G&A: The Contest Blog

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.

 

Third PEN/Borders Literary Service Award Goes to E. L. Doctorow

Following Gore Vidal and Toni Morrison, the first two winners of the PEN/Borders Literary Service Award, E. L. Doctorow will be so honored at this year's PEN Literary Gala, which is being held next Tuesday at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft will be master of ceremonies at the annual event presented by the PEN American Center

Edgar Lawrence Doctorow (he was named for Edgar Allan Poe) has won a National Book Award, two National Book Critics Circle Awards, two PEN/Faulkner Awards, the Edith Wharton Citation for Fiction, the William Dean Howell Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a National Humanities Medal. His books include The March, City of God, The Book of Daniel, Ragtime, and Billy Bathgate. Random House will publish a new novel, Homer and Langly, in September.

Also on Tuesday, the PEN American Center will present the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award to Liu Xiaobo, a writer, literary critic, and political activist who has been a leading dissident voice in China for more than two decades. From PEN's press release: "In 1989 he played a crucial role in the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, staging a hunger strike in Tiananmen Square in support of the students and leading calls for a truly broad-based, sustainable democratic movement. When the army moved in, he was instrumental in preventing even worse bloodshed in the Square by advancing a call for non-violence on the part of the students. He spent two years in prison for his actions and another three years of 'reeducation through labor' beginning in 1996 for publicly criticizing the single-party system and calling for dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama of Tibet. In 2004, his phone lines and Internet connection were cut after the release of his essay protesting the use of “subversion” charges used to silence journalists and activists. He has been the target of regular police surveillance and harassment ever since."

Last year, having published Charter 08, "a declaration calling for political reform, greater human rights, and an end to one-party rule in China," he was arrested on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power” and is being held under “residential surveillance” at an unknown location in Beijing. Members of the Independent Chinese PEN Center will accept the award on Liu Xiaobo's behalf.

And this year's Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award will be given to Paljor Norbu, a Tibetan printer and publisher who was arrested last October for what his family believes to be accusations of printing "prohibited materials" in the Tibetan capital. His whereabouts are currently unknown; the award will be accepted by his daughter on his behalf.

Toni Morrison Knocked Out of Orange Prize Contention

The telecommunications company Orange announced yesterday that the final six authors in the running for the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction are Ellen Feldman for Scottsboro (Norton), Samantha Harvey for The Wildnerness (Cape), Samantha Hunt for The Invention of Everything Else (Houghton Mifflin), Deidre Madden for Molly Fox's Birthday (Faber), Marilynne Robinson for Home (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), and Kamila Shamsie for Burnt Shadows (Bloomsbury).

Toni Morrison is among the fourteen women novelists and story writers who didn't make the shortlist. Other longlisted authors who didn't make the cut include Allegra Goodman (Intuition, Dial Press), Gina Ochsner (The Russian Dreambook of Colour and Flight, Portobello), Preeta Samarasan (Evening Is the Whole Day, Houghton Mifflin), Curtis Sittenfeld (American Wife, Random House), Miriam Toews (The Flying Troutmans, Counterpoint), and Ann Weisgarber, an Ohio native who is still in the running for the Orange Award for New Writers. 

The winners of both awards will be announced on June 3 at a ceremony in London.

Cave Canem Deadline Nears, Recent Winners Offer Insight

The deadline for the 2009 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, an annual award given for a first book of poems by an African American poet, is next Friday. To get a sense of the manuscripts that have been successful in recent years, let's take a look at the last two winners, Ronaldo V. Wilson and Dawn Lundy Martin, both of whom were included in Poets & Writers Magazine's annual roundup of debut poets.

Wilson was thirty-eight when he won last year's prize for Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man, which was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press (the presses that publish the winners rotate; this year's participating press is Graywolf). He spent seven years writing the book and submitted to only three or four contests over a period of three years.

