G&A: The Contest Blog

PSA Announces Annual Award Winners—for the 99th Time

The Poetry Society of America on Friday announced the complete list of winners of the 99th annual PSA Awards—a baker's dozen of prizes ranging from the $250 Louise Louis/Emily F. Bourne Student Poetry Award, given to a student in grades nine through twelve, to the prestigious Frost Medal, given for distinguished lifetime service to American poetry. Sixteen-year-old Grace Dunham won the former; seventy-nine-year-old X. J. Kennedy received the latter. 

Among the other winners are Ron Padgett and Gary Young, who two months ago split the Shelley Memorial Award, a prize established way back in 1929 by the will of the late Mary P. Sears. John Koethe, the UWM philosophy professor whose eighth book of poems, Ninety-fifth Street, is forthcoming from Harper Perennial in September, and Christopher Buckley were the judges.

Padgett and Young are actually the twelfth pair to share the annual prize. The first was Herbert Bruncken and Winfield T. Scott in 1939. Some other, perhaps more widely known Shelley Award-winning pairs are John Ashbery and Richard Wilbur in 1972 and Denise Levertov and Robert Duncan in 1983.  

In addition to all the poetry collections that Padgett has published with great indie presses over the years, he's written and/or edited books about writing as well as two books about other poets—Ted: A Personal Memoir of Ted Berrigan (The Figures, 1993) and Joe: A Memoir of Joe Brainard (Coffee House Press, 2004). Young, a prose poet who teaches at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is the author of several poetry collections, including Pleasure (2006) and No Other Life (2005), both published by Heyday Books.

Who Should Have Won? A Writer's Spectator Sport

Last month, Dave Davies, senior editor of the Philadelphia Daily News, interviewed author Bruce Weber about the finer points of being a baseball umpire for NPR's Fresh Air. Weber, a New York Times reporter, trained to be a professional umpire for three years in order to write As They See 'Em: A Fan's Travels in the Land of Umpires (Scribner, 2009). One of the interesting things they discussed is what happens when an umpire is confronted by an angry player or coach who doesn't agree with a call. The bottom line: Any amount of complaining isn't going to make the ump change his mind.

The same can be said for the much more private spectacle of a judge naming the winner of a literary prize. Certainly not everyone can agree with the decision, but the judge is the final arbiter—and therefore the call stands.

Can you think of a recent call in "the ball park of writing contests" that made you want to explode out of the dugout, get in the umpire's face, and plead your case?

Perhaps it was last year's Nobel Prize in Literature selection. Even before French novelist Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio was named winner, the former secretary of the Swedish Academy, Horace Engdahl, started a firestorm of controversy when he criticized American writers in an interview with the Associated Press, noting that U.S. authors are "too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture," and that the quality of their work suffers as a result.

New Yorker editor David Remnick, for one, kicked some dirt on the umpire for that one: “You would think that the permanent secretary of an academy that pretends to wisdom but has historically overlooked Proust, Joyce, and Nabokov, to name just a few non-Nobelists, would spare us the categorical lectures," he said.

Without going all Lou Pinella here (obviously great respect and admiration is due the winners as well as the judges of writing contests—after all, they do what they do for the love of literature) have there been recent contests you'd like to have seen go a different way? Who should have won (besides yourself, of course) the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, or the National Book Critics Circle Award?

Wake Up, Fiction Writers! May Is Full of Story Contests

National Poetry Month is almost over. We laughed; we cried; we read and, perhaps, wrote some good poems. But now that the month-long verse extravaganza is nearly at an end—although it never really ends for the poets out there, does it—attention turns to the other genres as well. So, perhaps it's time to point out that fiction writers have a number of opportunities during May to enter contests in which prizes are given for short stories. 

For the procrastinators out there, tomorrow is the deadline for three contests, all of which offer a thousand dollars and publication. The Journal's Short Story Contest is given for a single short story, Lee K. Abbott will judge; Leapfrog Press's Fiction Award is given for an entire manuscript of stories (or a novel or novella) and will be judged by three Michaels (Michael Graziano, Michael Lee, and Michael Mirolla), and the Southwest Review's David Nathan Meyerson Prize for Fiction is given for a single story and is open only to writers who have yet to publish a book.

For those who want to plan a bit further ahead, the deadline for Hunger Mountain's Howard Frank Mosher Short Fiction Prize is May 10. The author of the winning story receives a thousand dollars and publication.

May 15 is the deadline for the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition, the well-defined prize given annually for a story writer whose fiction hasn't appeared in a nationally distributed publication with a circulation of five thousand or more.

And even though it falls on a Sunday, May 31 is the deadline for three short story-related contests: the University of Georgia Press's Flannery O'Connor Awards, Glimmer Train Press's Short Story Award for New Writers, and The Writer's Short Story Contest.

Four Poets Officially Discovered in "Discovery"/Boston Review Contest

Timothy Donnelly, poetry editor of the Boston Review, received nearly nine hundred submissions for this year's "Discovery"/Boston Review Poetry Contest, coordinated in partnership with the Unterberg Poetry Center at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. From that tower of manuscripts, judges Mary Jo Bang, Terrance Hayes, and Mark Strand recently chose four winners. They are Jynne Dilling Martin, Bridget Lowe, Jeffrey Schultz, and Annabelle Yeeseul Yoo. 

The "Discovery" contest has been around for five decades, but this is only the second year that the Boston Review has had a hand in coordinating the prizes and publishing the winners. Previously that honor went to the Nation, which ended its partnership in 2007. The annual prize is given for a group of poems by a poet who has not yet published a book—emphasis on the yet. After all, two of the judges, Bang and Strand, are previous winners of the contest and went on to collect a National Book Critics Circle Award and a Pulitzer Prize, respectively.

The editors of the Boston Review said the judges cited "formal invention, uniqueness of voice, and clarity of vision as distinguishing characteristics" of the four winners. In addition to the five-hundred-dollar cash prize and publication of their poems in the Boston Review, they have been invited read at the 92nd Street Y on May 11.

Martin, who is also the Random House publicist for such authors as Charles Bock, Emily Chenoweth, and Curtis Sittenfeld, has had her poems published in the Kenyon Review, New England Review, TriQuarterly, Indiana Review, New Orleans Review, Southern Review, and elsewhere.

Lowe is completing her MFA at Syracuse University, where she has received the Hayden Carruth Poetry Prize and the Peter Neagoe Fiction Award.

Schultz teaches at Pepperdine University and has had his poems published in Great River Review, Northwest Review, Poetry, Poetry Northwest, Willow Springs, and elsewhere.

And Yoo is a New York City poet whose work has appeared in LIT, Chelsea, jubilat, and Western Humanities Review.


Poem About Obama's Late Grandmother Wins New Millennium Contest

A couple months ago we told you about the establishment of a one-time-only contest for the best creative writing on the subject of president Barack Obama. Don Williams, the editor of the annual literary magazine New Millennium Writings offered a thousand dollars for the poem, story, or essay that effectively marks "this moment in our still-young millennium." Yesterday he announced a winner: Naomi Ruth Lowinsky of Pleasant Hill, California, for her poem "Madelyn Dunham, Passing On." According to Williams, Lowinsky's poem "imagines the spirit of Barack Obama's deceased grandmother gracing proceedings the night of his election."

Three other writers received additional hundred-dollar prizes: Suellen Wedmore of Rockport, Massachusetts, for her poem, "Because," a lyrical catalogue of events and forces that contributed to Obama's victory; Sarah Miller of Somerville, Massachusetts, for her essay "By Contrast," which compared the previous administration to a New England winter; and Frances Payne Adler of Portland, Oregon, for "In the White House," a joyful imagining of the first hours of occupancy of the White House by the Obama family. All four winning pieces will appear in the next issue of New Millennium Writings, which is due out in November.

In addition, twenty submissions were chosen for honorable mention. The authors are Veda M. Ball of Boulder, Colorado; Craig Barnes of Santa Fe, New Mexico; Tricia Coscia, Morrisville, Pennsylvania; Deborah Cooper of Duluth, Minnesota; Darlene Dauphin of Missouri City, Texas; Terry Ehret of Petaluma, California; Paula Friedman of Parkdale, Oregon; N. R. Gair of Newton, Massachusetts; Darryl Halbrooks of Richmond, Kentucky; Maryanne Hannan of Delmar, New York; F. Gerald Jefferson of Cleveland, Tennessee; Langston Kerman of Ann Arbor, Michigan; Ann Killough of Brookline, Massachusetts; Andrew Lam of San Francisco, California; Herbert Lowrey of Washington, DC; Barbara March of Cedarville, California; SheLa Morrison of Gabriola Island, BC; Garrett Rowlan of Los Angeles; Jesse Tangen-Mills of Bogota, Columbia; and Diana Whitney of Brattleboro, Vermont.

"Judging these awards was a privilege," Williams wrote in an e-mail. "Competition was stiff. We appreciate all who contributed to the success of this contest."



Pulitzer and NBA Finalist Frank Bidart Wins L.A. Times Book Prize

Last November he watched Mark Doty walk to the stage and collect the National Book Award for Fire to Fire: New and Collected Poems (HarperCollins). Last week he heard the news, along with the rest of us, that W. S. Merwin had won the Pulitzer Prize for The Shadow of Sirius (Copper Canyon Press). Having been named a finalist for both of those awards, Frank Bidart took home a prize of his own over the weekend. On Saturday he was named winner of an L. A. Times Book Prize for Watching the Spring Festival (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Marilynne Robinson won the prize in fiction for Home, also published by FSG.

The prizes were announced on Friday night at the Chandler Auditorium in the Los Angeles Times building in downtown Los Angeles. The twenty-ninth annual awards program kicked off the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, which ran through Sunday. (Three people were reportedly hurt when high winds blew down scaffolding on Saturday: Read about it here.) David Ulin presented the finalists and winners in nine categories, including biography, history, mystery/thriller, and young adult literature. 

The finalists in poetry were Jorie Graham for Sea Change, Marie Howe for The Kingdom of Ordinary Time, Cole Swensen for Ours, and Connie Voisine for Rare High Meadow of Which I Might Dream. The finalists in fiction were Sebastian Barry for The Secret Scripture, Richard Price for Lush Life, Joan Silber for The Size of the World, and Marisa Silver for The God of War.

Each winner received a thousand dollars.

Below is a video of Bidart reading from Watching the Spring Festival at an event for the 2008 National Book Award finalists on November 18, 2008.


Third PEN/Borders Literary Service Award Goes to E. L. Doctorow

Following Gore Vidal and Toni Morrison, the first two winners of the PEN/Borders Literary Service Award, E. L. Doctorow will be so honored at this year's PEN Literary Gala, which is being held next Tuesday at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft will be master of ceremonies at the annual event presented by the PEN American Center

Edgar Lawrence Doctorow (he was named for Edgar Allan Poe) has won a National Book Award, two National Book Critics Circle Awards, two PEN/Faulkner Awards, the Edith Wharton Citation for Fiction, the William Dean Howell Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a National Humanities Medal. His books include The March, City of God, The Book of Daniel, Ragtime, and Billy Bathgate. Random House will publish a new novel, Homer and Langly, in September.

Also on Tuesday, the PEN American Center will present the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award to Liu Xiaobo, a writer, literary critic, and political activist who has been a leading dissident voice in China for more than two decades. From PEN's press release: "In 1989 he played a crucial role in the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, staging a hunger strike in Tiananmen Square in support of the students and leading calls for a truly broad-based, sustainable democratic movement. When the army moved in, he was instrumental in preventing even worse bloodshed in the Square by advancing a call for non-violence on the part of the students. He spent two years in prison for his actions and another three years of 'reeducation through labor' beginning in 1996 for publicly criticizing the single-party system and calling for dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama of Tibet. In 2004, his phone lines and Internet connection were cut after the release of his essay protesting the use of “subversion” charges used to silence journalists and activists. He has been the target of regular police surveillance and harassment ever since."

Last year, having published Charter 08, "a declaration calling for political reform, greater human rights, and an end to one-party rule in China," he was arrested on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power” and is being held under “residential surveillance” at an unknown location in Beijing. Members of the Independent Chinese PEN Center will accept the award on Liu Xiaobo's behalf.

And this year's Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award will be given to Paljor Norbu, a Tibetan printer and publisher who was arrested last October for what his family believes to be accusations of printing "prohibited materials" in the Tibetan capital. His whereabouts are currently unknown; the award will be accepted by his daughter on his behalf.

Toni Morrison Knocked Out of Orange Prize Contention

The telecommunications company Orange announced yesterday that the final six authors in the running for the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction are Ellen Feldman for Scottsboro (Norton), Samantha Harvey for The Wildnerness (Cape), Samantha Hunt for The Invention of Everything Else (Houghton Mifflin), Deidre Madden for Molly Fox's Birthday (Faber), Marilynne Robinson for Home (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), and Kamila Shamsie for Burnt Shadows (Bloomsbury).

Toni Morrison is among the fourteen women novelists and story writers who didn't make the shortlist. Other longlisted authors who didn't make the cut include Allegra Goodman (Intuition, Dial Press), Gina Ochsner (The Russian Dreambook of Colour and Flight, Portobello), Preeta Samarasan (Evening Is the Whole Day, Houghton Mifflin), Curtis Sittenfeld (American Wife, Random House), Miriam Toews (The Flying Troutmans, Counterpoint), and Ann Weisgarber, an Ohio native who is still in the running for the Orange Award for New Writers. 

The winners of both awards will be announced on June 3 at a ceremony in London.

