G&A: The Contest Blog

Student Writing Contest Looking for Thoughts on the Recession

This time of year you can almost feel the collective anxiety of students across the country who already have or will soon graduate and face the job market. And this year, of course, nerves are a little more frayed than usual. As short story writer Donald Ray Pollock said, as he accepted the PEN American Center's $35,000 PEN/Robert Bingham Fellowship a couple nights ago, “This is a big deal for me. And it couldn’t come at a better time. I’m getting ready to get out of graduate school, and there are no jobs out there."

It may not be worth as much as Pollack's new fellowship, but the Nation has a contest that will help a couple winners out with a thousand dollars each—and, perhaps more important, publication in a weekly magazine with a circulation of around 180,000. This year's Nation Student Writing Contest, sponsored by the BIL Charitable Trust, aims to "recognize and reward the best in student writing and thinking." Matriculating high school students and undergraduates at American schools, colleges, and universities—as well as those receiving either high school or college degrees in 2009—are invited to submit essays of no more than eight hundred words that answer the following question:

How has the recession affected you, your family, or someone you know?

Two winners, one from high school and one from college, will receive a thousand dollars and a subscription to the Nation; five finalists will receive two hundred dollars and subscriptions. The winners will be published in the magazine and online; the finalists, only online.

The deadline is May 31. The winners will be announced September 15. Click here for complete guidelines.


Flannery O'Connor Awards Series Champions Short Stories

"I don't want to read short fiction. I don't want to curl up with a collection of short stories. It's totally boring." Whether you agree with them or not, those words, spoken by agent Jeff Kleinman during the Agents and Editors interview published in the January/February 2009 issue, represent the views of a not-insignificant number of publishing professionals. (Which is partly why some people are trying to get a Short Story Month going, but that's another story.)

Fortunately, for short story writers (and readers) everywhere there are still contests like the annual Flannery O'Connor Awards series, which offers two prizes of $1,000 each and publication by University of Georgia Press for short story collections. Some great books have been published as a result of the competition: Just last fall, Andrew Porter's The Theory of Light and Matter and Peter Selgin's Drowning Lessons were published. And this fall will see the publication of last year's winners: Geoffrey Becker (Black Elvis) and Lori Ostlund (The Bigness of the World).

The University of Georgia Press recently named a new editor for the series, former Flannery O'Connor Award-winner Nancy Zafris, who offers a note about the blind selection process on the press's Web site. She also adds a little description of how she approaches her reading of the finalists as series editor: "I always begin with an open mind—a mood of receptivity. However, it is the author’s job to meet my expectations, my desire to be delighted or charmed or moved. This means that writers need to work very hard on their opening pages. Tell your story in your own (authentic) quiet or loud or funny voice and I’ll give your story a chance."

If you want to give her a chance to give you a chance, submit your story collection by May 31.


Dalkey Archive Selects Four Translation Fellows

Dalkey Archive Press recently announced that it has chosen four young literary translators as winners of its first Applied Translation fellowship program. Rhett Warren McNeil, Ursula Meany Scott, Jamie Richards, and Kerri Pierce were chosen from more than 130 applicants from 35 countries.

According to the press's Web site, the program was created "in response to the need on a national and international level for providing practical experience to young literary translators." Each fellow will receive an eighteen-thousand-dollar stipend to work at Dalkey Archive for one year, "gaining experience in translation and learning about the publishing industry while also participating in other aspects of the international literary community."

By the end of the year, each fellow will have translated a complete book to be published by the press. They will also be involved with the Center for Translation Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where the press is based.

In a press release, Dalkey Archive’s publisher John O’Brien said, “I’ve always felt that creating opportunities for young people to make a contribution to the literary community is an important part of Dalkey Archive’s nonprofit mission. We’ve worked with students for years, at every academic level and in various capacities, but never before on this scale. We plan to expand this program in the coming years, and hope it becomes a model for other institutions to help develop the field of literary translation.”