Martin was similarly selective in her submissions. She submitted A Gathering of Matter/A Matter of Gathering, which took her five years to write, to around seven contests before she won the 2007 Cave Canem Poetry Prize and it was subsequently published by the University of Georgia Press. When asked why she chose this particular contest, she replied, "First, because the publishers that make Cave Canem prizewinning work produce really beautiful books. Second, I entered because Carl Phillips was the judge." Martin's right, the books are beautiful. And Graywolf is known for publishing not only top-notch poetry collections but ones that look great, too. Yusef Komunyakaa is this year's judge.

Here's a sample from Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man:

When he thinks of the connection between his sad sisters and his turned-on old men strangers caught sucking and being sucked, and covered, he feels that his mind is one confused object that pulses about unknowing, wound up, a note toward itself with no answers but the need to cut, suspend, look. Paste, cover, and tape.

And from A Gathering of Matter/A Mattter of Gathering:

When the wax dries, finally, alongside the grass,
what rises when the dead are buried?

(To read her poem "Last Days" click here.)

It's arguable that the blurbs on the back of a book indicate anything about the aesthetic of the poet or the quality of her book, but just to "cover" all the bases: David Rivard called Wilson's book "scary in an exhalted sort of way," while Nathaniel Mackey called Martin's collection "staccato, braket studded, gruff, brusque."

And finally, whether you're thinking of submitting to this year's contest or not, the video below, of Martin reading her poem "Religion Song" at Fence magazine's tenth anniversary reading at the AWP conference in Chicago earlier this year, is worth watching:

 

W. S. Merwin and Elizabeth Strout Win Pulitzers

The ninety-third-annual Pulitzer Prizes were announced earlier this afternoon at Columbia University in New York City. The winner in poetry is W. S. Merwin for his twenty-sixth poetry collection, The Shadow of Sirius (Copper Canyon Press), and the winner in fiction is Elizabeth Strout for her third book, the story collection Olive Kitteridge (Random House). They will each receive ten thousand dollars.

The finalists in poetry were Frank Bidart for Watching the Spring Festival (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and Ruth Stone for What Love Comes To: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press). The jurors were poets Anne Winters, Carl Dennis, and James Baker Hall.

The finalists in fiction were Louise Erdrich for her novel The Plague of Doves (HarperCollins) and Christine Schutt for  her novel All Souls (Harcourt). The jurors were editor Susan Larson, professor R. H. W. Dillard, and author Nancy Pearl.

Below is a list of the other twenty-first-century Pulitzer Prize-winning authors. And if you have some extra time, consider clicking around the new and improved Pulitzer Prize Web site. There are good images and text about past winners in poetry and fiction, but if you really want to be blown away, haunted even, check out the photo galleries of the various photography categories, especially Feature Photography and the work of Preston Gannaway (2008) and Renée C. Byer (2007), in particular. (Click on the "Works" tab.)

2008 Poetry: Robert Hass for Time and Materials (Ecco) and Philip Schultz for Failure (Harcourt)
2008 Fiction: Junot Díaz for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead Books)

2007 Poetry: Natasha Trethewey for Native Guard (Houghton Mifflin)
2007 Fiction: Cormac McCarthy for The Road (Knopf)

2006 Poetry: Claudia Emerson for Late Wife (Lousiana State University Press)
2006 Fiction: Geraldine Brooks for March (Viking)

2005 Poetry: Ted Kooser for Delights & Shadows (Copper Cayon Press)
2005 Fiction: Marilynne Robinson for Gilead (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

2004 Poetry: Franz Wright for Walking to Martha's Vineyard (Knopf)
2004 Fiction: Edward P. Jones for The Known World (Amistad)

2003 Poetry: Paul Muldoon for Moy Sand and Gravel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
2003 Fiction: Jeffrey Eugenides for Middlesex (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

2002 Poetry: Carl Dennis for Practical Gods (Penguin)
2002 Fiction: Richard Russo for Empire Falls (Knopf)

2001 Poetry: Stephen Dunn for Different Hours (Norton)
2001 Fiction: Michael Chabon for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Random House)

2000 Poetry: C.K. Williams for Repair (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
2000 Fiction: Jhumpa Lahiri for Interpreter of Maladies (Mariner Books)

One New Issue, Seven New Contests

In each issue of Poets & Writers Magazine we highlight new writing contests never before published in the Deadlines section of Grants & Awards. The May/June 2009 issue features seven such contests: ABZ Press's First Book Prize, Emergency Press's Book Contest, Grub Street's Nonfiction Book Prize, Narrative Magazine's Poetry Contest, Snake Nation Press's Vilet Reed Haas Poetry Award, St. Francis College's Literary Prize, and The Writer's Short Story Contest.

