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G&A: The Contest Blog

For the fifth installment of our ongoing Winners on Winning series, we spoke with Tami Mohamed Brown, the winner of a 2013 Loft Literary Center Minnesota Emerging Writers' Grant in creative nonfiction, an award that includes $10,000 and professional development for a writing project. She also received a 2011-2012 Mentor Series Award in creative nonfiction from the Loft Literary Center. Brown is a regular contributor to Minnesota Women’s Press, and her work has been published or is forthcoming in Literary Mama, Mizna, Sweet, and in the anthology Open to Interpretation: Intimate Landscape. She lives in Bloomington, Minnesota, with her husband and daughter.

What kind of impact has winning this prize had on your career?
Like many working parents, I’ve never known a writing life or schedule that is separate or distinct from full-time employment and motherhood, my writing time a constant negotiation of balance to create pockets of time—however minimal—in early mornings, on the bus, squeezed in over lunch hours. Receiving the Emerging Writers' Grant has allowed me funded writing time on a regular schedule to work toward a final rewriting and shaping of my memoir: one day a week away from my full-time job, for a full calendar year. I’m still kind of blown away by that! 

Has winning this award, or previous awards, changed the way you approach your work?
Receiving this award for funded time on a very specific project has definitely made me take my work more seriously. There was the sense that my work had been validated, which fed into an awareness of the importance of my scheduled writing days—I’ve made a huge effort to protect that time, which otherwise would have been hard fought. These longer, weekly, concentrated blocks of time have provided a sense of expansiveness—time to think actively about and experiment with structure and time to simply get as much as I can down on the page.   

Have you ever entered a contest that you didn't win?
I submitted a version of the same proposal to the Minnesota Emerging Writers' Grant in 2012 and didn’t win. When the grant notice was posted for 2013, I revisited what I had written the previous year and tightened things up. The second time around, I asked readers I trusted for feedback on the grant narrative, and I used the resources the Loft provided—an open information session, a scheduled chance to ask questions. In short, I took more time and care with the process and with my work—it was good to be reminded that this can make a difference. 

What advice would you offer to writers thinking of submitting to writing contests?
Do your homework and seek out the opportunities that are a good fit for your work. Follow submission guidelines. Submit your best work. After that understand that timing and luck are part of the process, and persevere.  

For more Winners on Winning, read the current issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, and check back here every Wednesday for a new installment.

 

Submissions are currently open for the Tell it Strange Essay & Story Contest, sponsored by the Gotham Writers’ Workshop and the Writer. The winner will receive $1,000, publication in the Writer, and tuition valued at $445 to take a class through the Gotham Writers’ Workshop in New York City or online.

A $500 second-place prize and a $250 third-place prize will also be given; both awards include publication on the Writer website and tuition for a workshop. All three winners will also receive a subscription to the Writer.

Using the online submission system, submit a story or essay of up to 1,000 words with a $15 entry fee by May 31. The piece should respond to one of the following two quotes by fiction writer Annie Proulx: “We’re all strange inside. We learn how to disguise our differences as we grow up (The Shipping News);” or “There’s something wrong with everybody, and it’s up to you to know what you can handle (Close Range).” The winner will be announced by July 1.

Annie Proulx is the author of four short story collections, four novels, and most recently Bird Cloud: A Memoir of Place (Simon & Schuster, 2011). Her novel The Shipping News (Simon & Schuster, 1993), about a family living in Newfoundland, won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Close Range (Simon & Schuster, 1999) is a collection of short stories about Wyoming, including “Brokeback Mountain.”

Established in 1993, the Gotham Writers’ Workshop offers creative writing workshops in New York City and online for poets, fiction writers, and nonfiction writers. The mission of Gotham Writers’ Workshop is “to demystify the writing process through expert instruction and proven methods in a safe, creative learning environment.”


Proulx: Eamonn McCabe/the Guardian

The Poetry Foundation announced yesterday that Nathaniel Mackey has won the 2014 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. The annual $100,000 prize honors a living U.S. poet for outstanding lifetime achievement.

Mackey, sixty-six, is the author of over a dozen poetry collections, most recently Nod House (New Directions, 2011) and Splay Anthem (New Directions, 2006), which won the National Book Award. Often known for his experimental work, Mackey has published four installments of his ongoing serial novel, From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate. He teaches at Duke University.

Don Share, editor of Poetry magazine, which is published by the Poetry Foundation, praised Mackey’s work. “The poetry of Nathaniel Mackey continues an American bardic line that unfolds from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass to H. D.’s Trilogy to Olson’s Maximus poems, winds through the whole of Robert Duncan’s work and extends beyond all of these,” he said. “In his poems, but also in his genre-defying serial novel (which has no beginning or end) and in his multifaceted critical writing, Mackey’s words always go where music goes: a brilliant and major accomplishment.”