Amazon Names Breakthrough Novel Award Finalists

Amazon announced on Friday that book editors at Penguin selected three finalists from a pool of one hundred semifinalists for the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. They are "Stuff of Legends" by Ian Gibson, "Bill Warrington's Last Chance" by James King, and "In Malice, Quite Close" by Brandi Lynn Ryder.

Amazon customers can download excerpts of the three manuscripts and vote for the winner through Thursday. The winner, who will receive a publishing contract from Penguin, will be announced next Wednesday.

Last year's winner was Bill Loehfelm for his novel Fresh Kills. As we reported earlier this year, the contest has elicited its share of criticism—but then perhaps that's the whole point.

TGIF: The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work Makes Samuel Johnson Longlist

The BBC announced yesterday that nineteen titles have been named to the longlist for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Nonfiction, several of which readers would have no difficulty placing in the "creative nonfiction" category. Among these are Swiss author Alain de Botton's The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, an exploration of the modern workplace in all its forms. From the book's promotional copy: "We spend most of our waking lives at work—in occupations often chosen by our unthinking younger selves. And yet we rarely ask ourselves how we got there or what our occupations mean to us." Published in the U.K. in April by Hamish Hamilton, it is forthcoming from Pantheon Books in June.

Other notable titles on the longlist include Philip Hoare's Leviathan (Fourth Estate, 2008) and David Grann's The Lost City of Z (Simon & Schuster, 2009). Bookseller.com has the entire longlist. The winner, who will be announced on June 30, receives twenty thousand pounds (or just over thirty thousand dollars). 

Below is a video of Alain de Botton (who last year helped establish London's School of Life, a refreshingly simple take on education) discussing his new book earlier this year in Melbourne. Best line? Might be the one at the beginning: "To be a modern human being—to be alive in the modern world—is never to be far from a career crisis."

And on that note, enjoy your weekend!

Jumping the Gun, Pulling the Trigger on This Year's Big Awards

Given the overwhelming response to our May 1 post, "Who Should Have Won? A Writer's Spectator Sport," (cricket...cricket) here's another chance to be the judge.

Which of the following books of poetry and fiction (all of them published in these first five months of 2009, some having appeared in Page One: Where New and Noteworthy Books Begin) do you think will win one of the big literary awards—Pulitzer, National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, Kingsley and Kate Tufts Poetry Awards, etc.? (Note to the crowd of readers, clamoring to post comments, who notice a glaring omission: Feel free to make your voices heard).

Portait and Dream: New and Selected Poems (Coffee House Press) by Bill Berkson
Romanticism (Norton) by April Bernard
See Jack (University of Pittsburgh Press) by Russell Edson
Selected Poems (FSG) by Michael Hofmann
Shannon: A Poem of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (Ecco) by Campbell McGrath
Chronic (Graywolf Press) by D. A. Powell
The Dangerous Shirt (Copper Canyon Press) by Alberto Ríos
Poems 1959-2009 (FSG) by Frederick Seidel
The Great Wave (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Ron Slate
Assorted Poems (FSG) by Susan Wheeler

The Sky Below (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Stacey D'Erasmo
Out of My Skin (FSG) by John Haskell
Nobody Move (FSG) by Denis Johnson
Castle (Graywolf Press) by J. Robert Lennon
How It Ended (Knopf) by Jay McInerney
Pygmy (Doubleday) by Chuck Palahniuk
Miles From Nowhere (Riverhead Books) by Nami Mun
Ruins (Akashic Books) by Achy Obejas
Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned (FSG) by Wells Tower
Sag Harbor (Doubleday) by Colson Whitehead

To find out of you're right, we'll have to wait a while—the National Book Awards will likely be announced in November; the National Book Critics Circle Awards, next March; and the Pulitzers and the Tufts Awards, next April—but just think of how shrewd you'll feel if you predict correctly.

Editor Honors the Memories of Loved Ones With Annual Contests

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."

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.


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