May/June 2012

Our annual Writing Contest Issue features a special section on the risks and rewards of book-publication prizes, including advice from both recent winners and judges; plus strategies for creating sympathetic characters; a look at the rise of the National Writers Series; and more.


When Patience Pays Off: A Profile of Ben Fountain

by Kevin Nance
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What Ben Fountain’s literary output lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in quality, as the fifty-three-year-old author’s masterly debut novel, published in May 2012 by Ecco, makes abundantly clear.

The Necessary Distance: A Profile of Nell Freudenberger

by Michael Bourne
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Ten years after her first published story made her an easy target for envious writers, Nell Freudenberger has come into her own with a second novel, The Newlyweds, out this month from Knopf.

Motion and Light: An Interview With David St. John

by Amy Scattergood
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In his new poetry collection, The Auroras, David St. John illuminates the sensibility of the mind at work.

The Necessary Distance

by Michael Bourne

Ten years after her first published story made her an easy target for envious writers, Nell Freudenberger has come into her own with a second novel, The Newlyweds, out this month from Knopf.

Writing Contests Issue

Winners on Winning: The Intangible Benefits of Coming Out on Top

by Staff
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Five recent winners of book-publication prizes—Elana Bell, Khadijah Queen, Douglas Light, Katie Umans, and Diane Simmons—talk about what the money, exposure, and validation from the literary community has meant to them and their careers.

Judges on Judging: Valuable Truths About Subjective Decisions

by Staff
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Susan Orlean, D. A. Powell, Aimee Bender, and Denise Duhamel, each a frequent contest judge, answer questions about how and why they serve as final evaluators and give valuable advice for entrants. 

The Economics of Competition: Prize Budgets

by Staff

Organizers of writing contests are, perhaps not suprisingly, wary of publicizing details of their budgets, but the organizers of three contest programs offered to share the numbers behind their 2011 contests as part of contributing editor Michael Bourne's “The Economics of Competition,” which serves as the centerpiece of the current issue’s special section on the risks and rewards of writing contests.

The Economics of Competition: An Overview of the Contest Model

by Michael Bourne

A look at the risks and rewards of book-publication contests, including an overview of the contest model, a breakdown of the budgets behind three major book prizes, the intangible benefits of winning, and an interview with four frequent judges.

News and Trends

Digital Digest: Meta-Analysis Goes Mainstream

by Adrian Versteegh

The website Small Demons and the X-Ray feature of Amazon’s e-readers are the first in a new crop of digital literary tools that promise to change how readers interact with texts. By equipping users with digital reference frameworks, these new meta-analytical approaches give readers immediate access to the contextual worlds of literary works.


Page One: Where New and Noteworthy Books Begin

by Staff

With so many good books being published every month, some literary titles worth exploring can get lost in the stacks. Page One offers the first lines of a dozen recently released books, including Cathy Park Hong’s Engine Empire and Rajesh Parameswaran’s I Am an Executioner: Love Stories, as the starting point for a closer look at these new and noteworthy titles.

Small Press Points

by Staff

Small Press Points highlights the innovative and can-do spirit of independent presses. This issue features Black Balloon Publishing, the New York City–based publisher of “the weird, the unwieldy, the unclassifiable.”

3 for Free

by Staff

In this regular feature, we offer a few suggestions for podcasts, smartphone apps, Web tools, newsletters, museum shows, and gallery openings: a medley of literary curiosities that you might enjoy. This issue’s 3 for Free features the WordNet app, the Books on the Nightstand podcast, and online video poetry journal Jupiter 88.


Q&A: Tree Swenson Leaves Academy

by Catherine Richardson

As Tree Swenson prepares to step down after ten years at the helm of the Academy of American Poets in New York City, she speaks about her next role as the executive director of the Richard Hugo House and returning to the Pacific Northwest.

Poetic People Power

by Rebecca Keith

As literature concerned with today’s often-grim realities gains new prominence, a handful of literary organizations are highlighting the connection between poetry and politics and strengthening the network of socially conscious writers. 

Literary MagNet

by Travis Kurowski

Literary MagNet chronicles the start-ups and closures, successes and failures, anniversaries and accolades, changes of editorship and special issues—in short, the news and trends—of literary magazines in America. This issue's MagNet features Southwest Review, Oxford American, Midwestern Gothic, the Los Angeles Review, ZYZZYVA, Hawk & Handsaw, and Common.

The Practical Writer

First: Eduardo C. Corral's Slow Lightning

by Rigoberto Gonzalez
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Eduardo C. Corral became the first Latino to receive the prestigious Yale Prize for Younger Poets when his debut, Slow Lightning, was selected by Carl Phillips as winner of the 2011 award. 

Author Tour Revolution: The National Writers Series

by Jeremiah Chamberlin
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With podcasts, live chats, and blog interviews gaining in popularity, the traditional cross-country promotional book tour seems to be losing ground to its virtual counterpart. Contributing editor Jeremiah Chamberlin reports on how the National...

The Literary Life

The Jerks: Creating Sympathetic Characters

by J. T. Bushnell
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What reads as an egocentric protagonist on paper can often be the byproduct of a writer’s absorption in character development. Contributor J. T. Bushnell examines the ways in which the revision process can produce more sympathetic characters while...

Why We Write: You're Not Alone

by Chris Huntington
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For some authors the act of putting pen to paper can arise out of a desire for the consoling power of validation. Contributor Chris Huntington takes a look at his own maturation as a writer and how fatherhood gave him deeper purpose in his writing.