AWP Award Series Creative Nonfiction Prize

August 17, 2015

This year, our judge for Creative Nonfiction, Lia Purpura, did not select a winner for the competition. Because we know such a decision is unpopular, I am writing to explain why this is an outcome that AWP allows in the adjudication of our awards.

The Award Series guidelines have stated—ever since the inception of the Series in 1975—that the judge makes the final decision and no award is given if the judge finds no manuscript that merits the award. Every entrant agrees to this and other terms before submitting works into the competition via Submittable.

The outcome of no winner has occurred several times in the 40-year history of the series. AWP stands by the decisions of our judges, and AWP does not refund entry fees.

If a literary competition succeeds, it does so because it upholds standards of literary excellence—not because it guarantees a prize like a sweepstakes or a lottery. The Award Series seeks to discover and publish excellent new works as deemed by its judges. Of course, judging is a highly idiosyncratic and subjective process. The judges may arrive at decisions with which you or I may disagree, but each judge arrives at a decision that is best in keeping with his or her own literary standards. We cannot expect the judges to uphold any literary standards except their own.

Literary competitions are, of course, imperfect. Sometimes, the judge will find no manuscript that, in his or her view, merits the award. Sadly, because the cost of conducting these competitions is high, nonrefundable entry fees must underwrite the expense. Nonetheless, the Award Series provides authors with an excellent alternative to submitting works to publishers on their own. First of all, writers judge AWP’s competitions, and those writers often select manuscripts that literary agents and publishers have overlooked. Secondly, literary competitions provide the winning authors with greater publicity and prestige, more money, and better sales than usually accompanies the typical publication of a first book.

If you visit the offices of trade publishing houses, you may see mail tubs full of manuscripts stacked in the hallways and in front of the desks of 21-year-old interns. There, too, an imperfect process is at work, and it’s one that has many more shortcomings than the AWP Award Series. Every year, AWP enlists between 20 and 30 writers to help with the process of selecting manuscripts for our awards. These writers know how important it is for other writers to receive careful readings. The AWP Award Series gives all manuscripts more careful consideration, I believe, than what the typical trade publisher can afford to give to its unsolicited submissions.

For the 2016 AWP competition in Creative Nonfiction, AWP will waive your entry fee if you entered our 2015 Creative Nonfiction competition and did not withdraw your manuscript. If you entered more than one manuscript in nonfiction, you may resubmit again the same number of manuscripts, free of charge. Later this year, 2015 nonfiction entrants will receive instructions for using these waivers if they wish to enter works into the 2016 nonfiction competition.

As always, the AWP Award Series will be overseen and coordinated by your fellow writers for the benefit of writers and the reading public.

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August 17, 2015

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