Tennessee Williams Literary Contests Open To Emerging Writers


The four contest judges for the 2019 Tennessee Williams Festival. From top left: Greg Brownderville, Robert Olen Butler, Hannah Pittard and John Guare.” Photos courtesy of Tennessee Williams Festival. Photo courtesy of Tennessee Williams Festival.

The Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival is the preeminent literary festival in the city of New Orleans, and every year it holds writing contests that are open to emerging writers. The contests have been an annual event for the festival for over 30 years. Students at the University of New Orleans (UNO) are eligible to submit their work to any or all of the writing contests.

Tracy Cunningham, managing director of the Tennessee Williams Festival, said, “Tennessee Williams himself won a writing contest early in his career and it was a real boon to his confidence. It helped him keep writing. We started the contests to encourage other promising young writers, and to reward them for their hard work and talent.”

There are four contests: fiction; “flash,” or very short, fiction; poetry and one-act plays. The contests open in May, and submission deadlines are coming up in October. Each has a different set of winnings, including prize money ranging from $500 – $1,500 dollars and publication in magazines like Louisiana Literature, Louisiana Cultural Vistas, The New Orleans Review and UNO’s own Bayou Magazine. Winners also have the opportunity to read their winning submissions at the festival.

There are judges for each contest, a winner, a runner-up and eight to twelve finalists. Graduate students at UNO’s Creative Writing Workshop have assisted in the first round of blind contest readings, before the submissions are decided by the final judges.

This year, the fiction contest is judged by Hannah Pittard. Pittard is the author of the novels  “Listen to Me,” “Reunion,” “The Fates Will Find Their Way,” and the most recent “Visible Empire,” which Houghton Mifflin published in June 2018. She directs the MFA program in creative writing at the University of Kentucky.

The “flash” fiction contest is judged by Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler, author of 16 novels and six short story collections, while the one-act play contest is judged by award-winning playwright John Guare.

The poetry judge is Greg Brownderville, author of three books of poetry, including “Gust,” and more recently, “A Horse With Holes in It.” Brownderville runs the creative writing program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas in addition to being the editor-in-chief of The Southwest Review.

Previous judges include Amy Hempel, Vijay Seshadri, Michael Cunningham, Justin Torres, and UNO alumnus Jericho Brown.

Paul Willis, executive director of the Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival, secures the judges each year.

“We want to have interesting literary figures with a sensitive eye. They come to the festival after judging and give readings, craft talks and sit on panel discussions, so it is vital they are engaged in the larger literary world, and have a connection to young writers. Many have been teachers, and won contests of their own in their early careers.” He continued, “A highlight is when a contest winner gets to meet the judge at the festival and has a chance to hear firsthand the good writing work they’ve done.”

The fiction and one-act play contests close Oct. 1, while the poetry and flash fiction contests close Oct. 15. Winners are announced in February. The festival runs March 27 – 31, 2019 and takes place in Hotel Monteleone and at various venues around the French Quarter.