From Our Authors | October 09, 2020

We are down to the final days for the 30th Annual Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize. As you know, each year we accept entries in three genres—fiction, poetry, and nonfiction—and select one winning entry in each genre to receive $5000 and publication in the spring issue of the Missouri Review. We asked last year’s winners to share with us what winning the prize meant for them and what the prize enabled them to do. We thought you might like to hear what they had to say. The winning pieces were published in this year’s spring issue, which you can pick up here.

Seth Fried, 2019 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize in Fiction for “Trezzo”

Seth Fried. Photo credit: Julia Mehoke

“Earlier this year, I received the Editor’s Prize in fiction for my short story, ‘Trezzo.’ This is a piece I began drafting in February of 2017. It’s difficult to say exactly how long it took to finish in terms of hours writing, because the life of a short story writer is typically one that exists in the small pockets of spare time you find from day to day. In 2017, I was working a 9 to 5 desk job under that cheery type of boss who tends to interpret their own confusion as evidence of the world’s incompetence. In my off hours I took on freelance copywriting work and a few nights each week I’d take a train uptown to teach a creative writing workshop from 7 to 10 PM. ‘Trezzo’ was drafted a few sentences at a time on the train and during lunch breaks. When the train was too crowded to take out my phone, I repeated details to myself until I got to my stop where I would type them out shorthand. In workshops, I tell my students not to wait for those big, open spaces of creative time about which most writers fantasize. There is no three day weekend coming to save us. You have to seize every moment, no matter how small.

Read these authors in TMR 43.1. Cover Art: “Against All Odds” (2019), Adam Martinakis.

Working like this I arrived at the draft that was sent to the Missouri Review around June of 2019. As a fiction writer you learn to stagger things with multiple projects at different stages going at once so this process doesn’t become any more excruciating than it needs to be. Still, that’s almost two and a half years spent with a single story coming together. Short stories are my first love and I know I will always write them, but knowing how long the whole process can take, knowing how averse many readers and book editors are to the form, knowing that even some of the best outlets in the country can only afford to compensate a short story writer a few hundred dollars for their work, knowing you have a certain responsibility as an adult to make a productive (in a practical sense) use of your time, you can start to second guess yourself when you’re getting jostled on a subway platform as you stop to make this note:

Trezzo is curious: How much food to kill an elephant? What happens if you shoot atom bomb with bow and arrow? Alligators bulletproof?

Obviously in a broader sense there’s no question: do what you love. But in an everyday sense there are plenty of questions. Is anyone going to read this? Can I afford to maintain a hobby that seems to require such an aristocratic amount of time? Should I just grow up? Retcon my creativity to fit a more capitalist endeavor? And even more powerful than any specific question is the nameless doubt that comes from loving something deeply that a lot of people don’t seem to value. But that’s what makes a contest like the Editor’s Prize so important.

First, I feel compelled to point out that winners of this contest are paid more for a single short story than most writers are paid for an entire book of short stories. It may seem crass to talk about money, but when a writer uses the word money what they actually mean is time. Time to write. The ability to turn down less meaningful opportunities. Second, by entering this contest you are supporting a journal that is doing crucial work in keeping the short story alive. Whenever I get that end-of-a-hard-day feeling that one of my story drafts isn’t going to do anything but dash itself against the rocks of the world’s apathy, I pick up a copy of TMR and am reminded instead of the urgent significance of short stories for those willing to engage with them. A contest like this is as much about the recognition you deserve as a writer as it is an opportunity to show a little support to a journal that is helping protect these shapes of art (the story, the poem, the essay) that we love so much. In other words, you can’t lose.”

Heather Treseler, 2019 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize in Poetry for The Lucie Odes”

Heather Treseler

What has winning the Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize meant to you?

“I started reading the Missouri Review in college, twenty years ago. One of my work-study jobs was at the library and each Sunday I hung the newspapers on long wooden dowels in the periodical room. (It sounds antique, but this was the ‘90s.) Beside the daily papers were the stacks of recent literary journals. Since Sunday mornings were slow at the reference desk, I started reading them, alphabetically. By my sophomore year, I’d hit ‘M,’ and I was immediately taken by how carefully curated each edition of the Missouri Review seemed to be. There was a governing editorial instinct in TMR and great variety in voice and style, across genres. This was lively writing that kept me awake during my long shifts.

Years later, I started a manuscript of mythology remix poems, and I sent a few to the Jeffrey E. Smith contest. To my surprise, my entry was a finalist and published in the summer of 2017. And Speer Morgan included a lovely note about the poems in his introduction, which was deeply encouraging.

Around that time, I began a second manuscript of poems, Parturition, which was published this year. At the heart of that sequence is ‘The Lucie Odes,’ a set of ten narrative poems for a beloved. I finished them in July of 2019 and thought I’d try them at the Missouri Review, knowing that they would be read seriously and thoughtfully.

When I heard, in December, that ‘The Lucie Odes’ had made the finalist round, I was ecstatic. I had worked on the poems obsessively for ten months, and I no longer felt equipped to judge them. The prize was validation.”

What has it enabled you to do?

It has lent me confidence to finish the full-length manuscript of poems, of which Parturition is the first part. Confidence is a coffer that is hard to keep stocked, especially with a project that is years in the making.

I plan to donate part of the prize to an arts program that I admire, in Lucie’s honor, and to save the rest, as the pandemic has induced so many unknowns. I have a wonderful job teaching at Worcester State University, but it is always reassuring to have funds for the contingencies that can emerge in writing a book, in leading a life. I am so grateful to the editors at TMR—and to Jeffrey E. Smith—for this recognition and generosity.

Jennifer Anderson, 2019 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize in Nonfiction for The Trailer”

Jennifer Anderson. Photo credit: Joe Anderson at Lucidity Photography.

What has winning the Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize meant to you?

“I have long admired the Missouri Review for its exceptional prose and poetry and always look forward to the annual Editors’ Prize issue to read the contest winners’ eye-opening and engaging work. In 2012, I was a nonfiction finalist for an essay called ‘It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie.’ Though I thought this may be the closest I would ever get to winning, I was beyond thrilled; that experience, in and of itself, helped boost my confidence as a writer in important ways. I began working on my essay, ‘The Trailer,’ in the late summer/early fall of 2019. It was an essay that came out rather quickly for me, especially considering that I sometimes work on a piece for years before sending it out. I managed to finish and submit it to TMR (the only place where I submitted this piece) right at the contest deadline. When I found out I won, I quite honestly couldn’t believe it. Winning has given me an incredible sense of validation as a writer. I am grateful and honored to be included among this year’s prize winners as well as those from previous years.”

What has it enabled you to do?

“As with many people, this has been a really tough year for me financially. The prize money has given my family and I some much-needed financial stability, and I will be forever grateful for the unbelievably generous award made possible by Jeffrey E. Smith. It’s also allowed me to start work on my book, a collection of essays about my experiences as a caregiver in nursing homes and home health.”

There is still time to enter this year’s contest. It is our honor to consider your stories, poems, and essays.