Is Poetry a Man’s Game?, or Gender and First Book Contests

I hate to even pose the above question. We exist in a day and age where gender doesn’t matter in the literary arts, right? We are blind to the trappings of “patriarchy,” right? But VIDA makes it undeniable with charts and numbers: men, by far, win out when it comes to publications in major literary journals and magazines. Whatever the reasoning, it’s true. Further, some literary magazine editors are even coming forward to give a run-down on How to Run a Publication That Isn’t Sexist.

Now that I’ve started entering poetry first book contests, I’ve been surprised at the number of men that have won them, and it’s made me wonder how the numbers VIDA compiles relate to book contests. Are men chosen to win large contests more often than women? Do women judges have anything to do with the selection of women winners?

~

Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize

Since 2002, four women have won (2002, 2006, 2008, and 2012). While it’s not clearly stated, I believe the editors of the press select a winner instead of a single judge.

Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize

Since 2005, three women have won (2006, 2007, and 2008). Two women have judged, and one selected a female winner (2006).

APR Honickman Book Prize

Since 2003, three women have won (2009, 2010, and 2013). They’ve had six female judges (every odd-numbered year), and two of those judges selected two female winners (2009 and 2013).

AWP Award Series: The Donald Hall Prize for Poetry

Since 2002, seven women have won (2002, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011, and 2012). Four women have judged (2004, 2008, 2009, and 2011), and two selected female winners (2008 and 2011).

Cave Canem Poetry Prize (limited to African American poets)

Since 2002, five women have won (2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2011). They’ve had five female judges, and three selected female winners (2004, 2005, and 2011).

Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award

Since 2002, six women have won (2003, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010, and 2012). They’ve had five female judges, and two selected female winners (2003 and 2009).

New Issues Poetry Prize 

Since 2002, nine women have won (This contest is strange in that seven people, five of which were women, won for 2003. A single woman won for 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2012.). They’ve had five female judges, and three selected female winners (2003, 2007, and 2012).

Walt Whitman Award

Since 2002, six women have won (2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2011). They’ve had six female judges, and three selected female winners (2005, 2006, and 2011).

Yale Series of Younger Poets

Since 2003, three women have won (2006, 2008, and 2010). One woman (Louise Glück) judged until 2010 and selected all three female winners, and a man (Carl Phillips) currently judges.

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From this incredibly small sampling (I focused on first full-length book contests that are currently in existence, been in operation for over five years, and had easy-to-find listings of their previous winners), female judges don’t necessarily select female winners (for contests with yearly judges, half or less of the female judges selected a female winner), and that while some contests definitely select less women than men, others select more, which ends up balancing out the ones that don’t. Without contests like the latter, the state of these numbers would be sad indeed.

While prestige will probably always matter, there are many great contests out there that also have solid track records of selecting women poets, and that might come into play as I figure out where to submit my own manuscript later this year.

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5 thoughts on “Is Poetry a Man’s Game?, or Gender and First Book Contests

  1. I’m glad you wrote about this relevant and interesting topic; it would be great to have a list of contests that tend to publish women rather than men–if, you know, there’s enough of those to even make a “list” 😉 I know there are a few that only accept work by women–Perugia Press and Persea Press, to name two.

  2. Glad to see someone asking these questions. I’d love to see a VIDA-esque count for first book contests. Some appear to be quite transparent; others not so much.

    1. I totally agree. It took me at least two hours compiling that because several contests didn’t make it very easy. Some don’t even keep a running list of previous winners. Those might be the most interesting to investigate.

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