Saturday, December 7, 2013

Pushcart Prize part II: Critics discuss the selection & publication process for 'the best' of small presses

Here's a follow-up to my prior post on receiving the recent news of my Pushcart Prize nomination:

Truth be told, I'd certainly heard of the Pushcart, but realized I didn't really know much about it. Here's what Poets & Writers describes:

Publication in The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses is awarded annually for poetry, fiction, and essays published by literary magazines or small presses during the previous year. Editors may nominate up to six poems, short stories, novel chapters, or essays. 
And here's a bit on the founding of Pushcart Press from the press website:
In 1976, Henderson and a group of Founding Editors that included Paul Bowles, Ralph Ellison, Joyce Carol Oates and Reynolds Price, started the Pushcart Prize anthology to recognize and celebrate the best work in the rapidly expanding independent publishing movement. Through the years since, the Prize has honored the art of thousands of writers and hundreds of presses. Each edition features reprints of work by about sixty authors from dozens of presses as selected from nominations by small press editors and Pushcart’s staff of distinguished Contributing Editors.
So... what is the selection process like at Pushcart Press? An online search, as well as a recent newsletter from The Review Review, brought my attention to several interesting blog posts and articles critiquing the prize (and literary awards in general). Henry Tonn's Sept. 20 post at Reading, Writing and Rejection Slips describes his own response to hearing news of his recent Pushcart nomination: 
This is very nice, and I am happy to be selected, but it behooves me to point out that this particular memoir-essay had previously been rejected by no fewer than 82 publishers... Bill Henderson was nice enough to return my phone call and informed me that they had over 7000 entries last year from hundreds of lit mags and they expect at least that many this year. 
Tonn goes on to point out "the few number of literary journals that are consistently represented" by Pushcart Press. At The American Dissident: A Journal of Literature, Democracy and Dissidence, edited by G. Tod Slone, a post on The Pushcart Prize suggests we "raise a few questions":
First, who are the judges sitting on the prize panels as literary censors of good taste and artistic excellence, those highly subjective qualities?  Second, how are they chosen? In other words, who were the judges who chose those judges? Third, who or what kind of work tends to be chosen for the prizes and, conversely, not chosen?  Fourth, how does the prize fit into the schema of the academic/literary established-order milieu?
The post also includes a more lighthearted and humorous missive on longing for the prize by Jim Valvis, a "self-proclaimed boyfriend of a multiple Pushcart nominee." And there's a not-to-be-missed Missouri Review post by Michael Nye, managing editor, on "The False Promise of Acceptance and Publication." Although Nye doesn't actually critique prize selection, he addresses the post-publication slump: "Whether it’s your first story, your first poem, your first book, or your first 'big success' (whatever that entails), there is a bit of a surprise when, after all is done, how quickly it feels over and inconsequential." Thankfully, I haven't experienced that yet!
Pacific Ocean at Sea Ranch (Nicole R. Zimmerman, 2013)

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