer (The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed, published by Walker & Company in 2008) and Hugh Raffles (In Amazonia: A Natural History, published by Princeton University Press in 2002).

Winners are chosen by a panel of writers, scholars, and editors from a pool of nominees recommended by roughly one hundred anonymous individuals working in the literary arts. The foundation, which also awards grants to doctoral students working on dissertations in the humanities, created the Whiting Writers' Awards in 1985.

If you’ve read our Recent Winners pages over the past few years, you've likely come across the name of fiction writer Siobhán Fallon. A graduate of the MFA program at the New School in New York City, she is the recipient of short story prizes from Meridian, Roanoke Review, and Briar Cliff Review, a residency from the Millay Colony, and, most recently, the Alexander Patterson Cappon Fiction Prize from New Letters for her story "Inside the Break." Since she has seen her stories receive a number of honors, we asked Fallon to share with us her take on submitting to writing contests.

How many contests do you estimate you have entered? And how many did you enter before winning your first award?
I have entered about a hundred contests in the past decade, maybe more. I must have entered about twenty contests before winning my first one—that sounds so bleak, but it gets easier!

What do you look for in a contest?  
I look for a contest run by a magazine and/or university that I recognize, or perhaps a judge’s name that is familiar. I also try to submit to contests with fees below twenty dollars, which helps me limit my otherwise limitless waves of submissions.

How do you select a piece to submit to a competition?
By now I am familiar with most of the magazines that I submit to so I am aware of the style they are looking for. There are magazines that like very realistic fiction—adjectives be damned—and those that prefer something more fantastical in plot or language. I try to tailor my submissions to the tastes of the magazines. If I’m not familiar with the actual journal, I try to read anything and everything the magazine has online.

Do you have an organizational strategy for tracking award deadlines, submissions, and honors received?
I have a battered little notebook that I write all of my submissions and rejections in. And I scribble the heck out of Poets & Writers. I try to keep a story out at one or two contests at all times. Then if I get a rejection letter, I know that that same story is waiting to be read at another magazine, and therefore there is still hope.

What is the most rewarding aspect of receiving an award?
Knowing that the story is done. No more editing or rewriting, no more cover letters and SASEs and bon voyages out into the literary unknown. Knowing that story is a success, finally, and therefore so are you.

What award has been of the most value to you?

My first award, from Crab Orchard Review, was amazing. The editor, Jon Tribble, was very hands-on. He spoke to me on the phone numerous times, seemed to genuinely love the story, and made me feel like a star. It was the perfect beginning. And my latest win at New Letters has been extraordinary too—New Letters sent out press releases to all my local newspapers, as well as my undergraduate and postgraduate alumni magazines. We writers spend so much time alone with our writing, unsure of how well we are doing, that any and every shred of praise feels divine.

Have you ever had a negative experience as a result of winning a prize?
I won a prize once that was a little less than satisfactory. I received an e-mail saying I had won, but I never actually spoke with a living person, nor did I get a chance to look at galleys. I just got the check and, eventually, a copy of the winning issue in the mail. They didn’t even mention the win on their own Web site. However, it was because of this win that Jennifer Barber, the excellent editor at Salamander, read my work and requested my stories. And then my agent, Lorin Rees, picked up a copy of Salamander in Boston and liked my story enough to track me down and sign me. So all in all, the win, though in itself it lacked a bit, ended up really helping my career.

What piece of advice do you have for writers looking to contests as a way to get their work into the world?
At the New School for Social Research MFA program, our professors often emphasized that submitting to contests was a better gamble than submitting to an ordinary slush pile. Unless I have a connection with an editor or am sure that a literary magazine is looking for stories very much like my own, I only submit to contests. I think this philosophy has served me well. Sometimes it is hard to come up with the fifteen dollars over and over and over again as the rejection slips pile up and wallpaper your entire bedroom, but remember that your submission fees are supporting the arts, and one of these days a portion of those accumulated fees will end up in your pocket. And usually a magazine subscription or the prize issue is included [in the entry fee], so when you submit again you will know what that particular magazine looks for. As an added bonus, when you win a contest, you get top billing in the award winning issue, your name is mentioned in Poets & Writers, and of course you deposit the prize in your emaciated bank account! There isn’t the same triumph associated with placing a story in a magazine through the regular submission path.

The annual Oregon Book Awards, honoring works by in-state authors, were awarded last night to Portland writers Matthew Dickman and Jon Raymond. Dickman received the Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry for All-American Poem (American Poetry Review), and Raymond received the Ken Kesey Award for Fiction for Livability: Stories (Bloomsbury). Both writers, though early in their careers, are no strangers to recognition of their work.

Dickman, who won for his debut collection, recently received the ten-thousand-dollar Kate Tufts Discovery Award from Claremont Graduate University. He was chosen for the Stafford/Hall Award by the winner of Claremont's 2009 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, Matthea Harvey. Dickman's book came into publication as part of another award, the Honickman First Book Prize from the American Poetry Review, and also received the May Sarton Poetry Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2008 along with four other emerging poets.

Raymond, whose debut story collection was selected by Robert Olmstead for the Kesey Award, has two film credits to his name, both based on stories from the book. Wendy and Lucy, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008, was adapted from his story "Train Choir," and Old Joy, a 2006 Sundance feature starring innovative musician Will Oldham, finds its origins in the story of the same title. Raymond is also the author of a novel, The Half-Life (Bloomsbury, 2004).

The finalists for the poetry award are Alicia Cohen for Debts and Obligations (O Books), Endi Bogue Hartigan for One Sun Storm (Center for Literary Publishing), Andrew Michael Roberts for something has to happen next (University of Iowa Press), and Crystal Williams for Troubled Tongues (Lotus Press).

The finalists in fiction are Miriam Gershow for The Local News (Spiegel & Grau), Gina Ochsner for The Russian Dreambook of Colour and Flight (Portobello Books), Barbara Pope for Cezanne's Quarry (Pegasus Books), and Leslie What for Crazy Love: Stories (Wordcraft of Oregon).

An award in creative nonfiction was also given to state attorney general John Kroger for his memoir Convictions: A Prosecutor's Battles Against Mafia Killers, Drug Kingpins, and Enron Thieves (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). The finalists were Bibi Gaston for The Loveliest Woman in America: A Tragic Actress, Her Lost Diaries, and Her Granddaughter's Search for Home (William Morrow), Debra Gwartney for Live Through This: A Mother's Memoir of Runaway Daughters and Reclaimed Love (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and Floyd Skloot for The Wink of Zenith: The Shaping of a Writer's Life (University of Nebraska Press). Ted Conover was the judge.

The award winners will be promoted in libraries and bookstores and offered a chance to participate in the Oregon Book Awards Author Tour.

Below is a trailer for Wendy and Lucy, cowritten by Raymond.

Kore Press has introduced a new award to its lineup of poetry and fiction prizes, a prize for a translation by a woman of a woman's work. The Jeremy Ingalls Poetry in Translation Award will honor an original English translation of a poem written by a Japanese woman poet. The contest, which awards a prize of one thousand dollars, is open to woman translators of any nationality.

Poet, performer, and translator Sawako Nakayasu will be the judge. She is the author of, most recently, Hurry Home Honey (Burning Deck, 2009) and Texture Notes (Letter Machine Editions, 2009). In an interview with Chicago Postmodern Poetry, she lists among her influences John Cage, Gertrude Stein, and musical theater.

Kore's prize is named for the poet born Mildred Dodge Jeremy Ingalls, whose Selected Poems was published by the press in 2007. Ingalls, the author of The Metaphysical Sword (Yale Series of Younger Poets, 1941) and The Thunder Saga of Tahl (Knopf, 1945), as well as books of prose, was also a translator of works in Chinese. She died in 2000 in Tucson.

