Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Word Works Move from Regional to National

This year The Word Works Washington Prize submissions have come from 47 of the United States, a record for us, and it seemed like a good time to celebrate the steady progress of The Word Works from regional to national organization. In 1981, The Word Works led by Deirdra Baldwin, founding president, while intent on honoring our city of origin (Washington, DC), made a conscious decision to move from a regional to national literary organization.

This was done in 1981 through the establishment of an annual literary competition named The Washington Prize. Initially The Washington Prize operated for seven years as a single-poem contest with an award of $1,000 and publication of the winning poem in a full-page ad in the Poets & Writers newsletter (precursor to the Poets & Writers Magazine).

The first prize was fully funded by a grant from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. When Word Works began planning for this competition, no other prizes offering such a substantial monetary award existed. However, much to Karren Alenier’s surprise was a call for the first Billee Murray Denny Award, which also offered $1,000 for a single poem but no promise of publication. Suffice it to say, Alenier entered the Denny Award and won that prize.

The list of poets (including the state where these poets lived at the time of the award) winning The Washington Prize as a single poem contest is:

1981 Barbara Goldberg, Maryland
1982 Susan Gubernat, New York
1983 Judith Steinbergh, Massachusetts
1984 Lindsay Knowlton, Massachusetts
1985 Enid Shomer, Florida
1986 Renée Ashley, New Jersey
1987 Lisa Ress, Virginia

In 1986, Alenier became the second president of The Word Works during a time when Word Works publications had slowed down. Calling a meeting of the Board of Directors and key volunteers, Alenier, along with J.H. Beall, Barbara Goldberg, Betty Parry, and Robert Sargent helped move The Washington Prize into its next phase. In 1987, Word Works began its Washington Prize imprint by inviting Enid Shomer to submit a book-length manuscript featuring her winning poem “Stalking the Florida Panther.” Also in 1987, we put out a call in Poets & Writers Magazine for book-length manuscripts that would win $1,000 and book publication. The Washington Prize imprint list at this time includes (with state where the poet lived at the time of the award):

1987 Enid Shomer of Florida for Stalking the Florida Panther
1987 Christopher Bursk of Pennsylvania for The Way Water Rubs Stone
1989 John Bradley of Illinois for Love-In-Idleness
1990 Barbara Moore of New York for Farewell to the Body
1991 Elaine Magarrell of Washington, DC for Blameless Lives
1992 Nancy White of New York for Sun, Moon, Salt
1993 Fred Marchant of Massachusetts for Tipping Point
1994 Jay Rogoff for of New York The Cutoff
1995 Linda Lee Harper of Georgia for Toward Desire
1996 George Young of Colorado for Spinoza's Mouse
1997 Ann Rae Jonas of Massachusetts for A Diamond Is Hard But Not Tough
1998 Nathalie F. Anderson of Pennsylvania for Following Fred Astaire
1999 Peter Blair of Virginia for Last Heat
2000 Charlotte Gould Warren of Washington for Gandhi's Lap
2001 Michael Atkinson of New York for One Hundred Children Waiting for a Train
2002 Miles Waggener of Arizona for Phoenix Suites
2003 Ron Mohring of Pennsylvania for Survivable World
2004 Carrie Bennett of Virginia for Biography of Water
2005 Richard Lyons of Tennessee for Fleur Carnivore
2006 John Surowiecki of Connecticut for The Hat City after Men Stopped Wearing Hats
2007 Prartho Sereno of California for Call from Paris
2008 Richard Carr of Minnesota for Ace
2009 Frannie Lindsay of Massachusetts for Mayweed
2010 Brad Richard of Louisiana for Motion Studies
2011 Mike White of Utah for How to Make a Bird with Two Hands
2012 B. K. Fischer of New York for St. Rage's Vault
2013 Molly Bashaw of Vermont/Germany for The Whole Field Still Moving Inside It
2014 Jamison Crabtree of Nevada for rel[am]ent
2015  Barbara Duffey of South Dakota for Simple Machines

Statistically in 35 years, The Washington Prize has been awarded to 35 poets (20 women and 15 men), living or based at the time of the award, in 21 states or the District of Columbia. This represents 44 percent of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia. States with more than one Washington Prize winner include New York (6), Massachusetts (5), Pennsylvania (3), and Virginia (3). We attribute this preponderance of East Coast winners to our advertising in Poets & Writers Magazine, but as we have expanded our base of operation (our current president Nancy White lives in upstate New York, vice-president Rebecca Kutzer-Rice lives in Brooklyn, other Board members live in Maryland and Virginia) and purview (annually since 2009 we have exhibited at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Book fair, we have been able to attract submissions from other regional areas of the US.

The Washington Prize is open to Canadian poets writing in English. To date, we have awarded one prize to Canadian Mike White who lives and teaches in Utah. The Prize has always been open to Americans living abroad. In 2013, we awarded Molly Bashaw, who maintains her American anchor in Vermont, but lives in Germany. Still, we urge our authors to stay connected to The Word Works by giving readings in our venues, report on their successes, and volunteer for our projects, which includes reading for The Washington Prize.

While we continue to work on reaching out to North American writers writing in English, we believe we have been faithful to our goal of publishing outstanding contemporary poetry while moving from a regional publishing house sponsoring public literary programs to one that is robustly national.

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