Whiting Foundation Announces New Prizes for Literary Magazines

Nadia Q. Ahmad

The Brooklyn, New York–based Whiting Foundation recently announced the creation of a new grant program intended to support the work of nonprofit literary magazines. Three Whiting Literary Magazine Prizes, totaling up to $120,000, will be given annually for print and digital publications. Hoping to support both “nimble upstarts as well as established journals,” the foundation will offer two prizes for medium-sized and smaller print magazines, and one prize for an online publication. In order to focus on publications that will most benefit from financial support, eligibility is limited by a magazine’s annual operating budget (up to approximately $150,000 for small magazines and $500,000 for medium-sized and online magazines). An anonymous panel of first-round readers and final judges—made up of editors, writers, independent booksellers, and other experts in the field—will select the three annual recipients, and will consider the following criteria in their selections: magazines that publish extraordinary writing, connect with readers, support talented writers on the page and in the world, and advance the literary community.

Founded in 1971 by investor, collector, and philanthropist Flora Ettlinger Whiting, the Whiting Foundation is guided by its belief in empowering artists as early as possible in their creative development. The organization is perhaps best known for its individual grants for creative writers, which since 1985 have been given annually to ten emerging poets, fiction writers, creative nonfiction writers, and playwrights. The awards, worth $50,000 each, are based “on early accomplishment and the promise of great work to come.” Recent recipients include Alexander Chee, Yiyun Li, Victor LaValle, Tracy K. Smith, Tyehimba Jess, Elif Batuman, Li-Young Lee, Layli Long Soldier, and C. E. Morgan. According to its website, the foundation follows a similar mission with the new Literary Magazine Prizes: to support the idea that literary publications are “more than vessels for fresh writing,” but often, and more important, “the first significant editorial relationship for an emerging writer.”

“We noticed in the bios of our emerging writers the central importance of literary magazines in launching their careers, and got very interested in the range and vibrant energy of the magazines out there,” says Courtney Hodell, the Whiting Foundation’s director of writers’ programs. So many literary magazines operate on a shoestring budget, their employees (and in many cases volunteer staffs) inversely under-recognized for what can be herculean efforts to keep a publication afloat. “They work with the zealot’s ethic, without the pay to match,” Hodell says of magazine editors and staff, whose concerns often include having an adequate budget to pay writers, publishing content on time, serving a target audience while reaching a wider readership, and supporting contributors throughout their careers. Through the Literary Magazine Prizes, Whiting hopes to create a support system for these platforms, which themselves serve as important support systems for writers.

In addition to offering financial support (each monetary prize will be distributed over several years), the new awards will attempt to help magazine staffs achieve larger, long-term goals they might otherwise have difficulty planning and executing. This “call to action,” which applicants are asked to identify in their application materials, will be a significant factor in the decision process. “By a ‘call to action,’” Hodell explains, “we mean that we hope magazines will take the application process as an excuse to carve out the time for strategic thinking, articulate a powerful goal to reach for, and start to identify what they would need to do to achieve it.” Some examples could include bringing on a new editor or social media staff person, identifying ways to broaden a subscription base, or publishing new voices.

The new awards are timely, Hodell says, not least because the world is in need of such voices, of diverse stories by emerging writers who otherwise might not find a home for their work. “Grants for nonprofit literary magazines have only become scarcer over the last decade or two. In light of the gap between the quality and importance of the work, and the available funding, the Whiting Literary Magazine Prizes are a small contribution.” The greater hope, she notes, is that the new awards will draw the attention of other grant makers who might also increase support of literary magazines.

The application deadline for the inaugural Whiting Literary Magazine Prizes is December 15. Winners will be announced in the late spring of 2018, with an awards ceremony and celebration in New York City to follow shortly thereafter. Visit the Whiting Foundation website for more information about the prizes and complete application guidelines.


Nadia Q. Ahmad is Poets & Writers Magazine’s Diana & Simon Raab Editorial Fellow.