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G&A: The Contest Blog

PEN American Center recently initiated an award that will recognize and fund the translation of Paraguayan literature. The organization announced today that novelist Lily Tuck has donated one hundred thousand dollars to establish the prize, which will award three thousand dollars to a living Paraguayan author for a major work and, in the following year, the same amount to a translator. The inaugural prize will be given in 2010.

Tuck was inspired to found the prize following the release of her National Book Award–winning 2004 novel set in Paraguay during the nineteenth century. "In gratitude for the enthusiasm and welcome both my novel, The News from Paraguay, and I received in Paraguay, I am delighted to offer PEN a translation prize for both established and emerging Paraguayan writers and thereby enhance literature worldwide," she is quoted as saying in a PEN press release. "Writing is hard and lonely work, and I believe in writers reaching across international borders and language barriers to support one another."

PEN is inviting Paraguayan publishers to submit five copies of a work in Spanish or Guaraní along with a letter of nomination to PEN Paraguay by December 15. Entry information is posted on the PEN Web site.

Undergraduate and grad student writers take note: The Atlantic is welcoming submissions for its annual poetry, fiction, and nonfiction competitions until December 1. The winners each will receive one thousand dollars, and second- and third-place prizes will also be awarded. The Atlantic doesn't mention publication as part of the prize, but works by past winners of the contest have appeared in the magazine.

In order to enter, one must be enrolled full-time at an accredited U.S. college or university. The submitted work—one to three poems or up to 7,500 words of prose (fiction or a personal or journalistic essay)—should be previously unpublished, but the guidelines state that pieces that have previously appeared in student publications are still eligible. There is no fee for submission, but only one entry per genre is allowed.

In order from first place to third, the 2008 winners in poetry are Diana Chien of Princeton University, Adam Nunez of College of Idaho, and Luke Johnson of Hollins University. In fiction, the winners are Jonathon Walter of the University of Arizona, Marjorie Celona of the University of Iowa, and Shelley Scalleta of Columbia University. The nonfiction recipients are Danielle Luther Luebbe and Kelly Grey Carlisle, both of the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, and Simon Tudiver of Yale University. The titles of their winning works have not been announced.

A list of the current contest's winners will be published in the May 2010 issue of the Atlantic, after honorees are contacted in March.

On Monday the Mercantile Library Center for Fiction named John Pipkin of Austin, Texas, winner of the 2009 First Novel Prize for Woodsburner (Nan A. Talese). He was awarded ten thousand dollars at the organization's annual benefit dinner held in New York City.

Pipkin's novel, which the Times-Picayune says evokes "a vision of a younger America poised at a moment of self-definition," centers on the forest fire accidentally set by Henry David Thoreau a year before he went to live at Walden Pond. In the award announcement, the Center for Fiction says that the book "offers a beautifully nuanced portrait of a young and less recognizable Thoreau, whose philosophy begins to materialize as the flames lay waste."

The finalists for this year's award were Paul Harding for Tinkers (Bellevue Literary Press), Yiyun Li for The Vagrants (Random House), Philipp Meyer for American Rust (Spiegel & Grau), and Patrick Somerville for The Cradle (Little, Brown).

Previous winners of the prize, given since 2006 and formerly known as the John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize, are Marisha Pessl for Special Topics in Calamity Physics (Viking, 2006), Junot Díaz for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead, 2007), and Hannah Tinti for The Good Thief (Dial Press, 2008).

Sonny Mehta, publisher of Alfred A. Knopf, has been named the recipient of an award for lifetime achievement in publishing from the Asian American Writers Workshop (AAWW). Mehta, who came to Knopf in 1987 after several years as a successful publisher in England, will be honored for his work with authors such as Toni Morrison, Haruki Murakami, V. S. Naipaul, and Michael Ondaatje at a dinner in New York City on Friday.

The ceremony will commence the AAWW's first Page Turner literary festival, held at Brooklyn's powerHouse Arena on Saturday. During the event, the winners of the twelfth Asian American Literary Award, given for books published in 2008, will also be honored. They are poet Sesshu Foster, fiction writer Jhumpa Lahiri, and creative nonfiction writer Leslie T. Chang. Foster received the prize for his collection World Ball Notebook (City Lights Publishers), and Lahiri for her short story collection Unaccustomed Earth (Knopf). Chang won for Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China (Spiegel & Grau).

