A deadline approaches on one locally based literary competition while a new contest, reserved specifically for local writers, is taking submissions through Sept. 16.
The Autumn House Poetry Prize is chosen each summer from manuscripts submitted by poets of all backgrounds and levels of experience. Entries are screened by judges from the staff of the local independent publisher, while finalists are vetted by an accomplished poet. This year's finalist judge is Jean Valentine, winner of the 2004 National Book Award for Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems, 1965-2003. As in the contest's first two years, the prize is publication and $1,000 against royalties. Past winners include Deborah Slicer's The White Calf Kicks (2003) and Ruth L. Schwartz's Dear Good Naked Morning (2004). The deadline for submissions is June 30. See www.autumnhouse.org for complete rules.
Meanwhile, everyone's favorite reading-series-in-a-woodshop is getting in on the writing-contest game too. The Choice Cuts Reading Series was created primarily to showcase writers of creative nonfiction. But co-founder and co-organizer Kris Mamula acknowledges that Choice Cuts has strayed from that mission. The series, which takes place on the third Friday of each month amid the jigsaws and varnish buckets of the woodshop at Lawrenceville's Slaughterhouse Galleries, has cultivated an audience, but has mostly featured poets (probably because there are many more poets than writers of creative nonfiction).
The Choice Cuts Writing Prize is a way for the series to return to its roots while celebrating Western Pennsylvania's rich heritage of authors who use the imaginative techniques associated with fiction to chronicle real people, places and events -- writers such as John Edgar Wideman, Annie Dillard and Lee Gutkind, who publishes the Pittsburgh-based journal Creative Nonfiction.
The contest seeks previously unpublished manuscripts of 1,000 words or less by residents of Western Pennsylvania, mailed by Sept. 16 to Mamula at 3710 Penn Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15201 (see www.choiceuts.org for complete rules). There's a $15 entry fee; the winner receives $500 and the chance to read the winning piece at November's Choice Cuts. The finalist judge is Lori Jakiela, a writing instructor at the University of Pittsburgh-Greensburg.
Mamula says the limit of 1,000 words -- shorter than a full-page article in City Paper -- was partly a logistical choice, but also an aesthetic one. "It's an extremely challenging length," says Mamula. "Every word has to carry water. Good writing should be that."