Recent winners of the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize include Marie Ponsot and W. S. Di Piero. The prize was established by Ruth Lilly in 1986, and has honored poets such as Adrienne Rich, Philip Levine, John Ashbery, W. S. Merwin, Yusef Komunyakaa, Kay Ryan, C. K. Williams, and Lucille Clifton.

University of California Press received the Poetry Foundation's inaugural Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism for two of its books, both published in 2014, on the poet Robert Duncan: Robert Duncan: The Collected Later Poems and Plays, edited by Peter Quartermain, and Robert Duncan: Collected Essays and Other Prose, edited by James Maynard. The $7,500 annual award honors the best book-length works of criticism, including biographies, essay collections, or critical editions, that focus on poetry.

Mackey and University of California Press will be honored at a ceremony in Chicago on June 9.

Visit the Poetry Foundation website for an extended interview with Nathaniel Mackey. In the video below, Mackey gives a reading at the University of California in Santa Cruz in 2008.

For the fourth installment of our ongoing Winners on Winning series, we spoke with poet Christopher Salerno, who was chosen by D. A. Powell as the winner of the 2013 Georgetown Review Poetry Contest for his collection ATM. He received $1,000, and his book was published in March by Georgetown Review Press. His previous collections include Minimum Heroic, which won the Mississippi Review Poetry Prize in 2010, and Whirligig, which was published by Spuyten Duyvil in 2006. He is an assistant professor of English at William Paterson University in New Jersey.

What kind of impact has winning the Georgetown Review Poetry Prize had on your career?
I’m actually up for tenure this year at the university where I teach, and so clearly a prize of any kind is useful for that business. But more important, in terms of my writing, the prize has afforded me the time and perspective to clear the deck, and to be patient and thoughtful about what comes next. I realize that I don’t need to be pushing out books on any kind of set schedule. If it happens, great. Also, I’m sending myself on a modest reading tour this spring, which will allow me to connect with other writers and audiences who may not know about my work.

Has winning this award, or previous awards, changed the way you approach your work?
Absolutely. Winning this award for ATM, and winning an award for my previous book, Minimum Heroic, has given me insight into my revision process, and what it means to “finish” a manuscript. It’s also made me think about the notion of a “project” or themed book, such as ATM. Some presses responded more strongly to the cohesive nature of this manuscript, as opposed to my previous, loosely-knit collections.

Have you ever entered a contest that you didn't win?
Yes. I’ve entered more contests over the years that I can remember. But fewer and fewer as my career has moved along. To some degree I’ve used rejection to push me back into the manuscript and think more about it. I’ve also developed more awareness and respect for what certain presses do and what kind of work they publish, and so if my book doesn’t make the cut I am more inclined to wonder why. I’m rarely satisfied with my work anyway, and I find great enjoyment in pushing the manuscript around to see what other potential is there. 

What advice would you offer to writers thinking of submitting to writing contests?
There are two things I’ve learned. First, you must familiarize yourself with the judge’s work and the work published by the press or publisher holding the contest. You’d be crazy to throw your $20 at a press just because you think it’s grand. How do you see your work fitting there? My advice would be to send, but only if you think it’s a good fit. Secondly, it’s wise to keep in mind that, after winning a prize, it is unlikely that the press will publish that winner’s follow-up book. Some presses are loyal to authors, and others seek the freshness of new contest books. 

For more Winners on Winning, read the current issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, and check back here every Wednesday for the next six weeks for a new installment.

The American Poetry Review is currently accepting submissions for the Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize for Younger Poets. The annual prize is given for a poem or group of poems written by a poet under 40. The winner will receive $1,000 and publication in the September/October 2014 issue of the American Poetry Review.

Poets may submit one to three poems totaling no more than three pages with a $15 entry fee. The deadline is May 15; poets may submit using the online submission system, or by postal mail to the American Poetry Review, Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize, UARTS/320 South Broad Street, Hamilton #313, Philadelphia, PA 19102. The editors of the American Poetry Review will judge. The winner will be announced by July 1.

Established in 2010, the prize honors the late Stanley Kunitz and his dedication to mentoring young poets. Kunitz (1905-2006) taught at Bennington College, Brandeis, Columbia, Princeton, Queens College, Rutgers, University of Washington, Vassar, and Yale. He helped found the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, as well as Poets House in New York City. From 1969 to 1977, he served as the judge for the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize, selecting the work of emerging poets such as Carolyn Forché and Robert Hass.

Previous winners of the Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize prize include Ocean Vuong, Alex Dimitrov, and Elly Bookman.