There is still one week left to submit your genre-bending nonfiction, poetry chapbook, or novel-in-progress, as well as a handful of other types of work. For those sparked into action by a fast-approaching deadline, a list of contests with closing dates in the coming week appears below. Happy submitting.

Closing on Friday, October 30 are:
DIAGRAM's Hybrid Nonfiction Contest

Inkwell's Poetry and Short Fiction Competitions

Wyoming Arts Council's Blanchan/Doubleday Memorial Awards in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction

The Saturday, October 31 deadlines are:
American Poetry Review's Honickman First Book Prize

Dana Awards for a group of poems, a short story, or a novel or novel-in-progress

Elixir Press's Poetry Awards

Glimmer Train Press's Family Matters for a story about family

Graywolf Press's Nonfiction Prize for a work-in-progress

Kore Press's Short Fiction Award

The Ledge Press's Poetry Chapbook Competition

Margie's Strong Medicine Poetry Award

North American Review's James Hearst Poetry Prize

Ohio University Press's Hollis Summers Poetry Prize

PEN/Faulkner Foundation's Award for Fiction for novels or short story collections published in 2009

Poetry Society of the United Kingdom's National Poetry Competition, which is open to international submissions

Truman State University Press's T. S. Eliot Prize for a poetry collection (not to be confused with the Poetry Book Society's T. S. Eliot Prize)

University of Arkansas Press's Miller Williams Poetry Prize for a poetry collection

The Writing Site's Arthur Edelstein Prize for Short Fiction

The Poetry Book Society (PBS), the U.K. institution founded in 1953 by T. S. Eliot and friends, has announced the shortlist of poetry books up for its 2009 T. S. Eliot Prize. The award, worth fifteen thousand pounds (nearly twenty-five thousand dollars), will celebrate a book of verse first published in the United Kingdom or Ireland this year by any poet writing in English.

The finalists are:
The Sun-fish (Gallery Press) by Eiléan Ní Chuilleánain
Continental Shelf (Carcanet Press) by Fred D'Aguiar
Over (Oxford Poets) by Jane Draycott
The Water Table (Bloodaxe Books) by Philip Gross
Through the Square Window (Carcanet Press) by Sinéad Morrissey
One Secret Thing (Jonathan Cape) by Sharon Olds
Weeds & Wild Flowers (Faber and Faber) by Alice Oswald
A Scattering (Areté Books) by Christopher Reid
The Burning of the Books and Other Poems (Bloodaxe Books) by George Szirtes
West End Final (Faber and Faber) by Hugo Williams

The winner will be revealed on January 18, whereupon each of the finalists will be awarded an honorarium of one thousand pounds (a little over sixteen hundred dollars).

British poet Jen Hadfield won last year's award for her second collection, Nigh-No-Place (Bloodaxe Books, 2008). Past recipients of the prize, considered the most lucrative poetry honor in Great Britain, include current U.K. poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Anne Carson, Mark Doty, and Paul Muldoon. The full list of winners since the award's inception in 1993 is available on the PBS Web site

The Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival has opened its second annual fiction contest for a story by a writer who has not published a book. The winner will receive fifteen hundred dollars and a trip (travel, lodging, and an all-access event pass) to attend the twenty-fourth annual festival, which takes place between March 24 and 28, 2010, in the Big Easy.

Writers may submit as many stories as they'd like along with an entry fee of twenty-five dollars per submission. The pieces should be previously unpublished—publication in the New Orleans Review is also part of the prize—and weigh in under seven thousand words each. Jill McCorkle will serve as the judge.

The inaugural winner was Robin Martin of Brooklyn, New York, for "1969," selected by Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Ford.

For the dramatists out there, the festival will also honor a one-act play with a fifteen hundred dollar prize, a trip to the 2010 event—a reading of the play will be staged there—and publication in Bayou, the literary magazine of the University of New Orleans. A full production of the play will go up at the 2011 festival.

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