A zing that comes from having readers affirm his work? A boost to his spirit? A sign that “I’ve created something unobjectionable enough to get past readers with very different tastes, the aesthetic equivalent of hotel furniture?” Dr. Eric LeMay tells the Competitive Writer blog that winning the Emergency Press’ International Book Contest was all of those emotions, and more.
LeMay is Assistant Professor of Creative Writing in the College of Arts & Sciences at Ohio University. He’s also an Ohio University Honors Tutorial College alum, graduating in 1993 as a Philosophy major. LeMay won the 2012 Emergency Press International Book Contest with his manuscript, In Praise of Nothing: Essays and Other Prose. His book will be published in January, 2014, and he will receive a $1,000 prize, according to Emergency Press.
LeMay is the author of Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese (Free Press, 2010), and The One in the Many (Zoo Press, 2003). He received an MFA in writing from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in English literature from Northwestern University. He serves as Web Editor for Alimentum: The Literature of Food. His work has appeared in The Nation, The Harvard Review, The Paris Review, Gastronomica, Poetry Daily, and the Best Food Writing series.
LeMay told the Competitive Writer:
1. What did winning the Emergency Press contest mean to you personally?
I’d like to think no writer ever becomes wholly inured to that zing that comes from readers affirming his or her work. Winning the Emergency Press’s International Book Contest was wonderful in that most basic sense: hey, we like your stuff. I appreciate it all the more, because a lot of my stuff is easy to dislike. Readers, including ones I admire, can find it overly formal or overtly experimental, so I was heartened when Nicholaus Patnaude, the contest judge, chose it and the press got behind his choice. That’s one of the cool things about this particular contest: former winners chose the winning manuscript. I think that structure attests to how much Emergency Press values its authors.
2. What has been your past experience with writing contests?
I’ve won one or two and lost more than I can count. On the whole, I’m glad they exist, even when those “Dear Entrant” notes come back. Contests can be a way for small journals and presses to generate revenue and publish new work, especially in noncommercial and experimental modes, and I’m all for that. Editors and publishers at places such asDIAGRAM , Orphan Press , and Springgun Press are figuring out new models to make exciting work available to us. Contests can play an important role in that effort. Thinking about the entry fee in that light makes losing $20 or $25 easier.
6. Why should poets enter essay contests? And why should essayists write poetry?
I have a suspicion the real question is about why a writer would want to work outside of his or her genre of expertise. And the reasons for that abound: because you might find a new love, a true love, maybe even a multi-, hybrid- or poly-genre love; because you might open up new aesthetic strategies or might limber up old ones that you can take back into your primary genre; because it’s fun. To speak of poetry and the essay in particular, they share a special relationship, at least in their more contemporary modes, because they’re both genres that can thrive without narrative. In a poem or essay, you can escape time and its relentless arrow.