The runners up are, in poetry, Jeffrey Yang for An Aquarium (Graywolf Press) and Monica Ferrell for Beasts for the Chase (Sarabande Books); in fiction, Ed Park for Personal Days (Random House) and Amitav Ghosh for Sea of Poppies (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); and in creative nonfiction, Kavita Rajagopalen for Muslims of Metropolis: The Stories of Three Immigrant Families in the West (Rutgers University Press) and Kau Kalia Yang for Late Homecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir (Coffee House Press).

The AAWW is offering tickets to the dinner honoring Mehta and the literary awards ceremony on the Page Turner Web site.

In the video below, poetry award winner Foster talks about investigating the human spirit through literature.

The literary journal of Washington and Lee University, Shenandoah, is accepting entries for its second annual poetry contest, open to writers living in or born in Virginia. The winner of the Graybeal-Gowan Prize for Virginia Writers will receive five hundred dollars, publication in the magazine, and copies of a broadside of his or her poem.

The judge is National Book Award finalist Brendan Galvin, whose sixteen poetry collections include The Strength of a Named Thing (1999), Habitat: New and Selected Poems 1965-2005 (2005), and Whirl Is King: Poems From a Life List (2008), all published by Louisiana State University (LSU) Press. A review of Galvin's Ocean Effects (LSU Press, 2007) published in the Valparaiso Poetry Review describes him as being among "the ranks of poets to whom an acute understanding of the natural world—the wonders of its workings and of human interaction with it—are of first importance." 

Last year's Graybeal-Gowan winner, selected by poet Betty Adcock, was University of Virginia professor Kevin Hart. He won for his poem "March," which was published in the journal's Spring/Summer 2009 issue.

Writers may submit up to three unpublished poems (two copies of each) and a brief bio that establishes eligibility by November 29. Shenandoah does not charge an entry fee for this contest.

 

 

Last Wednesday night, the winners of the Whiting Writers' Awards were addressed by Margaret Atwood, author of more than forty books of poetry, fiction, essays, and works for children, and herself the recipient of many literary honors, the Giller Prize and the Booker Prize among them. Atwood's speech, reprinted below, invoked the ten writers of poetry, fiction, plays, and nonfiction who each received the fifty-thousand-dollar Whiting Writers' Award to remain vigilant and tenacious in their vocation, encouragement we thought would speak to many readers of this blog. 

It’s a great honor to have been invited to speak to you this evening. The occasion is a happy one—it’s the moment when the Whiting Foundation recognizes and encourages brilliant upcoming writing talent. Congratulations to all! (I’ll put you on my blog.)

My role here is a secondary one. It’s what you might call the Duchess role—what Duchesses would be doing if America hadn’t thoughtlessly done away with them in 1776, thus inaugurating 213 years of Duchess Envy. All my life I’ve fled the idea of being a role model—for heaven’s sakes, don’t live as I’ve lived, I want to tell the young—but I appear to have turned into a sort of role model anyway.    

On this occasion it seems that I’m to act as a kind of symbolic dignitary—writers can’t be actual dignitaries, as they are by nature too undignified—and wield a virtual wand of blessing, like the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio, or wave a banner from a casement window as the young troops ride out to do battle. Gird on your word-swords, I must say to them! Buckle up those adjectives! Make sure your plots are tight, your epigrams sharp and pointed, your lyrical intervals lacking in bathos. Be vigilant—there are ambushes everywhere. On one side lurk the critics, getting ready to sneer and denounce, or worse, to praise for the wrong reasons; on the other side your parent figures, who always wanted you to be doctors, and who have furnished themselves with a list of writers such as Checkhov who were writers, yes, but doctors too: why can’t you do that? This is not helpful.

And on the third side is a stack of bills—bills for things like the rent—that whisper in their papery voices about the impossibility of making a living doing what you most wish to do. Alas, there is no inevitable connection, positive or negative, between talent and money. A bad book can make piles of money, a good book none. Or else a lot. It does happen. But nothing can be foreseen, because writing is among other things a form of gambling. You can win in one throw. You can lose disastrously. Fortune is a notoriously cruel goddess.

This is the moment for a bracing quote from Tennyson: "Doubt Not, Go Forward—If thou doubt’st, The Beasts will tear thee piecemeal." Fare well, I will say to the anointed ten—the fate of our language is in your hands, and it is a crucial fate—for if these the future guardians of it should falter or disappear, and if even our human language should fail us—should it become a rusty and untrustworthy tool—where will that leave us?

