Puritan Guest Post: The Benefits of Entering a Writing Contest


Guest Post by The Puritan Senior Editors

For every literary magazine, a prize. Our lit culture’s thick with them. Whether you’re an ardent submitter, see them as a necessary evil to keep literary ships afloat, or you love to hate them, writing contests can often feel more common than the periodicals they support.


Here at The Puritan, we’ve got our own—The Thomas Morton Memorial Prize in Literary Excellence (yes, intentionally long-titled)—and it’s in its fifth successful year. However, we like to think of ‘The Morton’ as slightly more appealing than many other honours from many other magazines—even those that grant a bit more money.

That’s because we see The Morton writing contest as a real writer’s prize. Sure, we give away $1,000 cash to each winner in the fields of fiction and poetry. We toast each work with publication in our journal and at our annual fete, Black Friday (a must-see, if you’re near Toronto). And we’ve enlisted the assistance of established literary voices to help select the winners—previous judges have included Margaret Atwood, Zsuzsi Gartner, Miriam Toews, and Ian Williams. And this year we’ve got the amazingly talented Jan Zwicky (poetry) and Rawi Hage (fiction) at the helm.

But our writing contest is especially suited to writers because, at the core, every writer is a rabid, omnivorous, and compulsive reader. So each winner gets a prize package of books, generously donated from a growing list of stalwart Canadian presses, that grants a small library to a few lucky people. This year, the package is bigger than ever: we’re giving $1,750 worth of books to each winner, donated from the following rock-steady presses (now breathe in deep and try to say the entire list with one breath):

Anvil Press, Arbeiter Ring Publishing, Biblioasis, BookThug, Breakwater Books, Brick Books, Caitlin Press, Chaudiere Books, Coach House Books, Coteau Books, Douglas & McIntyre, Dundurn Press, ECW Press, Freehand Books, Goose Lane Editions / icehouse poetry, Guernica Editions, House of Anansi, Inanna Publications, Invisible Publishing, Mansfield Press, Mawenzi House, McClelland & Stewart, Metatron, New Star Books, Nightwood Editions, NeWest Press, Palimpsest Press, Pedlar Press, The Porcupine’s Quill, Quattro Books, Signature Editions, Thistledown Press, Tightrope Books, Vehicule Press, and Wolsak and Wynn!

For international or American winners (yes, the writing competition is open to anyone, anywhere) this is an irreplaceable dose of titles that rarely crosses our borders. For all winners, it’s a fantastic snapshot of a year in Canadian literary publishing. And, besides helping The Puritan keep chugging along (we don’t get paid around here—this is a true-blue labour of love), the small $15 donation fee also helps us keep strengthening ties to the web-like family of Canadian cultural producers, who could never succeed or continue alone.  

But don’t trust our word alone; we’ve also got a few ringing endorsements from our past winners.

For Daniel Scott Tysdal, our 2014 fiction contest winner, the Morton Prize “was an ideal way for me to get this new work out there and signal this fresh direction … it also came with a shelf of incredible books that will keep me busy and inspired for years.”

For Laurie D Graham, our 2014 poetry contest winner, the best thing was all about feeling recognition from our guest judge, Margaret Atwood. “The craziest thing about … winning the Thomas Morton Prize is knowing Margaret Atwood had not just read the poem, but had penned a few words in response to it. That’s one thing prizes do for you as a writer: they lend outside legitimacy to this work you do alone, at your desk, for no wage, in a society where wage is everything and vocation nearly incomprehensible. People who don’t know about the world of poetry (and even people who do) hear the words ‘prize’ and ‘Margaret Atwood,’ and it now makes a little more sense that I choose to hang out at my desk and not draw wages for this many hours (years!) at a stretch, arranging words on a page.”

For Mark Sampson, winner of the 2013 poetry contest, “winning the Thomas Morton writing contest kicked off a year-long period of incredible good fortune for my career. Indeed, I had more work accepted for publication in the six months following my winning the poetry contest than in the previous six years. I’ll always associate the beginning of this fruitful period with The Puritan and its recognition of my work.”

Our inaugural short story competition winner Nate Pillman “stumbled upon The Puritan by accident.” He writes: “I grew up in the U.S., in a town of 500 in central Iowa—and I when I finally got around to wanting to be a writer, I knew nothing about the publishing world, let alone the Canadian publishing world. A Duotrope search, filtered through subcategories like dark and humorous and absurd, brought me to The Puritan. After scrolling through the website, I liked what I saw. It seemed honest, down-to-earth, and a little badass—all things I felt my story embodied …” And upon winning, he wasn’t shy about sharing his jubilation. “I hoisted my arms above my head. Then I started throwing some vulgar language around—in a celebratory way … The books I received as part of the Morton Prize had a more lasting effect. I was, and continue to be, impressed with the writing Canadian presses publish.” 

As for the nitty-gritty, winners will be announced at our annual Black Friday celebration and year-in-review party in Toronto, Ontario on Friday, November 25. Next year’s award will open for submissions in early 2017 and will feature even more awesome prizes, another set of sweet judges, and even more love.

So the next time you feel overwhelmed by the sheer mass of contests out there, be a real puritan (ha, not really, they were horrible). But submit to a prize specifically designed for writers, and help us commemorate the undying memory of Thomas Morton. (May he rest in peace.)