May 6th is the deadline for the Blodwyn Memorial Prize
It was in the summer of 2015, in Jay and Hazel Millar/MillAr’s backyard with a s’more lodged in my mouth, that the Blodwyn Memorial Prize became a thing. Nicole Brewer was asking what BookThug—good friends, mentors, some of my favourite publishers—would expect to get out of sponsoring a prize. It was a casual conversation that, yeah, we were kinda serious about, but really we had no fucking clue what we were doing.
In the past few months I’ve submitted to a handful of literary journals “big” and “small,” way too many retail jobs for a 27-year-old man, and a good handful of jobs in or related to publishing in some way. I have been rejected by all of them. I expect to be rejected by more. That’s just how it’s gone for me recently. The years of self-loathing in me says, “Well, it’s because you’re shit.” And that is entirely possible. But I’ve also been profoundly privileged to experience the complete opposite end of the shit spectrum and have things go my way. This is to say that things sometimes work out for you and sometimes they don’t. It’s all cyclical and it sucks until it doesn’t suck anymore for a while, and then it sucks again and then it doesn’t. So it goes.
I have been infinitely lucky to have someone, even nearly ten years after she passed away, that makes sure it goes no matter how awful it gets. My grandmother, Enid Blodwyn Kemp, with her big tuft of sheeps’ wool hair and her sing-song northern Welsh accent, taught me to read and write when I was three or four years old. We played “library” when I was a kid, and I would write and illustrate books—often about a crudely drawn “Sdiper-Man.” My grandpa taught me how to tell stories and my grandma helped me hone them. She taught me to love, appreciate, study, and be fascinated by words. But she did more than just encourage me as any rad grandparent would. She bought me books. She made sure my grandpa took me to the library since she couldn’t drive. She made sure I enrolled in writer’s craft in high school. She helped pay for my tuition to go to college so I could pay thousands of dollars to learn the rhythm behind a perfectly constructed dick joke.
My grandma’s dedication to fusing passion and practicality helped us articulate and execute what words(on)pages is all about. So our first prize, our first attempt to make a real financial difference in an emerging writer’s life, was the absolute essence of Enid Blodwyn Kemp—just like she knew how much practical support mattered to my insane goals, we know how much difference a real paycheque can make to a writer. Her mantra permeates everything we do, every day; to name our first prize after her was the least I could do.
So, we had a name and knew our prize was an extension of what words(on)pages is about. It was all official because we had a webpage and guidelines but the hours-long conversations to get there and hitting “send” on emails to people we respected and admired was keep-you-up-at-3-a.m.-terrifying—and still is now.
The prize is our grand effort to make writers realize how much their work matters—not just in passing conversation, not just to be considered for awards or be bound in a handmade literary journal. As my grandma knew how much practical support mattered to support my fucking insane goals, we want to help writers by making sure we can contribute to them having a roof over their head so they can keep writing the awesome shit they write.
But of course we couldn’t simply come up with hundreds of dollars for prize money ourselves. So we reached out to publishers whose work and ethos we love and respect in an attempt to connect the prize with the CanLit community—to make it bigger than us. From one-person presses like Pedlar to our local monolith Penguin Random House Canada (because if we’re going to do this, we might as well do it big), we asked organizations if they wanted to be a part of this, our first prize, our next big thing. And it was pants-shittingly terrifying. After all, who the fuck is words(on)pages? Even now, with twelve issues of (parenthetical) and a year and a half of chapbooks published, I constantly feel like words(on)pages is a Jenga tower perilously close to toppling.
Because like we all know, to some degree or another, every aspect of this insane industry is a crapshoot. If nothing else, running this prize has reinforced just how much of a crapshoot publishing is, how much of a crapshoot writing is, how much of a crapshoot my life is.
It is staggering to check your inbox and see that people you barely know (but still adore) on the other side of the country say, “Sure, we’d be glad to support the prize!” and then send a cheque or a pile of books to our basement apartment. It’s all as patently absurd as it is heart-meltingly reassuring that this prize is worth it. But at the same time, we also got no response whatsoever from a surprising amount of publishers—publishers who publicly tout a love of community and CanLit; pillars in this supposedly connected, loving community. We got rejections too, and that’s fine: we all work on shoestring budgets and can’t just sponsor every prize that asks. But hearing nothing at all? It’s surprising in the worst way. It straight up sucks.
As with everything we do, this prize has been all over the place. We’ve received many submissions one day and been really encouraged, then gone a week and a half without a single submission. We’ve posted about the prize and received no traction on social media, then two days later a post or a tweet explodes. We’ve talked to people who seem genuinely intrigued and supportive and like they want to submit but then we hear nothing from them. The same way we see “support” for launches and events on our Facebook feed but attendance barely breaks the single digits, only for the next event to erupt and the room to be brimming with enthusiastic, amazing people.
It’s hard, I suppose, because it feels like I need constant reassurance: tangible proof that what I’m doing is good; practical support; something to tilt the crapshoot just a little closer to a good week. There are a lot of tiny things I’ve learned from running words(on)pages, and this prize is shining an ugly light on a lot of them. When numbers are low, it’s hard not to feel like we’re wasting the time of these people that invested their money, their books, their faith in us to produce an awesome prize. But we fake it, and eventually it feels like we’re kind of making it. It’s still a crapshoot, sure, but it’s getting easier to remember that shit takes time. Compliments mean something. People could be doing literally anything else in the world, but they picked up a chapbook off your table and said “Hi.” Eventually, you will get out what you put into this crazy community—and nothing has highlighted that quite like the incredible support we received for our prize. And we’re excited to pay it forward.
The deadline for the Blodwyn Memorial Prize is Friday, May 6th.
First prize in BOTH fiction and poetry wins $400, gets publication in (parenthetical), and receives a whole smorgasbord of books and CanLit-related merch from Canadian publishers and the Literary Press Group of Canada.
Second prize, again, in both fiction and poetry wins $150, publication, and receives a prize pack.
And third place, again, in both fiction and poetry gets publication and receives a prize pack.
We’re also offering feedback on every submission we get, just as we do with (parenthetical).
The prize is only open to those who do not have a full-length trade publication, whether that is currently published or under contract to publish. If you have chapbooks published, that is totally fine.
The prize is open to Canadian writers writing anywhere (that is, here in Canada, studying abroad, simply living abroad, etc.), as well as international writers writing here in Canada.
Entry fee is $5 per submission.
The work must be previously unpublished. Your own personal site/blog is fine, but, obviously, chapbooks, litmags, and such are considered previous publications.
Even if we have previously published your work in (parenthetical) or in chapbook form, you are still eligible for the prize.
Visit words(on)pages to submit.