G&A: The Contest Blog

Amy Hempel and Alistair McLeod Win PEN/Malamud Award

Alistair McLeod and Amy Hempel have been selected to receive the twenty-second annual PEN/Malamud Award, sponsored by the PEN/Faulkner Foundation. Given for a body of work that "demonstrates excellence in the art of short fiction," the five-thousand-dollar prize is split between a more established writer and "one at the beginning of a literary career."

While McLeod has undoubtedly established himself—the sixty-nine-year-old Canadian is the author of several acclaimed story collections, including Island: The Complete Stories (Norton, 2001), and the winner of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, among other prizes—the description of Hempel as an author at the beginning of her career is, perhaps, arguable. Her first story collection, Reasons to Live, was published by Knopf twenty-four years ago. Previous early-career PEN/Malamud Award winners include Nathan Englander, Nell Freudenberger, and Adam Haslett, each of whom had published only one book when they won.

Still, Hempel's distinctive stories, which are collected in five books, including The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel (Scribner, 2006), certainly warrant the honor. "It is thrilling to receive an award named for Bernard Malamud," Hempel was quoted as saying in a press release, "whose stories are as relevant now as they were when he wrote them, tough and beautiful and uncompromising but not didactic."

Below is a video produced by United States Artists, the organization that sponsors the fifty-thousand-dollar USA Fellowships, one of which was given to Hempel in 2006.

Junot Díaz and Mohsin Hamid Among IMPAC Finalists

Junot Díaz may be able to add the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award to the list of honors, including the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, that he's garnered for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead Books, 2007). Yesterday he was named one of eight finalists for the IMPAC Award, which is billed as the world's richest prize for a work of fiction published in English. It's worth a hundred thousand euros, or $132,000.

The other finalists are David Leavitt for The Indian Clerk, Jean Echenoz for Ravel (New Press), Mohsin Hamid for The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Harcourt), Travis Holland for The Archivist's Story (Dial), Roy Jacobsen for The Burnt-Out Town of Miracles (John Murray), Indra Sinha for Animal's People (Simon & Schuster), and Michael Thomas for Man Gone Down (Grove/Atlantic). 

The winner will be announced on June 11. Previous winners include Per Petterson for Out Stealing Horses (Graywolf, 2007) and Colm Toibin for The Master (Scribner, 2004).

In Chasing the Whale: A Profile of Junot Díaz, which appeared in the September/October 2007 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, Frank Bures writes about the eleven-year gap between the publication of the Latino author's debut story collection, Drown (Riverhead Books, 1996), and that of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. "The amount of despair it took me to finish that damn thing is so ironic," Díaz told Bures, "because that book is about anything but despair. In some ways, there is so much joy in that book, that it belies the difficulties of construction. That book almost killed me."

Below is a video of Díaz talking to Ramona Koval about the main character of the novel, Oscar Wao, at the Sydney Writers' Festival last May. Warning: It contains some strong language.


"The Secret" to Winning the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize

The deadline for the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize, sponsored by the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University in Ohio, is about a month away. Anyone who's serious about winning the first book award, which offers two thousand dollars and publication by Kent State University Press, might look to a recently published anthology of poems by past winners for inspiration and guidance. 

The Next of Us Is About to Be Born: The Wick Poetry Series Anthology in Celebration of the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of the Wick Poetry Center, edited by Maggie Anderson, was published earlier this month by Kent State University Press. It includes the work of fifty-five poets who have been published in the Wick Poetry Series. All books in the series are chosen through competitions—the largest being the Stan and Tom Wick prize. Past winners include Eve Alexandra (The Drowned Girl, selected by C. K. Williams in 2002), Ariana-Sophia M. Kartsonis (Intaglio, selected by Eleanor Wilner in 2005), and Djelloul Marbrook (Far From Algiers, selected by Toi Derricotte in 2007).

Would-be submitters who go looking in the new anthology for a secret to winning this year's prize may come away a little disappointed, though, because, as one might expect, it showcases a pretty eclectic group. "While the notes on contributors at the back of this book will tell you which competition the poets won and who selected the book, one thing is clear," Anderson writes in her editor's note. "Whatever their age or publication record at the time, all of these poets demonstrate the boldness, confidence, and originality that often characterizes the work of new writers."

