Veterans Story Contest

The South Dakota Humanities Council sponsors an annual storytelling contest for veterans that culminates with an awards ceremony at the South Dakota Festival of Books.

Written submissions are typically accepted during the summer for the Veterans Story Contest, which is open to veterans or current service members of any branch of the United States military currently living in South Dakota.

Contest Rules: Entries Address Military Experience

Submissions consist of new, unpublished material addressing the military experience, such as recovery or lessons learned. Individuals may submit up to 1,500 written words in any format — poetry, prose, fiction, creative nonfiction, etc. There is a limit of one submission per person. Entries must include name, address, phone and email.

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."

A USA flag rests against the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.

A U.S. flag rests against the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. SDHC has partnered with SDSU for a veterans storytelling contest open to veterans or current service members of any branch of the United States military currently living in South Dakota. 


Winners, Past and Present

The 2020 Veterans Story Contest winner was U.S. Army veteran Jill Baker of Sioux Falls, who received the $500 prize for her first-place poetry collection, "The Trigger Collection."

Baker, a U.S. Army veteran with PTSD shown at left during the reading, 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.” 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 Virtual 2020 Festival featuring U.S. Navy veteran and 2020 Festival presenter Jerri Bell.

At the 2019 contest, U.S. Army veteran Stephan Randall of Sioux Falls won first place for his essay Mountain Climber, while U.S. Marine Corps veteran Alex Sebbey's "I'm Scared Too" won the video portion. Sebbey was a resident of Sioux Falls at the time of the contest and has since moved to Triangle, Va. Both received $500 for their first-place efforts.

U.S. Air Force veteran Michael Welsh of Yankton received second place for his essay Last Sortie of the Day, while third place essay went to U.S. Navy veteran Douglas Perret Starr of Sioux Falls for Freeing Prisoners of War. Second place winner in the video category was Shai Mason, currently serving in the U.S. Air Force and based at Ellsworth, for Veterans' Story Video.

In 2016 and 2017, the South Dakota Humanities Council hosted the Veterans Writing Prize for military veterans and current service members who resided in South Dakota. Entries were accepted in multiple genres—poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction—with the winning authors presenting their work at the annual South Dakota Festival of Books. The Veterans Writing Prize attracted more than 50 submissions during its two years, with works representing many South Dakota communities and several branches of the U.S. military.

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." The award that year was presented by Pulitzer Prize–winning author Robert Olen Butler. Both essays will continue to be hosted on the South Dakota Humanities Council blog archives.

Event Calendar

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1:00 pm | Pinedale Elementary School
1:00 pm | SD Discovery Center