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Unclassifiable Contest – Submissions Open!

Our 8th annual Unclassifiable Contest is open May 1 to July 31, 11:59 P.M. EST. 

Challenged by Diaghilev to astonish him (“Etonnez-moi!”), Cocteau responded with an “unclassifiable” ballet: music by Satie, sets and costumes by Picasso, book by himself. The year: 1910. In this age of branding and marketing, can such “unclassifiable” works survive? What is gained—or lost—when boundaries are blurred? 

Our Unclassifiable contest is for works that blur, bend, blend, erase, or obliterate genre and other labels. We consider works of up to 5,000 words. Micael Martone judges our Unclassifiable contest.  

All submissions must be sent through Submittable (link below) and will be read blind, so please do not include your name or identifying material anywhere on the manuscript. The entry fee is $10, and the winner will receive $500. Only send us work that has not been previously published elsewhere. 

2023 Winner 

Christy Sheffield Sanford, “Wreck Tangles of Désirée Acking,” which appears in Issue 47 of Arts & Letters. 

2023 Finalists 

Kelly Houle, “Alphabet Shell and Other Poems” 

Tom Laichas, “Four Pieces” 

Ayesha Raees, “CYCLE” 

Julie Marie Wade, “Healthcare Hopscotch: 2001-2011” 

Unclassifiable Judge 

The Unclassifiables Contest is now open for submissions until July 31st!

Michael Martone’s newest book is Table Talk & Second Thoughts: A Memoir in Prose Poems. Plain Air: Sketches from Winesburg, Indiana (Baobab Press) and The Complete Writings of Art Smith, the Bird Boy of Fort Wayne, Edited by Michael Martone (BOA Editions) appeared recently. Retired after forty years of teaching at Iowa State, Harvard, Syracuse, and the University of Alabama, he lives in Tuscaloosa next to the abandoned gothic country club featured in Walker Percy’s novel Love in the Ruins. 

Submit

25th Annual Arts & Letters Prize Winners

Announcing the Winners of the 2023 Arts & Letters Prizes in Fiction, Creative Nonfiction, & Poetry:

Arts & Letters Prize for Fiction
Patricia Grace King, “Pax Americana”

“I thoroughly enjoyed reading “Pax Americana.” This story deftly intertwines elements of the interpersonal with larger societal and political narratives to produce a profoundly humane reflection on marriage, politics, youth, and choices, told in an assured and compelling voice.”

– Francesca Ekwuyasi, Judge

Finalists:
Brenda Salinas Baker, “The Apprentice” and Shane Dutta, “Sally’s Daughter”

Susan Atefat Prize for Creative Nonfiction
Jonathan VanBallenberghe, “Winchester Street: Living with My Father’s Suicide”

“Word by word, the author of “Winchester Street: Living with My Father’s Suicide” brings the reader inside the psyche of the narrator’s father, and his decision to end his life. Even more gripping, we also read about the narrator’s own feelings toward suicide—as well as the cultural allure of guns that cause so much destruction. The author’s composed voice underlies the deep trauma of the event. I greatly admire the clear and unsentimental tone as a portal into the depth of feeling this narrative conveys. The writing is stunning, the story urgent, the reflective voice compelling. This essay most assuredly deserves to win.”

– Sue William Silverman, Judge

Finalists:
Tatiana Hollier, “I Am the Ornament of the Sky” and Jaye Murray, “Sentry”

Rumi Prize for Poetry
Owen Lewis, “Something’s Wrong,” “More Than Twice,“ and “Waking Early This New Year’s Day”

“Though there were moments I liked in each of the manuscripts of the finalists, I have chosen this manuscript because this poet was able to sustain, in poems that were about something of real emotional substance, an acute attention to making the language both lovely and telling.”

– Rodney Jones, Judge

Finalists:
Robin Knight, Ari Mokdad, Sammi LaBue, Mark Smith-Soto, David Moolten, and Ruth Kessler

Each winner receives $1000; the winning pieces will appear in an upcoming Issue.

24th Annual Arts & Letters Prize Winners

Arts & Letters Prize for Fiction Zoe Pappenheimer, “Apparitions”

“Apparitions” is a beautifully written story that weaves together two very compelling storylines and juxtaposes two very complex relationships. I loved the seamless way the author moves between past and present, between memory and present action, and the way the tension grows gradually through small moments in the story, through those unspoken conversations that seem to be taking place between these characters. As the title implies, there are metaphorical ghosts in this story, including ghosts of all of the characters’ former selves, but there is also a very emotionally charged surface story, one that raises questions that are both topical and timeless. This is truly a remarkable story by an extraordinarily talented writer. I loved everything about it.”

– Andrew Porter, Judge

Finalists:
Holly Pekowski, “Almost There;” Adam Peterson, “Stumbledown”

Susan Atefat Prize for Creative Nonfiction
Jodie Noel Vinson, “First Do No Harm”

“First Do No Harm” is a timely, deeply personal meditation on the experience (and ripple effects) of long Covid, as well as a rigorously researched investigation into medical history (and its own ripple effects today). The author writes of volunteering at a vaccine clinic as “an acknowledgement that we are all connected, that our decisions—to get on a plane, to shop at a store, to wear a mask, to get the jab—have consequences on other lives; that to do no harm is never a passive decision, but an always active awareness.” This essay in itself is a beautiful reminder that we are all connected, a beautiful example of an active, compassionate awareness at work. I’m grateful to have read “First Do No Harm” and am honored to award it the Arts & Letters/Susan Atefat Prize for Creative Nonfiction.

– Gayle Brandeis, Judge

Finalists:
Alisa Koyrakh, “The Love of Doing”

Rumi Prize for Poetry
W. J. Herbert, “The Birth of Venus,” “Liminal Passage,” “Ice Storm,” and “Journal of the Plague Years”

“The other selections were great, but I kept coming back to these…they work beautifully separately and apart. I love this poet’s lyric touch. Elegant diction and a light touch with imagery…These poems have an irresistible grace to them!”

– Allison Joseph, Judge

Finalists:
Laurence O’Dwyer, Vernita Hall, Saudamini Siegrist, and Donte Collins

Each winner receives $1000; the winning will appear in our Fall Issue.