The secret? Be bold, confident, and original.

The deadline for the prize, which carries a twenty-dollar entry fee, is May 1. Naomi Shihab Nye will judge.


Omnidawn Contest Promises Poet Participation

The annual poetry contest sponsored by Omnidawn Publishing, the independent press founded in 2001 by Rusty Morrison and Ken Keegan, is now open for submissions; the deadline is June 30. Judge Ann Lauterbach will choose either a first or second full-length poetry collection for the two-thousand-dollar prize. The winning work will be published by Omnidawn in Fall 2010.

According the press's Web site, Morrison and Keegan started Omindawn "to create books that are most closely aligned with each author's vision, and to provide an interactive and rewarding publishing experience for poets and writers." In order to fulfill that mission (and, in the process, avoid the less-than-ideal relationship between publisher and poet that can result from other contests) they encourage authors to be an active participant in the production of the book. "As with other Omnidawn books, we will encourage the winning poet to participate in the design of the book, including choice of typefaces, cover artwork and design, with all stages subject to the approval of the winning poet," the editors wrote in an e-mail announcing the 2009 contest. "All costs, including production, distribution, and advertising will be fully paid by Omnidawn."

Last year's winning book, Michelle Taransky's Barn Burned, Then, chosen by Marjorie Welish, will be published in September.

The 2009 Omnidawn Poetry Contest carries a twenty-five-dollar entry fee. For complete guidelines, visit the press's Web site.

Three American Writers Up for Man Booker International Prize

Man Group, the investment company and hedge fund that sponsors the annual Man Booker Prize, last week announced the finalists of its other high-profile award: the Man Booker International Prize. The biannual award, founded in 2004, is given to a writer of any nationality whose work is available in English. It's worth around eighty-five thousand dollars. The finalists are:

Peter Carey (Australia)
Evan S. Connell (USA)
Mahasweta Devi (India)
E. L. Doctorow (USA)
James Kelman (UK)
Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru)
Arnošt Lustig (Czechoslovakia)
Alice Munro (Canada)
V. S. Naipaul (Trinidad/India)
Joyce Carol Oates (USA)
Antonio Tabucchi (Italy)
Ngugi Wa Thiong'O (Kenya)
Dubravka Ugresic (Croatia)
Ludmila Ulitskaya (Russia)

The judges are Amit Chaudhuri, Andrey Kurkov, and Jane Smiley. The winner will be announced in May.

Previous winners of the prize are Ismail Kadare of Albania and Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. Below is a video poem by Kadare and Achebe's 2007 acceptance speech.

Four Way Books Covers the Bases With Levis Prize Guidelines

The deadline for the 2009 Levis Poetry Prize, sponsored by the independent press Four Way Books, is less than a week away. The annual award, which includes a thousand dollars and publication of a book-length collection, is open to any poet writing in English, regardless of publication history. This year's judge is Mary Jo Bang, author, most recently, of the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning collection Elegy (Graywolf, 2007) and the director of the creative writing program at Washington University in St. Louis.

The guidelines for the Levis Poetry Prize are not only practical but also interesting for their description of the press's reading policy, which underscores the lengths legitimate sponsoring organizations will go to ensure that there will be no allegations of unfairness. (Such a description also illustrates how the culture of competition has evolved from what it was four or five years ago, when skepticism and even cynicism about all things contest-related seemed to reach its peak). What's changed, exactly? For starters, the process whereby winners are chosen has become, in many cases, more transparent.

After describing the ways in which poets may submit their work to the contest, the Four Way Books editors end with the following note about a potential submitter's relationship with the judge: "Please do not submit to this contest if you are close enough to Mary Jo Bang that her integrity, your integrity, and the integrity of Four Way Books would be called into question should you be selected as the winner. You may query us if you have questions regarding this matter. We will allow you to submit to us outside of the contest if you feel that you are treading deep water in this regard."

