Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Why Enter the Washington Prize?

What distinguishes The Word Works Washington Prize, an award of $1500 and book publication, from other book-length poetry manuscript prizes?


Every entrant gets a copy of the winning book. The winning book is selected in the late summer and then, after undergoing our attentive editorial process, published in late January or February.

Entrants whose manuscripts progress to second readers and final judges are offered the opportunity to request comments. Therefore, semi-finalists and finalists can get constructive feedback from a reader and possibly a final judge. We have heard that entrants getting such feedback have gone on to win other prizes and for that, we are pleased because The Word is in the business of supporting contemporary poetry.

The Washington Prize is a blind judging. We read manuscripts without identifying information and if one of our readers or judges recognizes the work, that reader or judge recuses him- or herself.

The final judges comprise a panel of five poets, some of whom are members of The Word Works editorial board with at least one judge who did not participate the year before or is new to the prize. This ensures that we do not pick the same kind of manuscript year after year. In fact, The Word Works prides itself on being open to any style of poetry and on any subject. We are just looking for the best manuscript.


The Word Works has been awarding this prize since 1981. The first seven years, the prize was $1000 for a single poem that we published in a full-page ad in Poets & Writers Magazine. Our first seven winners were Barbara Goldberg, Susan Gubernat, Judith Steinbergh, Lindsay Knowlton, Enid Shomer, Renée Ashley, and Lisa Ress. Each of these poets went on to publish a book of poetry if not multiple books.

In 1987, the prize moved to book publication. The first book published in the Washington Prize imprint was Stalking the Florida Panther by the prolific and highly successful Enid Shomer. Stalking the Florida Panther was her first full-length book of poetry. The title of her book was also the title of the winning poem in 1985. Consider these lines from that Washington Prize-winning poem, “What I know:/ that desire spreads like light/ without doctrine.”

1988, the first official year of the Washington Prize as a book contest, the Word Works judges selected a funky page-turner by Christopher Bursk. His original title was replaced with The Way Water Rubs Stone. The book rapidly sold out to his already established following. After all, this was his fourth book with his first—Standing Watch—having been published by Houghton Mifflin in 1978. The Way Water Rubs Stone dared to tackle questions about masculinity and homosexuality in a time when these subjects were just barely seeing the light of day. In the poem "Dorks, Nerds, Wimps," Bursk relates conversations with his son that let it all hang out: "My children laugh when I tell them/ how in fifth grade I was voted best girl./ My sons howl in delight, knowing/ they’re nothing like their father."

With the launch of B. K. Fischer's St. Rage's Vault at the Associated Writing Programs (AWP) Bookfair in March 2013, Word Works counts 26 books in the Washington Prize imprint. St. Rage's Vault is an all ekphrastic set of poems that detail from inception to conception the birth of a child real or imagined. One of the poems scans two pages. Except for the endnotes, a reader would not know each poem was inspired by a work of art. Here are the last lines: “Hewn from darkness,/
the minutes rise as you open///your hand to touch the ladder H/ and spin it sideways into I.”

Every book in the Washington Prize imprint is a carefully sculpted gem. The author gets 15 percent of the print run, which has often results in the author receiving 150 books as his or her royalty payment. Additionally, Word Works provides 30 review copies and helps the author distribute these copies. Some Washington Prize authors like Fred Marchant, author of Tipping Point, go into second editions. For a complete list of Washington Prize winners, visit our webpage at

We urge you to give serious consideration to sending your carefully developed poetry manuscript to the Washington Prize and come talk to us at AWP Booth 708 if you plan to attend this year’s conference in Boston. Deadline is March 15 by Electronic submission or postmark.

No comments: