Be Lucky (Or, How To Plan The Editors Prize Weekend)
This morning, I’ve been discussing the Editors’ Prize Reception with TMR staffers Evelyn Somers and Kris Somerville. Here’s the basic consensus: the event went just about perfectly and we have no idea why this is the case.
On Saturday night, TMR hosted our Editors’ Prize Reception and Reading at the Country Club of Missouri. Entering from the north end, friends and supporters walked into an L-shaped room with the podium to the left, six banquet tables in the middle, and off to the right and around the corner were a range of hors d’oeuvres along with (most importantly) the bar serving all the wine and beer we could handle. Note: we can handle a lot. When I rolled in, the most obvious thing was that there weren’t enough chairs. The room was packed, and country club staffers were scrambling to find more chairs and keep those warming trays of hors d’oeuvres filled. For those that haven’t given or been to tons of readings, all sins are forgiven when the room is at capacity. And we were.
We also had a wonderfully diverse crowd. One of the things we try to do with our public events is make sure that we get the Columbia arts community that exists outside of the university to attend. While there were plenty of professors, graduate students, instructors, and undergraduate interns in the room, at least half of the room consisted of people from outside Mizzou. Which is what we wanted. Being able to think “I don’t recognize that guy” before introducing myself is another goal of events like this.
All three of our prize winners—Rachel Yoder (fiction), Katie Bickham (poetry), and Terry Ann Thaxton (essay)—were able to attend, and if you’ve ever tried to fly into Columbia Regional Airport, this is no small feat. Each read from their work in the spring issue; their readings were engaging, crisp, and captivating. Being able to hear the authors who publish the work in TMR is a treat, something we only get to experience once a year, and the work was just as terrific aloud as it was on the page.
Mike Petrik introduced Rachel, and had this to say about her story:
Her short story “The blood was the mountain and the mountain was the bear,” is a story that stays with you. When I read it for the first time, I was immediately impressed with this author’s ability to deliver such a powerful and complete narrative along with individually arresting images and scenes. I read many other contest submissions that day and in the days that followed, but I found myself returning to her story, telling it again to myself in the author’s words and through her images: a man pedaling to the point of utter exhaustion, the body of a mammoth bear spread out on a table—among others. I know I just gave you one, but it is a story that needs no preamble.
Poetry editor Austin Segrest introduced Katie. Here’s an excerpt from his excellent introduction:
She’s a double threat virtuoso of form and voice. And, indeed, to call her poems masterful, as I’m inclined to do, invites a dark irony, since mastery—and all the dark passages of its historical charade—and the labor on which it always depends—is precisely Katie’s subject. Katie’s approach is hard-won, head-on, unsparing, and makes us examine our American inheritance.
This too was a nice wrinkle: we actually had the Editors’ Prize issue available at the reading! This is always a challenge to do. Because the Editors’ Prize is our spring issue, and because the travel schedule for the three writers can’t be established until we pick our winners (late December), we’re in a bit of a pickle when it comes to setting up the event. In spring semester, we need to avoid conflicts of interest with our Saturday night schedule, dodging Spring Break, Easter, Valentine’s Day or weekend, and all the end of the semester/graduation events that arise in April and May. That’s just the schedule: we of course need to finish production of the issue as well. The stars just aligned for us this year and the new issue arrived in our office late Thursday afternoon, just forty eight hours before the reception.
There is another thing we can’t control: the weather. Talking about the weather might seem a little banal (digression: it really isn’t, though. When you’re talking to someone about the weather, you’re really finding out if you dealing with someone agreeable or disagreeable, discovering if who you’re speaking with sees the world the same way, if they’re open to conversation, kind of a social agreement to be cordial, and maybe more) but I really feel that having breezy, sixty degree weather makes a difference. Several years ago, our Editors’ Prize event was on a cold day that closed with sleet. We were all a little miserable then. Last weekend? Post-reading, we took our writers to Ragtag, our favorite Columbia hang out, and we were drinking whiskey and wine on the patio because the weather was just that warm and perfect.
For all the planning that went into this event—and believe me, there was so much that went into it—many things are ultimately out of our control. We roll with it. Which is why we are so delighted and stunned this Monday morning that it went as well as it did. We’re grateful to everyone who made it happen: our staff, our undergraduate and graduate interns, our graduate editors—Mike Petrik, Claire McQuerry, and Austin Segrest—who gave the introductions but also ran the contest this past fall and made it the total success it was, our arts community for supporting us, the Country Club staff who were professional and sharp all night long, and all of our readers and supporters who make The Missouri Review the magazine that it has become over thirty five years.
And, of course, our biggest thanks is to Katie, Terry, and Rachel. Every issue of The Missouri Review is dependent on submissions from writers all around the country, and we’re proud to showcase the very best of this work. Not only did these three women give us their best work, they were willing to take the time out of their busy schedules to make the trip to Columbia and read. We heard so many wonderful things about their writing, their reading, and how wonderful they were to spend time with. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye