A Special Veterans Day Announcement: Our 2020 Veterans Story Contest Winner

Jill Baker Wins First Prize

As past and present service members around the country are honored on Veterans Day 2020, the South Dakota Humanities Council is proud to celebrate South Dakota veterans by announcing the winners of the 2020 Veterans Story Contest.

The contest, created for veterans to process war experiences through storytelling, called for entries from current or past service members who live in South Dakota. The 2020 winner is U.S. Army veteran Jill Baker, who received the $500 prize for her first-place poetry collection, "The Trigger Collection." In second place was Dr. Tony Garcia for his story, "Short," while Dawn Jones came in third for "Timing Beyond Our Control."

The top three read their stories in a special Zoom event during the October Virtual 2020 South Dakota Festival of Books. Featuring U.S. Navy veteran and 2020 Festival presenter Jerri Bell, the ceremony can be watched in full below.

Finding Meaning Through Words: Read "The Trigger Collection" by First Place Winner Jill Baker

During an interview with SDHC prior to his appearance at the 2017 Festival of Books in Deadwood, National Book Award-winning author Tim O'Brien said writing about war helps writers and readers find meaning in what happened.

"The word war is such an abstraction - it's almost meaningless as a word," O'Brien says. "It's not until it's something specific that it takes on any meaning, and often that's through a story."

It was clear during the culminating readings that participating veterans discovered meaning through their writing. Sioux Falls resident Baker, a U.S. Army veteran with PTSD, said her winning collection was curated from "tangled webs of messy emotions that I used to help me unravel the discord one step at a time. I am sharing them in chronological order as a way to demonstrate the process I took to help me work through months of harrowing days as a triggered Veteran."

More About Veterans Writing Contests, Past and Present

Participants in the 2020 contest submitted unpublished poetry, prose, fiction, and creative nonfiction to be judged by a panel and discussed with Bell, who held a workshop specifically for Veterans. She is one of many award-winning Veteran authors who have appeared at the Festival of Books, which has also featured O'Brien and Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler.

Bell, the managing editor for "O-Dark-Thirty," the literary journal of the Veterans Writing Project, retired from the Navy in 2008. Her assignments included antisubmarine warfare in the Azores Islands, sea duty on USS Mount Whitney and HMS Sheffield, and attaché duty at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Russia. Bell's fiction has been published in a variety of journals and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her nonfiction has been published in journals and newspapers and on blogs.

SDHC has hosted a series of writing contests for Veterans since 2016. James R. Teller won the 2016 Veterans Writing Prize for his essay "The Reunion." The prize that year was presented by Ron Capps, creator of the Veterans Writing Project. Robert Speirs won the 2017 Veterans Writing Prize for his essay "A Prayer for Brian Bradley" with his award presented by Pulitzer Prize–winning author Robert Olen Butler. In 2019, U.S. Army Veteran Stephan Randall of Sioux Falls was declared the winner for his essay "Mountain Climber." Acclaimed author and Iraq War Veteran Brian Turner presented Randall with his prize.

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