For many years, The Hook ran a writing contest in conjunction with the Virginia Festival of the Book that was judged by John Grisham. With the newspaper’s closure last summer, it looked like local writers were out of luck if they wanted to compete for cash and readers. But WriterHouse, the local nonprofit dedicated to promoting the art of writing in all of its forms, has stepped up to fill the void.
Celebrity guest judge Jane Alison, the most recent addition to the UVA creative writing faculty, will select first-, second-, and third-place winners from the top submissions of creative nonfiction works in three categories: general, local flavor, and youth. Entries open today and close on May 15 and each first-place winner will win $500 and publication in a C-VILLE Weekly special issue in July. For more information, visit www.writerhouse.org/contest.
Ready to give it a shot? If you were a student in Alison’s undergraduate fiction writing workshop, you’d be told to close your laptop and put down your pen.
“I believe in writers working as hard as they can to have their brains translate the larger world around them,” Alison said in a recent interview. “So I send them out into town and make them absorb things, not to impose all their predetermined views on things that they see but to be completely photographic and absorb everything.”
Alison established herself as a literary force with her 2009 memoir, The Sisters Antipodes. Applauded by Kirkus Review, Publishers’ Weekly, and People magazine, the book was Alison’s third attempt to make story and sense out of personal history.
“I was born in Australia, and I grew up in the Australian foreign service until my parents switched partners with an American foreign service couple,” she said. “I ended up getting a new father and a new accent and a new nation and a new name. So I think the things I write have to do with these core issues of identity, expressed particularly in place.”
Alison came to her craft by circuitous way of studying “Latin and Greek in a crappy high school in Washington D.C.,” she said. “But not so crappy that they didn’t have Latin.” She majored in classics at Princeton and went on to Brown, where she “had a fit,” as she put it, and resolved to become an illustrator.
Alison left academia to illustrate children’s books and began writing for newspapers, first in D.C., then Miami. In New Orleans she worked as a speech writer for Tulane University.
“I found myself writing what felt fictional because someone else would be speaking, not me,” she said.
Focusing on adult fiction, she went back to school and received her MFA from Columbia. She married and moved to Germany, where she wrote The Love-Artist, a novel about Ovid and why he was banished from Rome.
“I had an awareness of being someone who was not in the right place and didn’t speak the language and lost all kinds of identity as a result,” she said.
Two more novels followed, as did her memoir, a book of translations, and a teaching job at the University of Miami. She moved to Charlottesville to work at UVA in the summer of 2013.
You could share your own story with Alison if you participate in WriterHouse’s contest. Though she said her advice may not be better than anyone else’s, she cares a lot that writing be “ultimately genuine and necessary and language based.”
You can hear Alison at the Virginia Festival of the Book, where she will read from her latest work, a book of translations called Change Me: Stories of Sexual Transformation in Ovid. “It’s nothing to do with non-fiction,” she said, “but lots to do with language and translating anything into anything else, which is what we do as writers always.”
WriterHouse Writing Contest 2014 Guidelines at a glance:
Genre: Creative non-fiction (true stories with a narrative, told in a literary style)
Categories: General, Local Flavor, Youth (open to writers 18 years or younger at date of submission)
Length: 1,500 words or less
Entry fee: $10
Deadline: Midnight, May 15, 2014
Specifications: Entries should be submitted electronically at writerhouse.org/contest. Documents should be typed in 12 point, Times New Roman font, double-spaced and paginated. Include your story title in the header. Do not put your name on the document. Attachments should be in Word or PDF. Previously published work will not be considered.
Additional guidelines: One entry per person. No erotica or self-help. Not open to staff or the family of staff at C-VILLE Weekly or board members or family of board members at WriterHouse. Three prize winners will be judged by Jane Alison in each of the three categories above, and first place recipients will be awarded $500 apiece . Winning stories will be published in a July edition of C-VILLE Weekly, and authors will be invited to read at a celebratory event.