It's easy to get caught up in the details of who won which award and how big the cash prize was and when the winning book is going to be published. These are all important details, no doubt, but every once and a while a contest or a sponsoring organization comes along that offers a little perspective to the competition, reminding those of us who pay such close attention to the deadlines and the recent winners that the people who run the magazines and the small presses and the nonprofits that make the contests possible are often doing what they're doing for very personal reasons.
Robert Nazarene named his Chesterfield, Missouri-based literary magazine Margie to honor his late sister's memory. Marjorie J. Wilson died in 1977 at the age of twenty-two. The annual journal also sponsors a number of writing contests, several of which are also named after late family members. The Marjorie J. Wilson Award, worth a thousand dollars, is given annually for a single poem. (This year's deadline has been extended to May 29.) The Robert E. and Ruth I. Wilson Poetry Book Award, given annually for a book-length poetry collection, is named for Nazarene's grandparents. And the newly created Auntie Ann Book Award, which will be given for a book-length collection of poetry (the deadline is August 31), is named for his aunt.
In a recent e-mail, Nazarene explained the personal importance of this suite of contests:
"Our 'Auntie Ann' was aunt to Margie, myself, James [Margie's senior editor], and our brother Tom. Also to my children, Bobby and Madelyn. She was of extremely modest means. And yet, she never missed a birthday or Christmas card to any of us...and it always included a far more generous check than she could afford. She was so kind. And she gave us all back rubs whenever we wanted them. Similarly, the Robert E. and Ruth I. Wilson Poetry Book Award is in honor of our grandparents. Neither our grandparents nor our Auntie Ann had the opportunity of education. In fact, my grandfather, Robert E. Lee Wilson, went to work at nine to support his mother and six siblings when his father (an alcoholic) abandoned the family. In any event, none of these dear people ever went beyond the eighth grade. We know they are smiling at the literary awards named in their honor. ... They all loved Margie with all their hearts and were dumbfounded with grief when we lost her at age twenty-two in 1977."
The literary magazine Margie, Nazarene added, "is not about a what, it's all about a who and our attempt to keep her voice alive and ringing."