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What Is the Pushcart Prize?

By Annie Newcomer:


In her article on the Pushcart Prize, Dana Shavin writes:


"My mother remembers where she was when Nixon resigned. My husband remembers where he was when John Lennon was shot. I remember where I was when I got word I’d been nominated for a Pushcart Prize."

Flapper Press will soon announce nominations for the annual Pushcart Prize: three poems and three prose pieces that have been published on the site in 2022 will be selected. Because this is an honor among a competitive field, I thought it might be of interest to our Flapper Press readers to share a brief history of the Pushcart Prize. I also wanted to include why nominations bring so much joy to writers and poets who work so diligently at their craft. Understand that even if one does not win, a nomination is prized in and of itself, by most.


The Pushcart Prize does not come with a monetary award. So in this day and age, how can it be that an award that comes with no money is still so highly revered? Let's visit the history of the Pushcart to find some answers.

 

How was the idea for the Pushcart Prize conceived?


From the article "Pushcart Prize Turns Forty" by Tara Jayakar:


The idea for the Pushcart Prize anthology was first conceived in the early 1970s by founding editor Bill Henderson, who at the time was a senior editor at Doubleday. “I was tired of the publishing industry turning writers into dollar signs,” Henderson says, citing the tendency for big houses to favor marketability over substance. After leaving Doubleday, he self-published The Publish-It-Yourself Handbook: Literary Tradition and How-To, a guide that advised writers on how to start their own presses, free themselves from the constraints of commercial publishing, and express their own truths—a rally cry to rebuild the literary industry on the foundations of community and care rather than capitalism.


(The handbook is now in its fourth edition and has sold over seventy thousand copies.)


One person's vision put the Pushcart in motion, but who else was involved with founding the Pushcart Prize?


According to its website, along with Bill Henderson, American author, editor, publisher, memoirist, these writers were all part of the group first associated with the Pushcart Award: Paul Bowles, American composer, translator and author; Ralph Ellison, American writer, literary critic and author of The Invisible Man; Joyce Carol Oates, finalist for Pulitzer prize, American novelist, short story writer and essayist, dramatist and poet; and Reynolds Price, American poet, novelist, dramatist, essayist.


What is the mission of the Pushcart?

Its mission was (and still is) to celebrate the best work coming out of the small, independent presses each year in the rapidly expanding independent publishing movement.

According to its website, "hundreds of presses and thousands of writers of short stories, poetry and essays have been represented in our annual collections. Each year most of the writers and many of the presses are new to the series. Every volume contains an index of past selections, plus lists of outstanding presses with addresses. The Pushcart Prize has been a labor of love and independent spirits since its founding. It is one of the last surviving literary co-ops from the 60's and 70's."



How has this series, published from an 8' x 8' backyard shack and staffed by hundreds of unpaid volunteers across the country, survived and thrived for decades?


[Bill Henderson answers this question accordingly:]


The commercial world informs us that this is an impossible dream. Oligarchs pick our entertainments, our celebrities, our presidents and our wars. We children of the spirit are yesterday's news, if we ever were news.


Yet the Pushcart Prize, the small presses and authors we honor have flourished. The reason? Spirit will never be quelled, certainly not by big bucks and bluster. Each edition of the Pushcart Prize is evidence of this. Many new presses and dozens of new authors emerge annually and are honored in classrooms, bookstores and libraries around the world. And so the Pushcart Prize has been renewed since our first edition in 1976. We celebrate this renewal every year. This is our joy.

Pushcart Website


May you nominate your own work or a friend's work for a Pushcart?


No. Only Editors may nominate up to six pieces in any genre from work that appeared in their pages that year. They may, for example, nominate 6 poems or 6 essays or divide their nominations as we have elected to do at Flapper Press and nominate 3 poems and 3 articles.


Something that is unique with the Pushcart can be found in the final judging. A panel of judges is compiled from the previous Pushcart Prize winners and editors who select the winners. "Since the prize’s inception, more than 2,000 writers and 600 presses have earned the honor," says Dana Shavin.


She adds, "There’s no question that among writers and editors, the Pushcart Prize is highly revered; in addition, it can bring recognition not only to the writers who win but also to the small presses that published the winners."


Let us close then on Shavin's sage advice as it pertains to the merits of being nominated for the Pushcart nomination:


Maybe writers should celebrate a nomination simply because it makes them feel heard, and maybe as a result of feeling heard, their writing will blossom in new, important ways.

 

Annie Klier Newcomer founded a not-for-profit, Kansas City Spirit , that served children in metropolitan Kansas for a decade. Annie volunteers in chess and poetry after-school programs in Kansas City, Missouri. She and her husband, David, and the staff of the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens are working to develop The Emily Dickinson Garden in hopes of bringing art and poetry educational programs to their community.


Annie helms the Flapper Press Poetry Café—dedicated to celebrating poets from around the world and to encouraging everyone to both read and write poetry!

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