Cave Canem Deadline Nears, Recent Winners Offer Insight

The deadline for the 2009 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, an annual award given for a first book of poems by an African American poet, is next Friday. To get a sense of the manuscripts that have been successful in recent years, let's take a look at the last two winners, Ronaldo V. Wilson and Dawn Lundy Martin, both of whom were included in Poets & Writers Magazine's annual roundup of debut poets.

Wilson was thirty-eight when he won last year's prize for Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man, which was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press (the presses that publish the winners rotate; this year's participating press is Graywolf). He spent seven years writing the book and submitted to only three or four contests over a period of three years.

Martin was similarly selective in her submissions. She submitted A Gathering of Matter/A Matter of Gathering, which took her five years to write, to around seven contests before she won the 2007 Cave Canem Poetry Prize and it was subsequently published by the University of Georgia Press. When asked why she chose this particular contest, she replied, "First, because the publishers that make Cave Canem prizewinning work produce really beautiful books. Second, I entered because Carl Phillips was the judge." Martin's right, the books are beautiful. And Graywolf is known for publishing not only top-notch poetry collections but ones that look great, too. Yusef Komunyakaa is this year's judge.

Here's a sample from Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man:

When he thinks of the connection between his sad sisters and his turned-on old men strangers caught sucking and being sucked, and covered, he feels that his mind is one confused object that pulses about unknowing, wound up, a note toward itself with no answers but the need to cut, suspend, look. Paste, cover, and tape.

And from A Gathering of Matter/A Mattter of Gathering:

When the wax dries, finally, alongside the grass,
what rises when the dead are buried?

(To read her poem "Last Days" click here.)

It's arguable that the blurbs on the back of a book indicate anything about the aesthetic of the poet or the quality of her book, but just to "cover" all the bases: David Rivard called Wilson's book "scary in an exhalted sort of way," while Nathaniel Mackey called Martin's collection "staccato, braket studded, gruff, brusque."

And finally, whether you're thinking of submitting to this year's contest or not, the video below, of Martin reading her poem "Religion Song" at Fence magazine's tenth anniversary reading at the AWP conference in Chicago earlier this year, is worth watching:


W. S. Merwin and Elizabeth Strout Win Pulitzers

The ninety-third-annual Pulitzer Prizes were announced earlier this afternoon at Columbia University in New York City. The winner in poetry is W. S. Merwin for his twenty-sixth poetry collection, The Shadow of Sirius (Copper Canyon Press), and the winner in fiction is Elizabeth Strout for her third book, the story collection Olive Kitteridge (Random House). They will each receive ten thousand dollars.

The finalists in poetry were Frank Bidart for Watching the Spring Festival (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and Ruth Stone for What Love Comes To: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press). The jurors were poets Anne Winters, Carl Dennis, and James Baker Hall.

The finalists in fiction were Louise Erdrich for her novel The Plague of Doves (HarperCollins) and Christine Schutt for  her novel All Souls (Harcourt). The jurors were editor Susan Larson, professor R. H. W. Dillard, and author Nancy Pearl.

Below is a list of the other twenty-first-century Pulitzer Prize-winning authors. And if you have some extra time, consider clicking around the new and improved Pulitzer Prize Web site. There are good images and text about past winners in poetry and fiction, but if you really want to be blown away, haunted even, check out the photo galleries of the various photography categories, especially Feature Photography and the work of Preston Gannaway (2008) and Renée C. Byer (2007), in particular. (Click on the "Works" tab.)

2008 Poetry: Robert Hass for Time and Materials (Ecco) and Philip Schultz for Failure (Harcourt)
2008 Fiction: Junot Díaz for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead Books)

2007 Poetry: Natasha Trethewey for Native Guard (Houghton Mifflin)
2007 Fiction: Cormac McCarthy for The Road (Knopf)

2006 Poetry: Claudia Emerson for Late Wife (Lousiana State University Press)
2006 Fiction: Geraldine Brooks for March (Viking)

2005 Poetry: Ted Kooser for Delights & Shadows (Copper Cayon Press)
2005 Fiction: Marilynne Robinson for Gilead (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

2004 Poetry: Franz Wright for Walking to Martha's Vineyard (Knopf)
2004 Fiction: Edward P. Jones for The Known World (Amistad)

2003 Poetry: Paul Muldoon for Moy Sand and Gravel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
2003 Fiction: Jeffrey Eugenides for Middlesex (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

2002 Poetry: Carl Dennis for Practical Gods (Penguin)
2002 Fiction: Richard Russo for Empire Falls (Knopf)

2001 Poetry: Stephen Dunn for Different Hours (Norton)
2001 Fiction: Michael Chabon for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Random House)

2000 Poetry: C.K. Williams for Repair (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
2000 Fiction: Jhumpa Lahiri for Interpreter of Maladies (Mariner Books)


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