Happy Birthday, Book Prize Series

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Happy Birthday, Book Prize Series

By Dillon Jones, Prairie Schooner intern

This year marks the tenth anniversary of Prairie Schooner’s Book Prize Series. To celebrate, friends of the journal gathered last Thursday to honor its founders, former PS Editor-in-Chief Hilda Raz and longtime PS supporter Peggy Shumaker. Current Editor-in-Chief Kwame Dawes opened with remarks about the difference between blockers and facilitators, noting the importance of the latter. He described facilitators as people who, in response to an obstacle, say, “That sounds difficult. How can we make it happen?” Hilda Raz and Peggy Shumaker belong in this group.

In her speech Raz, the fifth Editor-in-Chief in the journal’s eighty-seven year history, opined that “literary journals publish to serve and aid writers” and that in this spirit, she and Shumaker “schemed to serve the writing community,” the Book Prize being the result. Of Shumaker, she said, “every story has a hero; Peggy is ours.”

Next, Shumaker, whose annual donation makes the Book Prize Series possible, spoke about the impact the prize has had on its recipients. She asked James Crews, winner of the 2010 Book Prize in Poetry and current University of Nebraska-Lincoln PhD student in poetry, what it means to win. He said, “I crossed the threshold from poet with a manuscript to poet with a book…I considered myself a writer for the first time.”

Following these remarks, the audience was treated to readings by winners of Prairie Schooner’s 2011 Book Prize, the poet Susan Blackwell Ramsey for A Mind Like This and fiction writer Karen Brown for Little Sinners. Ramsey sparked our imaginations with poems about pickled heads, lace, and baby chicks. Brown read a story excerpt featuring hauntingly-written characters and tense dialogue.

Accompanying Ramsey’s reading were presentations by two students from UNL’s Fine Arts department. Chrisha Yantis, a second-year graduate student, inspired by Ramsey’s poem “Learning Curves,” created a young girl with ceramic alphabet blocks to represent the start of learning and introduction to complexity. Allegra Rickaby, inspired by a fire motif in Ramsey’s poem “January, Tulips,” fashioned an urn, which was literally set on fire during its creation. Rachel Whelan, a UNL music composition graduate student, presented three original compositions based on stories from Brown’s short story collection. Whelan played one song on flute that was based on Brown’s story “Swimming.”