Photo credit: Middle Tennessee State University

For the third installment in our weekly Winners on Winning series, we spoke with poet Dexter L. Booth, who was selected by Major Jackson as the winner of the 2012 Cave Canem Poetry Prize for his collection, Scratching the Ghost, which was published in 2013 by Graywolf Press. He teaches poetry and English composition at Arizona State University.

What kind of impact has winning the Cave Canem Poetry Prize had on your career?
A few months after I found out I was selected for the prize I was contacted by the University of Arizona’s Poetry Center and the Pima Writers’ Workshop. At this point the book didn’t even have a cover image and wasn’t real to me yet. I drove to Tucson to give a reading, lecture, and run a workshop that summer. It was the first time I had ever been invited to be a part of something like that. I met a bunch of great writers and made some connections in the academic community, some of which have led to friendships that I’ve come to deeply value.

When the book was released I flew to New York City and read at NYU and met Cornelius Eady. Because Cave Canem is based in New York I also had my first face-to-face meeting with Alison Meyers, the executive director of Cave Canem, and a few others I had been in touch with via email for over a year. I was introduced to a lot of Cave Canem fellows and they were all incredibly nice and extremely supportive.

Working with Graywolf Press has also been a humbling experience. They are so accommodating and flexible. I owe a lot of the publicity credit to them. Jeff Shotts is an amazing editor and he really cares about Graywolf’s authors. Though I’ve made quite a few connections and have been given a number of opportunities, I’m not one to brag about the details. I am very fortunate and I think winning this prize has made my career.

Has winning this award, or previous awards, changed the way you approach your work?
When I first found out the book was going to be published I was both elated and petrified. I had been sending it out, but I didn’t expect anything other than rejection; that’s a part of the process, a type of battle scar. Suddenly my poems went from being read by teachers, friends, and fellow poets, to having a readership that extended outside of the people I knew. I was so used to writing in solitude and sharing with a chosen few, the thought of the poems packing their sacks and heading out into the world with just one another to rely on was mortifying. For about six months or so I couldn’t write anything new. I had written a lot while sending out the manuscript but suddenly worry over the reception of the book became very crippling. After the buzz of congratulations died down a bit I made a concentrated effort to put it out of my mind. My work had already naturally evolved and I was writing poems that were longer and noticeably more demanding. I threw myself into those new poems as a way of ignoring the book. All of my poems are written out a desire to understand the world; the poems from the book are a part of my evolution as a writer, of course, but I don’t see the publication of the book itself as having any direct impact on the way I write.

Have you ever entered a contest that you didn't win?
Richard Siken said that sending out your work and getting rejections is a form of participation in the literary community. Pretty early into my MFA I made it a habit to submit my work to various journals and contests. I received a lot of rejections. The first rejection is always rough on anyone, but you get used to it. I was the poetry editor for Hayden’s Ferry Review for a year and I got to see the submission process from the inside. So many poems come through—many of them don’t even make it to the editor, and though a lot of what does is strong work, it doesn’t always meet the taste or aesthetic of the person who reads it. Contests work the same way.

What advice would you offer to writers thinking of submitting to writing contests?
Be patient and persistent. Rejection is just a part of what we do as artists. People often see the name of the judge for a contest and think their work is perfect and that there’s no way they can’t win, but in reality [a submission] has to go through a lot of hands before it reaches that judge. This can get expensive since there are so may contests out there, but I don’t think submitting to everything is prudent. Do some research and pick a few contests to send to. Send your best work but know that every other person who submitted is doing the same. If you aren’t selected, read the work that was and see what you can learn from it. Consider submissions to be an exercise in participation and don’t think about winning or losing or being rejected. Once the poems are sent, take a walk. When you get back home start writing new poems. If the poems are turned down, take another walk, start another poem. Rinse. Repeat.

For more Winners on Winning, read the current issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, and check back here every Wednesday for a new installment.

Submissions are currently open for the Paris Review's Writer-in-Residence program. Cosponsored by the Standard’s East Village hotel in New York City, the three-week residency, valued at $7,500, is given to a poet, a fiction writer, or a creative nonfiction writer with a book under contract. The resident will receive a room free of charge at the Standard’s East Village hotel for the first three weeks in July, as well as breakfasts, unlimited coffee, and a small reception at the end of the residency.

To apply, submit a description and sample of the work-in-progress totaling no more than 50 pages, a letter from the publisher confirming that the work is under contract, a brief letter of intent, and an optional sample of previous work totaling no more than 50 pages by May 1. All materials must be submitted electronically to residency@theparisreview.org. The editors of the Paris Review and Standard Culture will judge.

The residency program was launched in the fall of 2013. The inaugural resident, fiction writer Lysley Tenorio of San Francisco, spent three weeks in January at the Standard’s East Village hotel working on his novel.

The winner will be announced on June 7, 2014.

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