G&A: The Contest Blog

Commercial Mags Get In On the Contest Action

If your literary aspirations are a bit more, shall we say, glossy—your ideal number of readers in the six- or seven-digit range—you might want to check out these new writing contests. Esquire, the monthly magazine for the "intellectually curious and confident modern man" (circ. 700,000), and Real Simple, the magazine for women that features "the inspiration, information, and time saving tools they need to make their lives easier" (circ. 1.9 million), recently launched contests that offer some good, old-fashioned cash and, perhaps more importantly, publication in magazines that are read by a wider cross section of the American public than most creative writers ever expect to reach.

The new Esquire Fiction Contest offers $2,500 and publication for the best story based one one of these three titles: "Twenty-Ten," "An Insurrection," or "Never, Ever Bring This Up Again." Writers may submit up to four thousand words by August 1. 

Real Simple's second annual Life Lessons Contest offers three thousand dollars, publication, two round-trip tickets to New York City, hotel accommodations for two nights, tickets to a Broadway play, and a lunch with Real Simple editors, for the best essay that answers the following question: When did you realize that you had become a grown-up? Writers may submit essays of up to fifteen hundred words by September 7.

New Orleans Carpenter Turned Writer Receives Gift of Freedom

In 2004, at the age of forty-seven, Barb Johnson decided to take time away from her carpentry business and pursue an MFA in fiction at the University of New Orleans. Shortly thereafter, Hurricane Katrina wiped out Johnson's business and forced her to live on the balcony of her apartment in the evacuated city. She kept writing, and by the time she graduated, in 2008, she had a book deal for a story collection, More of This World or Maybe Another, forthcoming from HarperCollins in November. Last week, she won the fifty-thousand-dollar Gift of Freedom Award from the nonprofit A Room of Her Own Foundation.

In her application for the biennial award, which is given to a woman writer who has a specific two-year goal (winners are chosen on the basis of talent and motivation), Johnson wrote, “We write to say, You are not alone. We write the thing that can’t be said…the thing that will be a bright moment for a stranger, the way another’s writing was a bright moment for us.… We pass what we have to those who are hungry for it because we, ourselves, have been hungry.”

With financial help from the award, Johnson will spend the next two years completing a novel titled "St. Luis of Palmyra," which picks up where her forthcoming story collection leaves off. The finalists for this year's award are Bridget Birdsal, CM Burroughs, Nathalie Handal, Gail Kramer, and Rashaan Alexis Meneses.

Previous recipients of the award, which was created in 2002, are Jennifer Tseng, Jeannine Harkleroad, Meredith Hall, and Summer Wood.


Finalist One Year, Winner the Next

In what the Academy of American Poets calls an "unprecedented concurrence," the sole finalist for the 2008 Walt Whitman Award, J. Michael Martinez, was just named winner of the 2009 award. Judge Juan Felipe Herrera chose Martinez's collection, Heredities, from nearly a thousand anonymous entries. It will be published in the spring of 2010 by Louisiana State University Press. Martinez will receive five thousand dollars and a one-month residency at the Vermont Studio Center. The Whitman is given for a first book of poems.

Last year, judge Linda Bierds selected Martinez as the only finalist and named Jonathan Thirkfield the winner for The Waker's Corridor; whereas this year Herrera chose Martinez and named Keith Ekiss ("Pima Road Notebook") and Sarah Elaine Smith ("I Live in a Hut") finalists.

Which contest do you think Ekiss and Smith will be sending their manuscripts to next year?

Martinez, who was born and raised in Greeley, Colorado, received an MFA from George Mason University. His poems have appeared in New American Writing, Five Fingers Review, the Colorado Review, and Crab Orchard Review, among others. He lives in Boulder and teaches literature, critical theory, and cultural studies at the University of Northern Colorado.

Cormac McCarthy Adds PEN/Saul Bellow Award to List of Honors

Pulitzer Prize? Check. National Book Award? Check. Guggenheim and MacArthur fellowships? Check, check. Picture hanging in the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery? Check. Appearance on Oprah? Check. Popular movie adaptation? Check, with at least two more in the works. And now Cormac McCarthy can add the PEN/Saul Bellow Award to the list.

Yesterday the PEN American Center announced  that the author of the best-selling apocalyptic novel The Road (Knopf, 2006), has won the second biennial PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction. He will receive forty thousand dollars. The 2007 winner was Philip Roth.

Joel and Ethan Cohen, whose adaptation of McCarthy's 2005 novel No Country for Old Men was a big hit last year, plan to release their adaptation of The Road in October. An adaptation of Blood Meridian (1985), written and directed by Todd Field and produced by Scott Rudin, is planned for a 2010 release.

And in case you missed it, below is a clip from the author's rare interview with Oprah, which aired last year.


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.



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