G&A: The Contest Blog

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


Scibona Wins Young Lions Fiction Award

On Monday night, at a ceremony at the New York Public Library that was hosted by actor Ethan Hawke, Salvatore Scibona won the Young Lions Fiction Award for his debut novel The End (Graywolf, 2008). Scibona, who administers the writing fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, joins the company of Mark Danielewski, Colson Whitehead, Jonathan Safran Foer, Anthony Doerr, Andrew Sean Greer, and others who have received the ten-thousand-dollar award given annually to an American writer no older than thirty-five.

The finalists were Jon Fasman for The Unpossessed City (Penguin, 2008), Rivka Galchen for Atmospheric Disturbances (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008), Sana Krasikov for One More Year (Spiegel & Grau, 2008), and Zachary Mason for The Lost Books of the Odyssey (Starcherone, 2008). 

Scibona and Galchen were both featured in the July/August 2008 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine—or, as we affectionately refer to it, Marilyn. In his interview, Scibona offered the following advice for first-time authors: "Read. Write at the same time in the same place at least five days a week. Socialize. Don't give in to what Chekhov called 'the egoism of the unhappy.' Resist the blues—especially when they look infinite—by pointing your mind outward and doing something for another person. But—important!—sometimes just let them be the blues. Also, school the internal critic in all the dark arts of editorial sadism, but ignore it when it attacks you personally. It likes to pretend that it's the coolest, most professionaly guy in the room. In fact, it is a cynic and a savage."

Both Galchen and Scibona, incidentally, have the same agent: Bill Clegg of the William Morris Agency. 

NBCC Awards Announced

The critics have spoken and, not surprisingly, Roberto Bolaño’s nearly nine-hundred-page novel 2666, published last year by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, took top honors in the fiction category of the National Book Critics Circle Awards, which were announced last night at a ceremony in New York City.

There was a surprise for poets, however, when, for the first time in NBCC history, two awards were given in a single category. August Kleinzahler won for Sleeping It Off in Rapid City (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and Juan Felipe Herrera won for Half of the World in Light (University of Arizona Press).

Other winners included Dexter Filkins for The Forever War (Knopf) in the category of nonfiction, Ariel Sabar for My Father's Paradise: A Son's Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq (Algonquin) in autobiography, and Patrick French for The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul  (Knopf) in biography.

Click here for a list of the finalists.

Last year, Mary Jo Bang won the NBCC Award in poetry for Elegy (Graywolf), Junot Díaz won in fiction for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead), and Edwidge Danticat won in autobiography for Brother, I'm Dying (Knopf).

Behind the Prize

Perugia Press announced last week that Jennifer K. Sweeney of Kalamazoo, Michigan, won the Perugia Press Prize for her second poetry collection, How to Live on Bread and Music. She received $1,000, and her book will be published in a print-run of one thousand copies in September. The award is given for a first or second collection by a woman poet.

Sweeney’s manuscript was 1 of 478 manuscripts submitted last November to the prize, which charged a $22 entry fee. The judging process involved several stages: Entries were first stripped of all identifying materials and then sent to a dozen screeners who winnowed the pool down to sixteen. Those semi-finalists were sent to eight judges, who gathered for a full day of reading and discussion, at the end of which two finalists were chosen. According to Kan, Sweeney’s manuscript stood out for the author’s "confidence with language, her willingness to let her intelligence become apparent slowly."

The two finalists were sent to three final judges, but while the manuscripts were being read, one of them was withdrawn because it was taken by another press.

"This has never happened at Perugia Press before," says Kan. "It took the wind out of our sails for a day, but ultimately, knowing that both books will be published is a win-win situation and confirms that our selection process is sound."

Perugia plans to promote the book through its mailing list and by sending out galleys to review publications. “We strongly encourage our poets to plan as many readings as possible,” says Kan. “That's the best way to share the work and sell books.” Sweeney’s book will be available on Perugia’s Web site, through Amazon.com, and in independent bookstores across the country.

Wolff Wins Story Prize, Phillips and Sheff Get Discovered

Wednesday was a busy day for book awards ceremonies in New York City. At the New School last night, Tobias Wolff was named winner of the annual Story Prize for Our Story Begins (Knopf, 2008), edging out finalists Jumpha Lahiri (Unaccustomed Earth, Knopf) and Joe Meno (Demons in the Spring, Akashic Books). Earlier in the day, Gin Phillips and David Sheff were named winners of Barnes & Noble's sixteenth Discover Great New Writers Awards. Phillips won in fiction for her debut novel The Well and the Mine (Hawthorne Books) and Sheff won in nonfiction for his memoir Beautiful Boy (Houghton Mifflin).

Wolff received twenty thousand dollars, while Phillips and Sheff each received ten thousand dollars as well as a year of additional marketing and merchandising support from Barnes & Noble. But the winners aren't the only ones with a little extra coin in the bank today. Story Prize finalists Lahiri and Meno each received five thousand dollars, while the second- and third-place finalists in the Discover Great New Writers Awards program each received five thousand dollars and twenty-five hundred dollars respectively. Those finalists are Benjamin Tayler for The Book of Getting Even (Steerforth Press) and Zachary Lazar for Sway (Little, Brown) in fiction and Eric Weiner for The Geography of Bliss (Twelve) and Nia Wyn for Blue Sky July (Dutton) in nonfiction.

That's sixty-five thousand dollars doled out to nine writers on one day in one city, which, considering today's installment of Daily News, is cause for either excitement or resentment, depending on your disposition.



Sonia Sanchez Wins the Robert Creeley Award

Poet Sonia Sanchez, author of sixteen books and a Cave Canem faculty member, has received the 2009 Robert Creeley Award. A ceremony will be held on March 23 at the R. J. Grey Jr. High School Auditorium in Acton, Massachusetts; admission is free. Sanchez also will select books that have influenced her writing for inclusion in the Acton Memorial Library collection.

In its ninth year, the Creeley Award honors the memory of Robert Creeley, who lived in Acton, Massachusetts, from the age of four to fifteen. It has brought a variety of distinguished poets, including Galway Kinnell, Grace Paley, Martin Espada, and C. D. Wright, to read in Acton. Last year's winner was John Ashbery. Take a look:


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