The 2020 contest has been suspended due to COVID-19 pandemic. More information about the 2021 contest will be announced at a later date.
Em Dial is a queer, triracial poet and educator born and raised in the Bay Area. She is an alum of the Stanford Spoken Word Collective and slam team, as well as the Youth Speaks Artist Corps. They have received the Hoefer Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Writing from Stanford University and Best Poet Award at the 2017 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational.
“I love '& the white girl tells me i need to marry a Latino man so that my kids can be the world' because the title sets up immediate tension and stakes, and the poet delivers with vision beyond the stupid comment that prompted the poem. Take, for example, the moment, the poet names their hypothetical children 'globalization&postracial society but they are pronounced like / imperialism&imperialism' or later in the poem when the poet breaks into the following realizations: 'i don’t want to be beautiful // i want to be swallowed by an ocean i can call my own // if children are legacy than let mine be / every nectaring kiss i place on a friend’s cheek.' This is a poem that sings and staccatos before bursting into rapture, and it accomplishes all of this with generous vision and imagination.”
—José Olivarez, 2019 poetry judge
Courtney Kersten is the author of Daughter in Retrograde: A Memoir (University of Wisconsin Press, 2018). Her essays can be seen or are forthcoming from Prairie Schooner, Brevity, The Normal School, River Teeth, Hotel Amerika, DIAGRAM, The Sonora Review, Black Warrior Review, and elsewhere. She won the Bellingham Review’s 2018 Annie Dillard Award for Nonfiction; was a Fulbright Fellow to Riga, Latvia; and is a PhD candidate in literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Kersten is currently at work on a biography about the late superstar astrologer Linda Goodman.
“In this essay, the author gracefully navigates 'landscape(s) of unhappiness' and what we carry through them. She not only tries to calculate the weight of her own grief, but considers the uses of an emotion so universal even animals—in this case, orcas—feel it. Displacement and emotional uncertainty haunt the essay, but the writing itself is assured and beautiful, both lyrical and precise. The author moves confidently in time and among subjects, illuminating a personal story with touches of nature writing, astrology, and even a manual on occupational safety, showing how loss is found in every corner of our experience, a weight both burden and ballast.”
—Sarah Perry, 2019 nonfiction judge
Lara Palmqvist is the recipient of a 2019 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant and a 2019 Elizabeth George Foundation grant for emerging writers. She was a 2017-2018 Fiction Fellow in the Loft Literary Center Mentor Series. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Ploughshares online, Blue Earth Review, and South Dakota Review, among other venues. Her work has also been honored with awards from Marble House Project, Ox-Bow School of Art, the Saari Residence in Finland, the Sozopol Fiction Seminars in Bulgaria, the Jerome Foundation, and the U.S. Fulbright Commission, through which Palmqvist taught creative writing in Ukraine.
“I read 'Corpse Flower' in the midst of a Wisconsin winter, where the landscapes and themes of the story resonated deeply with me. And I could remember with great clarity, the hubbub surrounding the blossoming of a corpse flower on the campus of my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, some twenty years ago. Love, longing, and loss define this emotionally complex and satisfying story about our increasingly weird(ing) planet. The cast of characters are original, yet familiar, and each is gently broken. The prose is nifty at times - certainly playful - without ever condescending. And the ending is unforeseeable and kind-hearted. A very fine story, indeed.”
—Nickolas Butler, 2019 fiction judge
Elise Burke holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Hollins University. She is the recipient of two Kratz Center Writing Fellowships, the Reese Writing Award, the Dillard Arts Fellowship, and the James Purdy Award for Short Fiction, and her fiction has been recognized by storySouth’s Million Writers Award. Her stories have earned nominations for the pushcart prize and the Best of the Net anthology, and her story collection Sorry for Crashing Your Party and Possibly Killing Your Horse was a finalist for the YesYes Books 2018 Pamet River Prize. Her work has appeared in Indiana Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Joyland, and The RS500, among others. Burke is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Susquehanna University as well as Fiction Editor at Flock Literary Journal.
