UI hosts first Iowa Prize for Literary Nonfiction

The University of Iowa Press has long been known for its short fiction contest, an honor that has often led to further recognition among prestigious literary circles.  

Now, for the first time in its 46-year history, the UI Press is coordinating a similar contest for writers of creative nonfiction. The UI Press will begin accepting submissions this fall for the Iowa Prize for Literary Nonfiction, and graduate students in the UI Nonfiction Writing Program will be tasked with handling the majority of the screening process. 

“We saw the contest as a method to give our students some amazing editorial experience,” says John D’Agata, the director of the UI Nonfiction Writing Program. D'Agata and James McCoy, the director of the UI Press, conceptualized the contest as a way to address the void of a nonfiction contest and give the students in the NWP a unique experience. Their faith in the students is well placed, given the NWP's track record of producing talented writers. In 2014, 72 percent of eligible nonfiction jobs in the country went to alumni of the UI Nonfiction Writing Program. 

The screening process will begin with one student from the NWP working under the UI Press to evaluate and select works from the initial pool of submissions. In the spring, the selected books will be introduced into a class taught by D’Agata, which will focus on judging the books by creating consistent criteria for nonfiction.  

Here are the 2015 winners of the UI Press short fiction contest that will be published in early October:  

Night In Erg Chebbi by Edward Hamlin won the Iowa Short Fiction Award.  

Excommunicados by Charles Haverty won the John Simmons Award. 

“They’ll need to figure out what is fundamental to all nonfiction writing and be able to critique broadly,” says D’Agata. The students will have to judge submissions that will be either collections of works or single narratives and will range in genre from nature writing to memoirs to personal essays. The contest will be open to all writers regardless of previous publication history. 

 D'Agata's class will take place over the spring and fall semesters of 2016 and will whittle down the submissions to around five or ten works. Richard Preston, a visiting professor and bestselling author of The Hot Zone, will serve as the final judge. The winner will receive a standard UI Press publishing contract and will be printed in the spring of 2017.

"There’s a possibility that some of the runners-up could be eventually published in the UI Press,” says McCoy. “Creative nonfiction has been a growing field and is drawing more interest than ever."  

For instructions on how to submit a manuscript, eligibility restrictions and other information on the Iowa Prize for Literary Nonfiction, visit the University of Iowa Press website.  

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