Current Graduate Awards

Spring 2017 Graduate Creative Writing Awards

The English Department sponsors and administers two annual graduate creative writing competitions.


Short Fiction: Hobart L. and Mary Kay Peer Fiction Prize, $1000; Josephine M. Bresee Memorial Award, $500.

Poetry: Hobart L. and Mary Kay Peer Poetry Prize, $1000; Hobart L. and Mary Kay Peer Memorial Award, $500.

Contest rules are as follows:

Short Fiction: no contestant may submit more than one unpublished story (7500 words, maximum length)

Poetry: no contestant may submit more than 200 lines, as a single unpublished poem or a group of unpublished poems

Only University of Illinois graduate students enrolled in an English Department program are eligible to compete for the two Poetry awards and the first-place award in Fiction (Hobart L. and Mary Kay Peer Fiction Prize). Any UIUC graduate student may apply for the Josephine M. Bresee Memorial Award in Fiction. To be considered for a prize, submissions must adhere to the following rules. All submissions must be sent to the following email address: sdavenpo@illinois.edu. Depending on your entry (poetry or fiction), the subject line of your email message must read as follows: GRAD POETRY or GRAD FICTION (not both). If you enter in both categories (poetry and fiction), you will need to send separate emails. Your name, address, phone number, e-mail address, net id, status (grad), and UIN number must appear in the body of the email. Your fiction OR poetry entry is to be contained in one attachment (doc, docx, or rtf only), the name of which must be as follows: contest category followed by your last name, such as FICTIONJONES or POETRYJONES. Your name should not appear in the attachment itself.

Spring 2016 Graduate Literary Prize Awards: Fiction

Lydia Netzer, judge
Lydia Netzer is the author of Shine Shine Shine, a New York Times Notable Book and a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize, and more recently How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky. She was born in Michigan and now lives in Virginia. The following comments are hers.


Hobart L. and Mary Kay Peer Fiction Prize, $1000: Katherine Scott Nelson, "Internal Combustion"
This is a fantastic story. There is a surety and confidence to the prose here that makes the fractured form come together. In lesser hands all these pieces may not have hung fast, but as it is the layering of the grandfather's past, the narrator's different chunks of past, and all these arresting elements creates a really magical whole. I appreciate what isn't said here, the lines which aren't clearly drawn. The author's trust in the reader is a gift, and I enjoyed piecing the story together for myself. A light touch -- keep that. The questions you never directly ask, but answer with images and scene are the strongest. When you write like that, and then drop lines like this: "Everyone in his unit died of cancer, if they didn’t shoot themselves first." it allows those lines to boom. I also loved the connecting of the board game explosion with the Nagasaki explosion with the firesetting the narrator does for work.


Josephine M. Bresee Memorial Award, $500: Chekwube Danladi, "1996"
A very impressive story. I was reading along, enjoying the work and the skill and the scene, and then when I figured out the mother was actually dead, it was like the story swirled open into vividness -- actually jaw-dropping. I loved that moment, and from there the author had me completely captivated, wondering what was coming. This writer shows a wonderful ability to create a scene, to paint a world -- the apartment with its stench, the standing in line and counting bushes, even the flashbacks are very real.I felt a strong sense of the place I was reading about, although the details were graceful and not overwhelming. An excellent example of creating an emotion and a setting at the same time, with a lot of the descriptions doing double duty. I would cheerfully have read an entire novel about this woman and her struggles.

Spring 2016 Graduate Literary Prize Awards: Poetry

Judge: Kara Candito
Kara Candito is the author of Spectator (University of Utah Press, 2014), winner of the Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize, and Taste of Cherry (University of Nebraska Press, 2009), winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry. She is a co-curator of the Monsters of Poetry reading series, the Editor-in-Chief of the Driftless Review, and a creative writing professor at the University of Wisconsin, Platteville. Her comments follow.


Hobart L. and Mary Kay Peer Poetry Prize, $1000: Skyler LaLone, "Grace"
How can I help but be enamored with this poet's affinity for the chaos of sound? "Grace" harnesses the incantation;s trope of ceremonial repetition to charm the reader into a state of primal receptivity. "Petty noise," as evidenced in "a wall soaked/in blaring television" and the "upward pitch" of a sister's voice, becomes holy, while Eden emerges as a blank space that God "stained in the shade of silence." Through catalogues and deft rhetorical turns, the speaker reverses and reconstitutes the sacred/profane binary. I am thankful for this poem's "profuse distinctions," for its inimitably musical celebration of the everyday noise that shapes the contemporary consciousness.


Hobart L. and Mary Kay Peer Memorial Award, $500: Jess Williard, "Knowing"
"Knowing" has all the scope and compression of an unforgettable narrative poem. Its power lies in its enactment of the speaker's thought process, in the subtle attendant means by which the father's injuries come to mirror the son's difficult progression toward adulthood. The poem’s images--from the emptying classroom to photos of the father's injured leg as seen "through a cellphone"--embody absence and distance, allowing both to accumulate in the reader's mind. I admire that "Knowing" doesn't evade or ironize the timeless poetic subject of father/son relationships. Rather, it recognizes its own archetypal essence and treats it with a rare and straightforward dignity. "Modest," the speaker remarks of the father, "but these are his powers." I would say the same of this poem's understated intensity.