“'Beam On' does so much: it asks questions about perception and trust and memory, makes apt use of an unusual form, inclines us (like the characters) to both laugh and cry. Certain subjects have been so worked over in fiction that it's exceptionally hard to cast them in a new light; cancer is one of them, and it's to this author's enormous credit that by digging into small moments, this story manages to surprise at every turn.”
—Rebecca Makkai, 2018 fiction judge
C.C. Reid is the recipient of two Artist Fellowships from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and winner of the Larry Neal Writers’ Award for poetry. Her work has appeared in/is forthcoming from Poet Lore, Mid-American Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Five Points. Her MFA thesis, Tending, won the Stanley Plumly Thesis Award at The University of Maryland.
“What a delightful tumble-down-the-page of a poem! The headlong rush into an investigation of love and desire sets each line into kaleidoscopic motion-capture of the outdoors. I'm so taken with the charged and electric diction, the tension and surprise in every stanza. When I get to the end, I am dizzy and so grateful for this most lyrical of rides.”
—Aimee Nezhukumatathil, 2018 poetry judge
Chelsea Catherine is a PEN Short Story Prize Nominee, winner of the Raymond Carver Fiction contest in 2016, a Sterling Watson fellow, and an Ann McKee grant recipient. Her novella Blindsided won the Clay Reynolds novella competition and was published in 2018. Her novel Summer of the Cicadas won the Quill Prose Award and will be published in 2020. She lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, where she enjoys running along the beach and hanging out with other people's dogs.
Sean W. Murphy is a 2018 National Endowment of the Arts Creative Writing Fellow as well as an authorized teacher of Zen meditation. His One Bird, One Stone: 108 Contemporary Zen Stories (Hampton Roads 2013), won the 2014 International Book Award in the Eastern Religions category. He is the award-winning author of three novels with Bantam Dell Books, receiving the Hemingway Award for a First Novel for The Hope Valley Hubcap King, the 2009 National Press Women's Communication Award for best novel for The Time of New Weather, and the 2017 William Faulkner Wisdom Award for novel-in-progress for his current project, Wilson’s Way.
“These two essays couldn't be more different on the page, but they both eloquently, uniquely capture the joy—and pain—of being hopelessly in love.”
The Mary C. Mohr winners appear in the spring 2019 issue. View complete results of the 2018 contest here.
Adriana Páramo is a Latina anthropologist, writer, and women’s rights advocate. She is the author of Looking for Esperanza, and My Mother’s Funeral. Her essays have appeared in multiple literary magazines and been noted in The Best American Essays of 2012, 2013, and 2014. In 2014, she was named as one of the top ten Latino authors in the USA. Páramo is an adjunct professor in the low-residency MFA program at Fairfield University and an active member of the travel writing workshop of VONA—Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation—a community of writers of color. She is currently writing from Qatar, where oddly enough, she works as a yoga and zumba instructor.
“'Love on the Iditarod Trail' is an excellent piece that mixes loss with discovery and the kind of intense understanding of passion that usually comes when people know it's flaming out.”
—Reginald Dwayne Betts, 2017 nonfiction judge
Shubha Venugopal holds an MFA in fiction and a PhD in English. She was a winner in The Master’s Review 2016 annual fiction competition and in Fish Publishing’s 2017 flash fiction competition. Her work has appeared or will appear in: Nimrod International Journal Awards Issue, 2017; WomenArts Quarterly Journal; The Masters Review Volume 5; BANG!: New Guard Review; Kartika Review; Potomac Review; Post Road Magazine; Storyglossia; Word Riot; Mslexia and in other journals. Her stories appeared in the anthology A Stranger Among Us: Stories of Cross Cultural Collision and Connection and in the 2009 Robert Olen Butler Short Fiction Prize anthology. Venugopal teaches at the California State University Northridge.
“Out of a strong group of finalists, I chose 'Playing at Parent' as the winner. The two main characters—the narrator and his bereaved wife—are wonderfully complex, their damage compellingly and convincingly rendered. I love how the husband is initially only a bystander to his wife's consuming grief, but through the course of a story, as he becomes her accomplice in a dangerous charade, he ultimately—deservedly—is allowed some grief of his own. This story is beautifully written, a unique illustration of the complexity of loss, and of hope.”
