When my debut novel was about to be born, my publisher and I worked out a PR strategy. Her preferred modus is to enter contests. My faithful readers will recall my attempt to get myself onto the shortlist of the Not the Booker Prize, a contest run by The Guardian. You may surmise by the subsequent silence that I did not win. In fact, of the seven contests my publisher and I entered, we won none of them.
That losing streak is over. Two months ago, The Shanghai Literary Review nominated my essay “Memory Palace” for the Best of the Net anthology 2018. Just this week, I heard that nunum.ca nominated “Frogs“, a flash fiction story, for the 2019 Pushcart Prize. Never heard of either prize? Well, here’s the lowdown.
The Pushcart Prize is a political venture. It was founded back in the seventies by Bill Henderson, then an editor at Doubleday. It was his response to the commercialization of Big Publishing. In a moment of entrepreneurial genius, Henderson published a guide that encouraged writers to form their own independent presses. Then he launched the Pushcart Prize to honor their work.
The nomination process is straightforward. Up to six works can be selected by
little magazine and small book press editors throughout the world. We also accept nominations from our staff of distinguished Contributing Editors. The nominations may be any combination of poetry, short stories, essays, memoirs or stand-alone excerpts from novels. We welcome translations, reprints and both traditional and experimental writing.
There’s no definition of little or small, no entry fee or application form. Just send in a hard copy of the work nominated and hold your breath.
The prize is publication in the Pushcart Prize anthology. To date, Henderson has published 42 issues. This is more than a labor of love; it’s a gargantuan task. The 2018 anthology involved 6 Guest Editors, 200 Contributing Editors and two new staffers who undoubtedly had the unenviable task of reading every submission.
Is it a weird coincidence to find so many friends and acquaintances listed in the pages of this year’s anthology? Sally Wen Mao, fellow Napa Valley workshop student, was a poetry Guest Editor. Napa Valley teacher Camille Dungy won a Pushcart year for her poem, “Natural History,” while my friend, Francisco Cantú, got an honorable mention for his essay “Crossing the Rio Grande.”
The International Writers’ Collective, where I now teach, uses the Pushcart anthologies to illuminate the craft of writing. I workshopped “Frogs” in a Level III class and look what happened.
win or lose
But it’s a long road from nomination to selection. My friend Dipika Mukherjee is another 2019 nominee for her flash fiction piece “Bangkok 1956.” Dipika shared her great news on Facebook, then added a word of warning.
Thank you for the cheering folks! Have to caution everyone here that loads of writers get nominated for a pushcart but very few actually win one
Dipika’s friend, Toni Nealie, got nominated, too. Jet Fuel Review chose “Bloom,” appearing soon. This isn’t the first time Toni’s been nominated so she’s got a perspective.
The first time I thought, no big deal, but then I thought – how awesome. Whether I win or not is irrelevant. I’m in good company and just being nominated is recognition of work.
I totally agree. Someone I might otherwise never reach is going to read my work. Maybe it’s one of those overworked staffers; maybe it’s both of them. But if my work gets past their desk, who knows who might lay eyes on my little story?
Secretly, of course, I do hope to win. Because that would lead to even more eyes on my work, including agents, publishers and countless new readers. In yet another moment of synchronicity, my old poetry professor, later US Poet Laureate, showed up on the Pushcart website with this quote:
“A Pushcart Prize selection is one of the very best things that could happen to a writer.”
— Charles Wright
best of the net
Like the Pushcart Prize, the Best of the Net anthology is trying to make a point. Sundress Publications, an independent non-profit press based in Knoxville, Tennessee, runs the contest. From the anthology title alone, you’ll understand that Best of the Net exclusively profiles work that first appeared online
a venue that continues to see less respect from such yearly anthologies as the Pushcart and Best American series. This anthology serves to bring greater respect to an innovative and continually expanding medium in the same medium in which it is published.
Authors who self-publish are free to nominate their own work. Otherwise it’s the editor of the publication (journal, chapbook, online press, etc) who decides. So I count my blessings that The Shanghai Literary Review chose to throw my name into the hat.
Now it’s time for the Best of the Net army to get to work. There’s one judge, one coordinator and dozens of readers for each of the three categories respectively of poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction. For Best of the Net, I’m gunning for the non-fiction prize.
It’s not impossible that Sundress Publications came into being, inspired or even guided by the work of Bill Henderson. And though Best of the Net is trying to offer a counterbalance to awards like the Pushcart Prize, they’re both about offering a platform to great writing that might otherwise go unread.
A nomination feels so much better than applying for a literary prize myself. Someone out there thinks my work is good enough for a nomination. That someone is staking their reputation on me. It’s a vindication of all that hard work and proof that the cycle of submission and rejection will eventually get me to where I want to go. As Raymond Carver once wrote to Bill Henderson:
the mere fact that someone was publishing my work in whatever form was an indication to me that somebody cared.
The Best of the Net finalists will be announced in the spring of 2019. It looks like the Pushcart Prize winners won’t be known until the fall of 2019. Far enough away for me to forget about these nominations. So no gnawing off my arm, yet. Keep you posted.