G&A: The Contest Blog

The Story Prize Finalists

Julie Lindsey and Larry Dark recently announced the finalists for the Story Prize, and you have to hand it to them: They picked a pretty eclectic group. Lindsey, who founded the Story Prize in 2005, and Dark, the director of the annual award honoring short story collections, chose Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri, Demons in the Spring by Joe Meno, and Our Story Begins by Tobias Wolff as the final three from among seventy-three story collections.

Lahiri, whose third book, Unaccustomed Earth, was published by Knopf last year, became the youngest writer to win the Puliltzer Prize when her first book, the story collection The Interpreter of Maladies (Houghton Mifflin), was so honored in 2000, when the author was just thirty-two. "Interpreter stood out because it didn't try to stand out," wrote Matthew Solan in a profile of Lahiri in the September/October 2003 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine. "There are no 'shock plots'; she instead focuses on the uniqueness of ordinary life. You can relate to her characters because their plights could easily be your own—a young couple trying to stay together after losing a baby; a housewife yearning to be more independent. Beneath the surface, though, her fiction takes the pulse of first- and second-generation Indian Americans trying to bridge the gap between the country they call home and the heritage that defines them."

Joe Meno's first two books, Tender as Hellfire (1999) and How the Hula Girl Sings (2000), were published by commercial publishers, but with his third, The Hairstyles of the Damned (2004), he moved to the independent Punk Planet Books, and he's been with small or university presses ever since—Demons in the Spring was published last year by Akashic Books. (Later this year, however, he's back in the big house: Norton will publish his novel, The Great Perhaps, in May.)

Tobias Wolff has been a consistent presence in the contest arena for the past thirty years, having been honored with the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the PEN/Malamud Award, the O. Henry Award, the Rea Award, and others. He's also been a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Our Story Begins, which was published last year by Knopf, gathers the best stories from three previous collections: In the Garden of the North American Martyrs (Ecco, 1981), Back in the World (Houghton Mifflin, 1985), and The Night in Question (Random House, 1996). "Something always happens in a Wolff story—something troublesome, something violent, either literally or emotionally," wrote Joe Woodward in profile of Wolff in the March/April 2008 issue. "Indeed, so much violence to the human spirit hasn't been seen in a short story collection since Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man Is Hard to Find."

Story Prize judges Daniel Menaker, Rick Simonson, and Hannah Tinti (who last year won the ten-thousand-dollar John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize from the Mercantile Library Center for Fiction for her novel The Good Thief) will choose the Story Prize winner, who will be announced at an event on March 4 at the New School in New York City. The winner will receive twenty-thousand dollars and the other finalists will each receive five thousand dollars.

Who do you think will win?


The Dune Shacks

For those writers who don’t mind roughing it, imagine this: A week of nothing but writing, reading, and staring at the sea from a shack nestled in the dunes of the Cape Cod National Seashore, plus $500 to spend on supplies in the nearby artsy village of Provincetown, Massachusetts, home to the Fine Arts Work Center and galleries galore.

Weeklong residencies at the C-Scape and Fowler Dune Shacks will be offered this year to two writers beginning in April. The shacks have a notable history, having hosted creative types since the 1930s, including authors such as e.e. cummings, Jack Kerouac, Norman Mailer, Mary Oliver, and Eugene O'Neill and painters Willem de Koonig and Jackson Pollock.

But be forewarned, the shacks are rustic—no electricity, no running water, no telephone. Just plenty of solitude.

There’s no fee to apply, and the deadline is February 15. Click here for submission guidelines.

Cave Canem's New Book Award

Scan any listing of contests open to poets and you'll likely find a whole bunch given for first books. The Walt Whitman, the Honickman, the A. Poulin Jr. Poetry Prize, the Cave Canem Poetry Prize—the list goes on. And that's great: Debut poets need all the help they can get. (Check out our Pass-Along Poems chapbook.) But far fewer awards are given specifically for second collections. The James Laughlin Award and the Barnard Women Poets Prize are among the standouts, but once you've published your first book, the number of contests to which you may submit your manuscript plummets. Well, now we can add one.

Earlier this month Cave Canem, the literary nonprofit founded in 1996 by Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady, announced the inaugural Cave Canem Northwestern Press Poetry Prize, a second book award for African American poets, that will further the nonprofit's commitment to "cultivating the artistic and professional growth of African American poets."

The annual award was created through the partnership of the Cave Canem Foundation and Northwestern University Press. The winner will receive a thousand dollars, publication by Northwestern University Press, fifteen copies of the published book, and a reading. African American poets who have had one full-length book of poetry published by a professional press are elegible. (Chapbooks and self-published works do not qualify.)

Judges of the inaugural prize will be Reginald Gibbons, Parneshia Jones, and John Keene. The reading period begins January 1, 2009. The deadline is March 1. Guidelines are available at the Cave Canem Web site. Poets may also e-mail Camille Rankine for more information.


Welcome to Our New Blog

For the past twenty years, Poets & Writers Magazine has delivered a reliable, comprehensive guide to writing contests through the print version of our Grants & Awards section. This year we launched a Grants & Awards database that users can search with ease, and now, we introduce G&A: The Contest Blog.

G&A is the place to visit for weekly posts about the awards we include in our magazine and database. Here we’ll announce new awards that didn’t make it into our pages, changes to upcoming deadlines, news of awards that have been suspended, interviews with frequent winners, plus many more behind-the-scenes glimpses into how the writing contest process works—and, sometimes, doesn’t work—all in an effort to help you discern which awards have the most value to you and your writing.

We thought we’d begin with a look back at the literary statistics of the past year to get a sense of the writing contest environment. In 2008, based on the information included in our Grants & Awards section, $11,337,228 was award to a total of 1,012 poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers. Of those, 562 were women and 450 were men. To add a little perspective, in 2002, $6,757,101 was awarded to 904 writers, 494 of whom were women, and 410 of whom were men. That’s an increase of over $4 million over six years!

Let’s hope the new year brings more rewards for writers. Check back next week, and every week going forward, for another dispatch from the world of literary competitions. And post a comment letting us know what you’d like to hear about in this blog.


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