But perhaps I should climb down off the soapbox and give some more practical advice. Forget what used to be called "literature," I might say. It’s too risky. Too hard to drop-kick it through the gateposts of the best-seller lists, and the inability to do so—in a winner-take-all environment—can be fatal. Write cookbooks, or books about vampires—you’d do well with either. Or troll through the classics, adding monsters—Tess of the d’Urbervilles and the Body Snatchers, Jane Eyre and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, War and Peace and Heads That Grow Out of Your Armpits—the possibilities are endless! Better still—mix and match even more, and do a Vampire Cookbook! On second thought, maybe not—limited menu. But a Miss Manners Guide to Monster Etiquette—now that would sell! With a little ingenuity and no shame, you can do well. Then, under a different name—a very different name—you can dash off a few masterpieces.

Here’s another helpful hint: Invent some critics, then have them say some laudatory things about your work. This has been done. A painter friend of mine in Toronto made up an art critic called Don Rouge Humber and quoted him in ads, saying things like, "So stunning words fail me" and, "An oasis of pure optical pleasure," "Depilatory fine art with a consistently crispy crunch – delightfully deconstructionist!" My friend thought people would surely realize that Don was pretend, but not so. He sold a number of pieces to folks who turned up, ready for a serious art experience because the esteemed critic Don Rouge Humber thought so highly of his work.

But perhaps I should put on my seriousness hat, and offer some words of cheer, to young writers and to readers and to publishers, as well—to all who inhabit the republic of the written word, as all are essential to the survival of that noble republic. For it cannot have escaped you that we live in trying times. When interviewers start asking you about the state of publishing instead of the state of gender relations, you know we’re in trouble. Is poetry doomed? Is the novel doomed? Is the book doomed? (Not so far as I can see, or not yet.)

Or—a different sort of—Do the young still read? A question that invokes some long-gone non-existent golden age in which all the young did read, and nothing but praiseworthy classics. Not in my high school, I might tell them. Reading complex literary works in the century or so in which we’ve had something like universal literacy—has been a minority taste. But a minority taste well worth acquiring, for it really can be transformative: It can change lives.

But stories—just as stories—are not a minority taste. They’re a universal. Dennis Dutton, in his book The Art Instinct, proposes that art—and especially narrative art—is an evolved adaptation that human beings developed during their eighty-thousand-generation-long sojourn in the Pleistocene—a time when the ability to tell your kids about the time Uncle Mort got eaten by a crocodile, right over there, would have given those kids a distinct evolutionary advantage over other kids who could only find out about the crocodile firsthand. The arts are no frill—they’re part of our essential toolkit as human beings. We’ll make music and compose poems and tell stories as long as we’re on the planet. What’s at issue is the kinds of songs we’ll sing and the kinds of stories we’ll tell. And that’s where you’ll come in.

It’s not a profession, this track you’re on. It’s a vocation—a calling. There’s no pension plan, there are no guarantees, and there’s no magic potion. What you’ve chosen to do is brave and risky, but it’s also necessary—increasingly necessary as we move into a future for which no one, right now, has a convincing blueprint. You’ll be taking the ancient, ancient human language and its songs and stories that have been passed down to you, changing as they go; and through inspiration and hard work, you’ll fashion them into new forms that will in turn be molded by their time, as everything we’ve done is, and has been; and then you’ll pass these forms on in your turn, if we’re lucky. If we are all very lucky.

So that’s the real magic potion: luck. That’s what I should be saying as I wave my virtual wand: Good luck to all of you. Very good luck!

The Lord Mayor of Dublin has rolled out the longlist of titles being considered for the 2010 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. The sum of nominations from libraries in forty-three countries, a total of 156 novels published in English in 2008 are up for the one-hundred-thousand-Euro award. 

Among the nominees are Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison for A Mercy (Knopf); Marilynne Robinson for Home (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), which won the Orange Prize last year; and Aleksandar Hemon for The Lazarus Project, a National Book Award finalist. Debut novelists also received nods, among them Aravind Adiga for The White Tiger (Free Press), winner of the 2008 Man Booker Prize, and Hannah Tinti for The Good Thief (Dial Press), winner of the Mercantile Library Center for Fiction's John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize. Husband and wife Paul Auster and Siri Hustvedt each received a nomination, he for Man in the Dark (Henry Holt) and she for The Sorrows of an American (Henry Holt). The full longlist and information about each book is posted on the IMPAC Web site.

Selecting the winning book will be novelists Anne Fine, Anatoly Kudryavitsky, Abdourahman Waberi, and Zoë Wicomb, and scholar Eve Patten.

The shortlist will be announced by the Dublin City Council on April 14, 2010, and the winner on June 17. Previous recipients of the award, given since 1996, are Colm Tóibín, Per Petterson, Orhan Pamuk, and recent Nobel winner Herta Müller.

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