Contests Off the Beaten Path

Last week, I received an email from the Missouri Review about their 5th Annual Audio Competition, which welcomes audio submissions in poetry, fiction and audio documentary. It was a welcome reminder that literature exists not just on the page, but also somewhere else—in sound, and in memory. Then, this morning, I got a notification from Geist, the fabulous Canadian quarterly, about this year’s Annual Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest. For this year, their eighth, Geist editors are requesting that each entrant hand-make a postcard, then write a story inspired by it, finally submitting both elements together.

Inspiring stuff!

Missouri Review and Geist’s original, multimedia approaches to the literary contest got me thinking about how contest call-outs can serve as encouragement for writers to work outside their comfort zone. Would you ever hand-make your own postcard prompt, if no one suggested it? Would you think of recording a short story, weaving it together with music? We writers are solitary beasts. Contests—especially themed ones—offer us lonely folks both an opportunity to expand our repertoire and a way to connect with wider communities.

In fact, there are contests out there specifically for writers who identify with particular groups. The Saints and Sinners Literary Festival Short Fiction Contest is open for work with LGBT content about—what else?—saints and sinners. If you’re a lady writer, you’re in luck: WOW! Women On Writing is sponsoring a Flash Fiction Contest this fall; there’s another flash fiction contest, Feminist Flash 2011, is open to any genre of work, 200 words or less, with a feminist theme; and the organization A Woman’s Write is holding two contests, one for previously unpublished novel manuscripts and one in creative nonfiction.

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds more writing contests out there, each with a slightly different slant. If you have a favorite themed contest, feel free to share it with us!

Head Off and Get Head Off and Split

In case you haven’t heard,  2011 National Book Award nominations were released in mid-October, and among the five titles (the winner will be announced November 16th in New York) named is Nikky Finney’s latest collection, Head Off & Split. I read the book this summer after attending a workshop with her, but have been surprised to discover many of my colleagues do not know her work at all.

In Head Off & Split, Finney invokes many influential African-American figures–Rosa Parks, and Condoleezza Rice, for example, in addition to a girl struck by lightning and a woman stranded in the floods of Katrina. While the collection deals with particular historical moments and people, and while she engages in a specific dialogue, these are in no way limiting; rather her collection serves as a much needed light in contemporary  American poetry. Finney’s dedication to what can be salvaged, her unfaltering consciousness and conscientiousness, and her dedication to the sublime power of language demand our attention. This fourth book is stunning, a definite must-read.

You can find more of her work here, or listen to her read     the poem “My Time Up With You” from Head Off & Split

Are MFA Student Editors Legit?

Recently, a friend and colleague drew my attention to a blog post on Passages North’s website. In this post, editor Jennifer A. Howard makes a point of assuring submitters their manuscripts are never, under any circumstances, accepted or rejected by MFA students at Northern Michigan.

Here, at Indiana Review, our editors, genre editors, and associate genre editors are all MFA students. We, as a journal, are committed to ensuring that our acceptance process is as painstakingly meticulous, exhaustive, and democratic as possible.

What does this process look like? Well, each week, our staff of MFA student editors spends hours combing through hundreds of submissions—reading, re-reading, and making difficult decisions as to which poems, stories, and essays to select for further consideration. Then, graduate students—first-, second-, and third-years alike—are responsible for reading and giving careful consideration to the work selected for discussion. At the end of each week, we gather together to engage in a thoughtful, thorough conversation about this work. After a piece has been discussed at length, each reader casts his or her vote as to whether she or he would like to see the piece in Indiana Review. Majority rules.

While Howard does emphasize the importance of a collective readership at Passages North, saying that, no submission gets “sent back (or accepted) based on any one person,” she makes it clear that those who have the final say are the “actual editors,” rather than those MFA “kid[s].”

As someone who is so fortunate as to meet each week to listen to the intelligent comments and questions contributed by a group of invested, passionate, and informed readers, I can’t help but take issue with the notion that graduate students are incapable of making informed decisions. I believe our ideas, aesthetics, and opinions matter; I believe we can—and should—play a significant role in shaping the contemporary literary world.

Readers, what do you think? We’d love to hear what you have to say!

The City, Our City

Contributor Wayne Miller‘s new poetry collection, The City, Our City, is now available from Milkweed Editions as a paperback and e-book!

A series of semi-mythologized, symbolic narratives interspersed with dramatic monologues, the poems collected in The City, Our City showcase the voice of a young poet striking out, dramatically, emphatically, to stake his claim on “the City.” It is an unnamed, crowded place where the human questions and observations found in almost any city—past, present, and future—ring out with urgency. These poems—in turn elegiac, celebratory, haunting, grave, and joyful—give hum to our modern experience, to all those caught up in the City’s immensity.

You can read his poem, “The People’s History,” in issue 33.1, which also startles and haunts and compels:

The People moved up the street in a long column—
like a machine boring a tunnel. They sang
the People’s songs, they chanted the People’s slogans:
We are the People, not the engines of the City;
we, the people, will not be denied. Then the People
descended upon the People, swinging hardwood batons
heavy with the weight of the People’s intent.
And the People surged, then, into the rows before them [ . . . ]

Collaborations: Art and Prose

“Tubs o’ Fun”

Recently I’ve been really into the work of Paul Madonna, an artist whose series of drawings and prints, ‘All Over Coffee,’ has incorporated short, stunning fiction and nonfiction by a number of writers I happen to love.

It’s got me thinking about collaboration. “[Each writer and I] make at least two pieces,” Madonna writes in his statement. “One where I make an image then present it to them to write for, the second where they write a story and I respond with a drawing. …The relationship between text and image is not meant to be literal, and so I asked that the writers think about the images as visual metaphors rather than direct illustrations.” The result? The narrative in each piece of writing is given a visual space to live that changes its context, elicits a different kind of feeling from the reader than it would on its own; meanwhile, each image becomes more complex too, as the site of a thought or memory.

In working on assembling IR’s winter issue, we’ve looked over a number of artists’ work. Although none of what we’ve seen has contained words within the actual image, the juxtaposition of visual art beside the poems and stories we publish inevitably gives both the image and the writing beside it new meaning. It’s an inspiring thing about literary journals, I think: The whole will always be greater than the sum of its parts because it contains the links between them.

Do you have a favorite collaborative team? Have you ever collaborated with another writer, an artist, a musician?