The Thomas Morton Memorial Prize in Literary Excellence
September 9, 2015 § 1 Comment
The Puritan is well-known to Canadian writers and readers, maybe less so down in the 48 states, but the magazine is consistently strong in selecting excellent work and the Morton prize is open to all. We’ve turned over the blog today to let The Puritan talk about their contests and literary contests in general:
For every literary magazine, a prize. Our lit culture’s thick with ’em. Whether you’re an ardent submitter, see them as a necessary evil to keep literary ships afloat, or you love to hate them, writing awards can often feel more common than the periodicals they support.
Here at The Puritan, we’ve got our own—The Thomas Morton Memorial Prize in Literary Excellence (yes, intentionally long-titled)—and it’s in its fourth successful year. However, we like to think of ‘The Morton’ as slightly more intriguing, slightly more appealing than many other honors from many other magazines—even those that grant a bit more money.
That’s because we see The Morton as a real writer’s prize. Sure, we give away $1000 cash to each winner in the fields of fiction and poetry. We toast each work with publication in our journal and at our annual fete, Black Friday (a must see, if you’re in Toronto). And we’ve enlisted the assistance of established literary voices to help select the winners—last year’s judges were Zsuzsi Gartner and Margaret Atwood, and this year we’ve got the amazingly talented Ian Williams (poetry) and Miriam Toews (fiction) at the helm.
But what also makes our prize is especially suited to writers because, at the core, every writer is a rabid, omnivorous, and compulsive reader. So each winner gets a prize package of books, generously donated from a growing list of stalwart Canadian presses, that grants a small library to a few lucky people. This year, the package is bigger than ever: we’re donating $950 worth of books for each winner, donated from the following rock-steady presses (now breathe in deep and try to say the entire list with one breath):
Anvil Press, BookThug, Brick Books, Brindle & Glass, Caitlin Press, Chaudiere Books, Coach House Books, Cormorant Books, Coteau Books, Dundurn Press, ECW Press, Freehand Press, Guernica Editions, House of Anansi, Goose Lane Editions/icehouse poetry, Mansfield Press, Mawenzie House, Pedlar Press, Quattro Books, Random House/McClelland & Stewart, Talonbooks, Turnstone Press, Véhicule Press, and Wolsak & Wynn!
For international or American winners, this is an irreplaceable dose of titles that often rarely crosses the border. For all winners, it’s a fantastic snapshot of a year in Canadian literary publishing. And, besides helping The Puritan keep chugging along (we don’t get paid around here—this is a true-blue labor of love), the small donation fee also helps us keep strengthening ties to the web-like family of Canadian cultural producers, who could never succeed or continue alone.
But don’t trust our word alone; we’ve also got a few ringing endorsements from our past winners.
For Daniel Scott Tysdal, our 2014 fiction winner, the Morton Prize “was an ideal way for me to get this new work out there and signal this fresh direction … it also came with a shelf of incredible books that will keep me busy and inspired for years.”
For Laurie D Graham, our 2014 poetry winner, the best thing was all about feeling recognition from last year’s guest judge, Margaret Atwood. “The craziest thing about … winning the Thomas Morton Prize is knowing Margaret Atwood had not just read the poem, but had penned a few words in response to it. That’s one thing prizes do for you as a writer: they lend outside legitimacy to this work you do alone, at your desk, for no wage, in a society where wage is everything and vocation nearly incomprehensible. People who don’t know about the world of poetry (and even people who do) hear the words ‘prize’ and ‘Margaret Atwood,’ and it now makes a little more sense that I choose to hang out at my desk and not draw wages for this many hours (years!) at a stretch, arranging words on a page.”
As for the nitty-gritty, winners will be announced in late October or early November 2015, and will be invited to our annual Black Friday celebration and year-in-review party in Toronto, Ontario. Next year’s award will be announced in early 2016 and will feature even more awesome prizes, another set of sweet judges, and even more love.
So the next time you feel overwhelmed by the sheer mass of contests out there, be a real puritan (ha, not really, they were horrible). But submit to a prize specifically designed for writers, and help us commemorate the undying memory of Thomas Morton (may he rest in peace).