The press's reading policy, which details the path each manuscript travels—from the point at which it's stripped of identifying material to its delivery to preliminary readers to its arrival at the judge's desk—can be read on the Four Way Books Web site.

Clickety-Clack: Deadline for Glimmer Train's Fiction Open Nears

The next deadline for Glimmer Train Press's quarterly Fiction Open is fast approaching: March 31. But a quick look at the Help page on the press's Web site will provide some breathing space for those procrastinating writers out there who have yet to get their submissions ready. "We always have a one-week grace period after the close of a category, so please don't worry if you're trying to make a deadline," coeditors Susan Burmeister-Brown and Linda Swanson-Davies write.

The prize is given for a story in the range of two thousand to twenty thousand words. The winner, who will be announced on May 31, receives two thousand dollars, publication in Glimmer Train Stories and twenty copies of the issue. The second-place winner will receive a thousand dollars and possible publicaiton; the third-place winner, six hundred dollars and a shot at publication. There's a twenty-dollar entry fee.

The winner of the December 2008 Fiction Open, Cary Groner, is a graduate student at the University of Arizona's creative writing program. His winning story, the twenty-five-page "Elaborate Preparations for Departure," forthcoming in an upcoming issue of Glimmer Train Stories, will be his first publication. In an interview on UA's Web site, Groner said the award "came as a pleasant surprise," and responded to the debate over whether writing can be taught. "To me it's a little like wondering whether neurosurgery can be taught," he said. "I came here without much of a clue what I was doing, and although I still have a lot to learn, I'm living proof that if you have attentive teachers and astute colleagues, you can improve."

As further proof that unpublished writers have a shot at winning awards and having their work appear in print, Swanson-Davies and Burmeister-Brown share some hopeful news: "In the recent edition of Best American Short Stories, of the top "100 distinguished short stories," ten appeared in Glimmer Train Stories.... We are pleased to say that, of those ten, three were those authors' first stories accepted for publication."

Emily Perkins Wins Fifth Annual Believer Book Award

In the March/April 2009 issue of the Believer, Emily Perkins was named winner of the fifth annual Believer Book Award for her Novel About My Wife (Bloomsbury, 2008). The finalists, as selected by the magazine's editors—Heidi Julavits, Ed Park, and Vendela Vida—were Samantha Hunt for The Invention of Everything Else (Houghton Mifflin), Mary Ruefle for The Most of It (Wave Books), John Olson for Souls of Wind (Quale Press), Jim Krusoe for Girl Factory (Tin House Books), Tod Wodicka for All Shall Be Well; And All Shall Be Well; and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well (Pantheon), Toby Olson for Tampico (University of Texas Press), and Shannon Burke for Black Flies (Soft Skull).

Previous winners are Tom McCarthy (Remainder, Vintage Books, 2007), Cormac McCarthy (The Road, Knopf, 2006), Sesshu Foster (Atomik Aztex, City Lights, 2005), and Sam Lipsyte (Home Land, Picador, 2005).

The editors had also asked readers to fill out survey cards listing the three strongest works of fiction published in 2008. While these weren't considered for the Believer Book Award—a prize for which there is no submission or application process, beyond writing and publishing a novel that tickles the fancy of the editors—the results are nevertheless interesting, especially for the names of independent publishers that are acknowledged therein. Of the top twenty strongest fiction books, for example, nine were published by indie houses (although two of those titles were published by McSweeney's Books, and their popularity with readers of the Believer is no surprise):

2. Unlucky Lucky Days (BOA Editions) by Daniel Grandbois
6. Vacation (McSweeney's) by Deb Olin Unferth
8. Arkansas (McSweeney's, though a reprint is forthcoming from fellow indie Grove Press in June) by John Brandon
13. Bottomless Belly Button (Fantagraphics Books) by Dash Shaw
14. A Heaven of Others (Starcherone Books) by Joshua Cohen
15. So Brave, Young, and Handsome (Atlantic Monthly Press) by Leif Enger
16. How the Dead Dream (Counteroint) by Lydia Millet
19. The Drop Edge of Yonder (Two Dollar Radio) by Rudolph Wurlitzer
20. Ghosts of Chicago (Jefferson Press) by John McNally

Orion Announces Finalists for Book Award: It's True, No Fiction

Orion magazine today announced the finalists for the 2009 Orion Book Award, an annual prize launched in 2007 to recognize books of fiction and nonfiction published in the previous year "that deepen our connection to the natural world, present new ideas about our relationship with nature, and achieve excellence in writing." They are Amy Irvine for her memoir Trespass (North Point Press), Robert Macfarlane for his travelogue The Wild Places (Penguin) James Gustave Speth for his nonfiction book The Bridge at the End of the World (Yale University Press), Ginger Strand for her historical study Inventing Niagara (Simon and Schuster), and Terry Tempest Williams for her nonfiction book Finding Beauty in a Broken World (Pantheon).

The finalists were chosen from more than sixty nominations put forward by the board of advisors of the Orion Society, the nonprofit that publishes Orion; the magazine's contributing editors; and "a select number of colleagues." While plenty of good novels didn't make it to the finalist level, including Ron Rash's Serena, Kim Barnes's A Country Called Home (Knopf), and Peter Matthiessen's Shadow Country (Modern Library), readers can still vote for any of the nominees, including the finalists, in the 2009 Readers' Choice. Just don't expect to find any poetry on the list: Despite the fact that there are plenty of poetry collections that deepen our connection to the natural world (Jeffrey Yang's An Aquarium comes to mind; post a comment with others below) they aren't eligible for the Orion Book Award. 

Unlike some sponsoring organizations that stretch the suspense longer than Oscar season, the Orion Society will announce the winner in just one week, on March 27. The winners and finalists will be honored at a public event in New York City on April 15.

Creative Categories (and Finalists) for Indies Choice Book Awards Announced

If you think the typical contest categories are getting a little stale—it's a rare award that is given for anything other than "the best" in a specific genre or age group or level of career—you might want to consider the American Booksellers Association's inaugural Indies Choice Book Awards. The finalists in seven inventive categories, including Best Conversation Starter (Nonfiction) and Most Engaging Author, were recently announced, and owners and staff of ABA member bookstores are currently voting for the winners, who will be announced at BookExpo America in May.

Perhaps it's due in part to the award program's focus on titles that indie booksellers most enjoy selling that frees them up to be a little more playful with the categories—or maybe it's that there isn't a huge cash prize waiting for the winners at the awards ceremony—but the fine folks at ABA and the members who selected the finalists (Carla Jimenez of Inkwood Books in Tampa, Florida; Mitch Kaplan of Books & Books in South Florida and the Cayman Islands, Arsen Kashkashian of Boulder Book Store in Colorado, Valerie Koehler of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Collette Morgan of Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis, Matt Norcross of McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petosky, Michigan, and jury chair Cathy Langer of Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver) deserve a nod. 

Here are five of the seven categories (for the two picture book divisions, visit the ABA Web site) and the finalists:

Best Indie Buzz Book (Fiction)
City of Thieves by David Benioff (Viking)
The Given Day by Dennis Lehane (Morrow)
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (Dial)
Netherland by Joseph O'Neill (Pantheon)
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (Viking)
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri (Knopf)

Best Conversation Starter (Nonfiction)
American Buffalo by Steven Rinella (Spiegel & Grau)
The Forever War by Dexter Filkins (Knopf)
Hurry Down Sunshine by Michael Greenberg (Other Press)
A Voyage Long and Strange by Tony Horwitz (Holt)
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami (Knopf)
The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell (Riverhead)

Best Author Discovery (Debut)
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith (Grand Central)
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (Knopf)
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan (Algonquin)
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski (Ecco)
The Story of Forgetting by Stefan Merrill Block (Random House)
White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (Free Press)

Best Indie Young Adult Buzz Book (Fiction)
Graceling by Kristin Cashore (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins)
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (Tor)
My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger (Dial)
Savvy by Ingrid Law (Dial)

Most Engaging Author (for "the author who is an in-store star with a strong sense of the importance of indie booksellers to their local communities")
Sherman Alexie
Michael Chabon
Ann Patchett
Jon Scieszka
David Sedaris
Terry Tempest Williams



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