On G&A: The Contest Blog we'll occasionally offer more information about some of the sponsors of these new contests. First up, Emergency Press.

emergency logo

 

A nonprofit, independent publisher located in New York City, Emergency Press was founded about eight years ago by the Emergency Collective, a group of writers who wanted to bridge what they considered "counterproductive divides in contemporary literature." From their Web site: "We engage in sustained artistic explorations of issues that we each individually believe are on the verge of emerging from the unconscious commonplace into collective emergencies. We publish poetry, fiction, essays, drama, new media, or hybrids of these. More often than not, the work is investigative, research-intensive, or engaged with the language of facts."

The only problem is that you have to be a member of the collective to get a book published by Emergency Press. Well, that's not really a problem anymore. The winner of the press's new book contest, which will be given annually for a book of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, or hybrid of genres that explores a single topic, automatically gains membership—and a thousand dollars and publication of the winning book.

Emergency titles include Chad Faries's The Border Will Be Soon: Meditations on the Other Side and Brian Tomasovich's Ouisconsin: The Dead in Our Clouds.

The deadline for the inaugural contest is June 1, and there's a twenty-dollar entry fee. Jayson Iwen will be the first judge.

And for those confused readers who came here looking for an instructional video about the Chinese emergency press button, well here it is:  

Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize Is Suspended

The Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize, which nurtured the careers of more than two dozen poets since the first award was given in 1983 (when judge Anthony Hecht chose Susan Donnelly's Eve Names the Animals), has been suspended. "There's little to say," replied series editor Guy Rotella when asked for details. "The economics no longer work."

The annual prize, sponsored by Northeastern University in Boston, offered a thousand dollars and publication by Northeasterm University Press with distribution through the University Press of New England, for a first or second book of poems.

The most recent winner is Lisa Gluskin, whose collection Tulips, Water, Ash was selected by judge Jean Valentine earlier this year. The book is scheduled to be published in September. Previous winners include Carl Phillips (In the Blood, 1992), Allison Funk (Living at the Epicenter, 1995), Jennifer Atkinson (The Drowned City, 2000), Ted Genoways (Bullroarer, 2001), and Roy Jacobstein (A Form of Optimism, 2006). Past judges included Maxine Kumin, X.J. Kennedy, Donald Hall, Mary Oliver, Peter Davison, Charles Simic, Rachel Hadas, A. R. Ammons, David Ferry, Sonia Sanchez, Molly Peacock, Edward Hirsch, Carolyn Kizer, Alfred Corn, Marilyn Hacker, Rosanna Warren, Ellen Bryant Voigt, Eric Pankey, Lucia Perillo, Charles Harper Webb, and Rodney Jones.

For the first twenty-one years of the award, the winning books retained the series' signature design. Below are a few of the covers from the earlier period, Genoways's Bullroarer, Robert Cording's The Actual Moon, the Actual Stars, and Dana Roeser's Beautiful Motion, followed by the most recently published—and, as it turns out, repeat—winner, Roeser's In the Truth Room.

cover of Bullroarer  cover of The Actual Moon, the Actual Stars  cover of beautiful motion  cover of In the Truth Room

 

Pacific Rim Voices Restructuring Kiriyama Prize

Around this time each year, Pacific Rim Voices, sponsor of the thirty-thousand-dollar Kiriyama Prizes, would announce the winners of the annual awards for books of fiction and nonfiction that encourage "greater understanding of and among the nations of the Pacific Rim and South Asia." But about six months ago the San Francisco-based nonprofit announced instead that the award program would be restructured. "While this process is under way, publishers are kindly asked not to submit further entries," the Web site states. "When a new time line and new rules are in place, entries will once again be welcome." So, we wait.

In the meantime, here's a list of the past winners of the prizes. Note that during the first three years of the prize, there was only one winner—in fiction or nonfiction.

2008
Fiction: Lloyd Jones for Mister Pip
Nonfiction: Julia Whitty for The Fragile Edge: Diving and Other Adventures in the South Pacific

2007
Haruki Murakami for Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (translated by Phillip Gabriel and Jay Rubin)
Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin for Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time

2006
Luis Alberto Urrea for The Hummingbird's Daughter
Piers Vitebsky for The Reindeer People

2005
Nadeem Aslam for Maps for Lost Lovers
Suketu Mehta for Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found

2004
Shan Sa for The Girl Who Played Go
Inga Clendinnen for Dancing With Strangers

2002
Rohinton Mistry for Family Matters
Pascap Khoo Thwe for From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey

2001
Patricia Grace for Dogside Story
Peter Hessler for River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze

2000
Michael Ondaatje for Anil's Ghost
Michael David Kwan for Things That Must Not Be Forgotten: A Childhood in Wartime China

1999
Cheng Ch'ing-wen for Three-Legged Horse (various translators)
Andrew X. Pham for Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Journey through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam

1998
Fiction: Ruth L. Ozeki for My Year of Meats

1997
Nonfiction: Patrick Smith for Japan: A Reinterpretation

1996
Fiction: Alan Brown for Audrey Hepburn's Neck

And, in case you're wondering which countries consitute the Pacific Rim, here's a map from the organization's Web site:

Pacific Rim countries

Fanny Howe, Ange Mlinko Win Big From the Poetry Foundation

The Poetry Foundation, the Chicago-based publisher of Poetry magazine, announced today that Fanny Howe and Ange Mlinko are the recipients of two of its Pegasus Awards, a "family" of annual prizes sponsored by the organization. Howe was named winner of the 2009 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, worth a hundred thousand dollars, and Mlinko won the ten-thousand-dollar Randall Jarrell Award in Poetry Criticism. 

The Lilly Prize, named after the Poetry Foundation's best friend in the whole wide world, is given annually to a U.S. poet "whose lifetime accomplishments warrant extraordinary recognition." Previous recipients include Adrienne Rich, Philip Levine, John Ashbery, Charles Wright, Yusef Komunyakaa, Lucille Clifton, and Gary Snyder. Howe, the author of thirteen books of poetry, recently published a memoir, The Winter Sun: Notes on a Vocation (Graywolf Press, 2009), in which she wrote, "Since early adolescence I have wanted to live the life of a poet."

In announcing the prize, Poetry editor Christian Wiman said, "Fanny Howe is a religious writer whose work makes you more alert and alive to the earth, an experimental writer who can break your heart."

Mlinko is the third recipient of the Randall Jarrell Award, which is awarded for "poetry criticism that is intelligent and learned as well as lively and enjoyable to read." She is the author of two books of poetry, Matinees (Zoland Books, 1999) and Starred Wire (Coffee House Press, 2005). The Poetry Foundation praised her criticism as "brilliantly wide-ranging" and "eclectic and astringent yet always lucid and generous." 

If you're unfamiliar with Howe, yet curious about the work of a poet who receives a cash prize with five zeroes attached to it, check out the video below, produced last year by the University of California Television and the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego.

 

Entry Fees "in These Tough Economic Times"

We've all read about the commercial publishing houses, independent presses, magazines, writers conferences, book festivals, and other literary operations that are feeling the financial pressure these days. At the risk of writing another sentence that includes "in these tough economic times," a phrase that, at this point, makes the eyes of even the most jittery realist glaze over, we'd like to turn the discussion to writing contests—especially those that require entry fees.

Given the economic forecast, are you submitting to more contests with hopes of winning that cash prize? Or has the budget item labeled “entry fees” been cut as a result of the belt-tightening measures that almost all of us have had to take?

Post a comment below and tell us how the economy has affected your contest submissions. And if you need a little something to get you in the mood for budgetary consideration—as if any of us needs more of that—here's “Economic Equation,” a video poem by Michael Ricciardo that, although produced in 2001, still resonates.

 

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