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.


Reading Rights Coalition Steps Up Criticism of Random House Over Text-to-Speech Function

by Staff

Two months after the National Federation of the Blind and eight other disability groups wrote a strongly worded letter to Random House asking the publisher to reconsider its decision to deactivate the Amazon Kindle 2's text-to-speech function for its e-book titles, Random House last week went ahead with its plan to disable the software, provoking a sharp rebuke from the coalition.

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.”

VQR Takes Top Independent Press Award

by Staff

The Virginia Quarterly Review won the 2009 Utne Independent Press Award in the category of general excellence, the Utne Reader announced. The editors cited the quarterly journal's focus on long-form narrative journalism: "No one is doing it with more heart or soul."

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). 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!


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