From Our Staff | September 16, 2014


For the next few weeks, we will be featuring narrative accounts “from the horse’s mouth,” so to speak—former winners in essay, fiction, and poetry of our Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize. All of our winners have different backgrounds, experiences, publication records, and responses to achieving this esteemed prize and honor. Today we hear from Roy Kesey, 2008’s fiction winner; and Kai Carlson-Wee, 2013’s poetry winner. Here is what they have to say:

Roy Kesey

“My assignment for today was to write about ‘what it was like to win the contest, and how winning the contest impacted (my) life or writing career.’ I’m not going to do that, though, because while the win pulled me up out of a dark patch and the money helped me clean up a mess, that kind of lucky timing was just random coincidence. Instead, I want to talk about why I entered in the first place, and why you should too.

Here’s what I wrote back in the day, and I stand by every word:

‘Forget about the five grand in prize money for a minute. I know, I know, but just set it aside for the time being. Here’s the thing: even without it, the Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize is maybe the best literary contest out there to win. (And since your entry fee gets you a year’s subscription to one of the country’s best litmags, the Smith is also one of the best contests out there to not win, and I should know, having not won several times before that breakthrough in 2008.) The Missouri Review doesn’t just publish the winning stories and get the checks in the mail, though god knows that would be sufficient. Instead, it flies you to Columbia. It puts you up in a hotel room with a bathtub bigger than your whole apartment back home. It encourages you to eat and drink heartily on its tab in the company of some of the smartest bookpeople in the country for a couple of days, and that’s what you’ll remember long after the check is cashed and spent. Well, that and the bathtub.’

A free subscription to The Missouri Review, and a shot at that kind of money/reception/spread? There are lots of good and worthy contests out there, but the Jeffrey E. Smith gets a tier of its own.”

Kai Carlson-Wee

“To be honest, when I received the news that I’d won The Missouri Review’s Editors’ Prize, I was in a fairly dark place. I hadn’t been published in over a year and had heard little response from the publishing houses and prizes considering my first book. I was feeling like there wasn’t any place for me in the publishing world and I was starting to question the personal vision I’d worked so hard to create. Of course, this feeling is not unique—many writers feel this way. You get rejected and rejected and rejected and it becomes very difficult not to take it too personally. But then, every once in a while, as if by magic, something clicks, and your work is admired by a sympathetic eye. And you’re invited to a cool Midwestern town to give a reading to a packed house. And you’re welcomed by a group of the most dedicated, gracious, hospitable editors you’ve ever met. And they all say they really love your work (and they mean it). And they put you up in a swanky hotel for the weekend and treat you like a literary rock-star. And they promote a crazy video project you come up with. And they even give you a generous sum of money so that you can go to Japan and start work on your next book. And in the space of a weekend, the publishing world begins to feel like a world that you can belong to. And the smog of doubt you carried around in your chest for the last long year is—at least temporarily— lifted.”

Want to join them? You can submit to our 2014 Editors’ Prize Contest here. The deadline is October 1st–15 days remaining!