—Susan Perabo, 2017 fiction judge
Mark Wagenaar is the 2016 winner of Red Hen Press’ Benjamin Saltman Prize for his forthcoming book Southern Tongues Leave Us Shining. His first two collections, The Body Distances (A Hundred Blackbirds Rising) and Voodoo Inverso, won UMass Press’s Juniper Prize and the University of Wisconsin Press’s Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry, respectively. He has also won a number of poetry prizes, including the James Wright Prize and the Pablo Neruda Prize. His poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from The New Yorker, Tin House, 32 Poems, Field, Southern Review, Image, and many others. Wagenaar is currently serving as a visiting assistant professor at Valparaiso University.
“'Ante Up' offers up the familiar and makes it strange. This poet plays with cliché and idiom, balancing the contemporary and secular (poker, river card, pocket rocket, exes, IRS, whiskey) with the timeless and exalted (manna, grace, prayer, Jordan, mercy, God, angels). This friction is essential; the banal and holy knock against each other like rocks, making sparks. I particularly admire the pacing in this poem, and the startling turns at the line breaks—how meaning is made in these moments. Each discovery feels true, like something you knew once but forgot you knew.”
—Maggie Smith, 2017 poetry judge
Bradford Kammin’s fiction has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Arts & Letters, the Cimarron Review, and elsewhere, and has been recognized in The Best American Short Stories anthology’s list of distinguished stories. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan’s MFA program in creative writing, where he was awarded six Hopwood Awards for his short stories, novel, and nonfiction. He is currently pursuing a PhD in English and creative writing at Western Michigan University, where he teaches creative writing and serves as fiction editor of Third Coast.
“In a world of Flying J truck stops, rest areas and nickel slots, a long-haul trucker makes one last run—with his aging and perpetually down-on-her luck sister riding shotgun. With humor and grit, the two must face a lifetime of bad decisions and compromises, making a few new ones along the way. Life at the helm of an eighteen-wheeler is perfectly captured here, from high-elevation engine braking to the flat light of Nevada, but what this author really gets right is the tread-bare voice. 'I’d spent my life chasing the horizon,' the narrator tells us, 'but I was coming to realize that if it ever got any closer, then it wasn’t a horizon at all.'”
—Adam Johnson, 2016 fiction judge
Richard Thompson was recently awarded Sigma Tau Delta’s Eleanor P. North Poetry Award. His poetry has appeared in Skive Journal, Empirical Journal, and The Avenue, among others. He grew up in rural Canada, and now lives with his wife, Sherise, and son, Jacob, in Houston, Texas, where he is a clinical psychologist and studies creative writing at the University of Houston.
“'manhood' is a poem of the best beauty in that it makes no judgments, no calls to itself in vanity, no explanations that show a distrust for the reader. The poet allows for a marriage of music and narrative that makes the dramatic situation of the poem clear; we see things for what they are and draw our own conclusions. We participate in the art that is in front of us."
—Jericho Brown, 2016 poetry judge
Bradford's prize-winning story, “The One Good Thing About Las Vegas, Nevada,” and Richard's prize-winning poem, “manhood,” appear in the spring 2017 issue. View complete results of the 2016 contest here.
2015 Fiction Award Winner
A writer and filmmaker, Elizabeth Bull holds an MFA in fiction from The New School, and her work has appeared in Gulf Coast, H.O.W. Journal, Los Angeles Review of Books, Third Coast, and other journals. Elizabeth has also written and directed several films, and has received fellowships from UCLA, Rotary International, and the Fulbright Commission. Originally from Northern California, she currently lives in Brooklyn and is working on a novel.
Elizabeth's prize-winning story, “Dark Data,” appears in the spring 2016 issue. View complete results of the 2015 contest here.
2014 Poetry Award Winner
Mark Wagenaar is the winner of numerous poetry awards, including, in the past two years, the New Letters Poetry Prize, The Pinch Poetry Award, the James Wright Poetry Prize, the Poetry International Prize, & the Yellowwood Poetry Award. This past summer he served as the University of Mississippi’s 2014 Summer Poet in Residence. His debut manuscript, Voodoo Inverso, was the 2012 winner of the University of Wisconsin Press' Felix Pollak Prize, & his second manuscript, "The Body Distances," was first runner-up in Tupelo Press' 2014 Dorset Prize. Recent acceptances or publications include the New Yorker, Narrative Magazine, Field, the Chattahoochee Review, Shenandoah, & the Laurel Review. He and his wife, poet Chelsea Wagenaar, are doctoral fellows at the University of North Texas in Denton.
“This poem, from the first line, startled me with its beauty and seriousness of purpose, its reach and vision. It speaks with an awareness of the rise and fall of whole civilizations, yet from this moment, right now; appalled at the injustice of our age, it speaks with mercy and rage, and so much compassion. I read it again and then again and again. And then again. In a time when so many poems are games or mere solipsism this poem is necessary.”
—Marie Howe, 2014 judge
Mark's prize-winning poem, “Nocturne with Horses (Another Exile),” appears in the spring 2015 issue. View complete results of the 2014 contest here.
2013 Fiction Award Winner
Leslie Kirk Campbell is the author of Journey Into Motherhood (Riverhead) and has published her personal essays in the San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, sfgate.com, and Literary Mama. Her short story "Thunder in Illinois" was a finalist for the Iowa Review and the Bellevue Literary Review, received an Honorable Mention at Carve Magazine, and won the 2013 The Briar Cliff Review Award. Leslie received an MA in English/Creative Writing (poetry) from San Francisco State University and an MFA (fiction) from the Bennington Writing Seminars. She teaches creative writing at Ripe Fruit School of Creative Writing, a program she founded in 1991.
"If this was a high dive and not a story competition, 'Nightlight' would impress, in part, because of its level of difficulty. The story—a secret sharer themed story—is risky, ambitious, unpredictable, gracefully written, and rich in both its external detail and its characterizations."
—Stuart Dybek, 2013 judge
Leslie's prize-winning short story, "Nightlight," appears in the spring 2014 issue. View complete results of the 2013 contest here.
2012 Poetry Award Winner
Jed Myers is a Philadelphian living in Seattle whose poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Nimrod International Journal, Golden Handcuffs Review,qarrtsiluni, Atlanta Review, Quiddity, Fugue, theJournal of the American Medical Association, the Rose Alley Press anthology Many Trails to the Summit, and elsewhere. He is also the winner of the 2012 Abbie M. Copps Poetry Prize.
"Music is a hard element to translate into words; something is always in danger of sonic loss, either the poem, or the subject itself. So I admired the task the poet of "Wire in Water" set for themselves, which in some small way, must mirror the dilemma Henryk Górecki must have had in composing his Symphony No. 3; how to say this, how to translate the near incomprehensible into notes? This poem does its duty to music, to language, to us."
— Cornelius Eady, 2012 judge
Jed's prize-winning poem, "Wire in Water," appears in the spring 2013 issue. View complete results of the 2012 contest here.
2011 Fiction Award Winner
Mary Larkin earned a PhD in creative writing and English at Florida State University and her MA from Hollins University’s Creative Writing Program, where she won the Andrew James Purdy Award. Larkin is a Pushcart nominee, a Fellow of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, an AWP Intro Journals Award nominee, a Writers@Work National Finalist, a two-time finalist for the Doris Betts Fiction Award, and the recipient of the North Carolina Blumenthal Writers Award. Her short stories have appeared in Shenandoah, Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts, The Nebraska Review, The Chattahoochee Review, Inkwell, The New Purlieu Review, and other journals.
Read an interview with Mary conducted by SIR interns Whitney Litherland and Trista Riggs.
2010 Poetry Award Winner
Amanda Auchter is the founding editor of Pebble Lake Review and the author of The Glass Crib, winner of the 2010 Zone 3 Press First Book Award judged by Rigoberto González, and the chapbook Light Under Skin (Finishing Line Press, 2006). A former Theodore Morrison Poetry Scholar for the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, she has received awards and honors from Bellevue Literary Review, BOMB Magazine, Crab Orchard Review, Cutthroat, Mid-American Review, and others. She holds an MFA from Bennington College and teaches creative writing and literature at Lone Star College-CyFair.