Contests announced for IWU student poets and writers


February 4, 2013

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Illinois Wesleyan University students are invited to enter annual competitions for the Academy of American Poets University & College Prize, the Babbitt's Prize for Short Fiction, and the Kay Nelson Memorial Essay Prize. The prizes, administered by the English department, are open to all currently enrolled students, including non-English majors and minors.

Founded in 1955, the Academy of American Poets University & College Poetry Prize program has launched the careers of many promising poets, including Sylvia Plath, Tess Gallagher, Mark Strand, and Joy Harjo. The winner from Illinois Wesleyan University receives $100 and a certificate, and is announced in the Academy of American Poets' publications and news releases, with a chance for publication in a future anthology.

To enter the Academy of American Poets' Prize, students should submit 4-6 poems, single-spaced, with the total length not to exceed 12 pages.

The Babbitt's Prize for Short Fiction (formerly the Clockwatch Review Prize for Short Fiction) began in 1997 as a way to promote and encourage aspiring fiction writers at IWU. The winner receives $50 cash and $50 store credit from Babbitt's Books, in downtown Normal.

To enter the Babbitt's Prize, students should submit up to 18 double-spaced pages of fiction—either a single short story or a segment from a novel that can stand alone. Any style is acceptable—even genre, if it breaks the mold—but judges will be looking for literary quality, energy, innovation, interesting plots, memorable characters, dialogue that rings true, fresh language, and a sure voice.

The Kay Nelson Memorial Essay Prize has been established this year by Prof. Alison Sainsbury to honor her aunt, Kay Nelson, a prolific writer of short and often humorous essays whose work is a testament to the personal essay’s most essential truth: individual voice and idiosyncratic vision enliven even the most quotidian of experiences.  

To enter the Kay Nelson Memorial Essay Prize, students should submit one essay, double-spaced, of no more than 5,000 words (shorter essays are more than acceptable!). Traditional as well as more experimental forms of the essay are welcomed.

Students may submit only one entry to each competition.

Members of the English department faculty will serve as preliminary judges, with five manuscripts for each competition passed on to a final off-campus judge who’s an accomplished, published writer.

The final judge for the Academy of America Poets Prize is Austin Smith. Smith is the author of three chapbooks, and his first book of poems, Almanac, is forthcoming from Princeton University Press. A former student of Illinois Wesleyan University, Smith received his MA in Creative Writing from the University of California-Davis and his MFA from the University of Virginia. He currently is a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.

The final judge for the Babbitt’s Prize is Stephanie Reents. Reents is the author of The Kissing List (Hogarth, 2012). Her fiction has been included in the O. Henry Prize Stories, noted in Best American Short Stories, and has appeared in numerous journals. Reentz has been a Bread Loaf Conference Scholar, a Stegner Fellow, and a Rhodes Scholar. She is an assistant professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.

The final judge for the Kay Nelson Prize is Diane McPherson. McPherson received an MFA (Fiction) and a Ph.D.(Women's Literature) from Cornell University.  Her publications include fiction in The Greensboro Review, and creative nonfiction in Mother Journeys (Spinsters Ink) and in a collection of essays about "alternative motherhood" (forthcoming Spring 2013 from Demeter Press). McPherson has previously served as a juror (creative nonfiction) for the Saltonstall Foundation.

All entries should be submitted to Kathie Bradley, English Department Office Coordinator, in the English Department's main office (on the first floor of the English House) by 4 p.m., Friday, February 22, 2013.

For additional information, contact Professor Michael Theune at or 309-556-3168.