Veterans Writing Prize Open to Submissions

As in years past, the 2017 South Dakota Festival of Books will feature a strong lineup of Veteran authors.

It will also feature an opportunity for aspiring Veteran authors to show the professionals what they can do.

SDHC is now accepting submissions for the second annual Veterans Writing Prize, a writing contest open to South Dakota residents who are Veterans of or current service members in any branch of the United States military.

Submissions will be accepted through Aug. 1. Click here to download the contest guidelines.

Pulitzer Winner Will Announce Top Essay

The winner will be announced at the 2017 South Dakota Festival of Books in Deadwood by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler, who, along with fellow Vietnam Veteran and author Tim O'Brien, brings a commanding Veteran writing presence to the 2017 Festival.

"It would be difficult to find two Veteran authors who are better known and more widely respected than Tim O'Brien and Robert Olen Butler," said Jennifer Widman, director of the South Dakota Festival of Books.

Veterans who aspire for similar name recognition among their military peers will have a perfect opportunity to get their foot in the door by entering to win the 2017 Veterans Writing Prize. In addition to having their name announced by Butler, the winner will be recognized by a large audience of festivalgoers and Veterans.

"This would be like an aspiring author winning a mystery writing contest and having their name announced to the audience by John Grisham," Widman said.

Three finalists will be invited to the Festival, where Butler will announce the winner at the Veterans Writing Prize event on Sept. 23, 2017 in Deadwood.

The winner will also have the option of having their essay posted on the South Dakota Humanities Blog. The essay of 2016 contest winner James Teller can be found here

Want to Enter?

If you'd like to download a PDF of the submission requirements for later reference, please click the link below.

*2017 Veterans Writing Prize Submission Requirements*

Mail submissions to:
Kyle Schaefer, Program and Development Officer
South Dakota Humanities Council
1215 Trail Ridge Road, Suite A
Brookings, SD 57006

OR send in digital format as a single PDF to


  • Submit new, unpublished material on any aspect of the military experience.
  • You may include up to five pages (1-inch margin, single-spaced paragraphs, and 12 point font).
  • Include a cover page with the author's name, address, military branch/service dates, and the words "Veterans Writing Prize Submission." The cover page does not count as one of the five pages.
  • The format of the submitted material is up to you. Submissions can be in the form of poetry, prose, fiction, creative non-fiction, etc.
  • Whatever format you choose to share your story, please write as creatively as possible. Consider using creative comparisons and vivid sensory details in your submission.

SDHC will pay state-rate mileage to finalists to attend the South Dakota Festival of Books. Writers do not need to be available to attend the Festival to submit work; a representative can read the author's work on the finalist's behalf. One finalist will be selected as the winner and will receive a cash prize of $1,000, second place will receive $500 and third will receive $250.

Find additional details on the South Dakota Humanities Council website.

Inaugural Event a Success

The inaugural Veterans Writing Prize in 2016 received 32 submissions from around South Dakota. Of the 32 submissions, writers represented 17 communities, several branches of the military, and service periods ranging from the 1940s to current active duty.

Ron Capps, director of the Veterans Writing Project, chose the three finalists, who also read their pieces at the 2016 South Dakota Festival of Books in Brookings on Sept. 23. A panel of four readers with backgrounds in military service, writing, and scholarship independently selected the pool of semi-finalists from the 32 submissions. Capps selected from that pool.

About the Festival and Veterans Writing

O'Brien won the National Book Award for his fiction masterpiece, "Going After Cacciato" and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for "The Things They Carried." Butler won the Pulitzer Prize for his collection of stories about the aftermath of the Vietnam War, "A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain."

The annual South Dakota Festival of Books includes several different writing tracks such as Poetry, Fiction, Non-Fiction, Veterans Writing, and more. O'Brien, Butler and Capps continue a strong tradition of Veteran writers at a Festival that has hosted Phil Klay (2014 National Book Award winner for "Redeployment,") and Karl Marlantes (author of "Matterhorn," a Vietnam war novel hailed as a "brilliant account of war" by the New York Times).

The 2017 Festival of Books will include screenings of the new Ken Burns and Lynn Novick film "The Vietnam War" in addition to Veteran author presentations. In conjunction with the September premiere, South Dakota Public Broadcasting is conducting a public engagement project that examines the legacy and lessons of the Vietnam War.

SDPB presents screenings of the film and encourages people to share their thoughts about how the Vietnam experience continues to affect their lives. Screenings are scheduled across the state of South Dakota beginning June 10 at Crazy Horse Monument, and will conclude at the South Dakota Festival of Books in Deadwood.

Stories collected will be featured online and on SDPB's In the Moment with Lori Walsh.

The Vietnam War is a 10-part, 18-hour documentary series that premieres Sept. 17 on SDPB-TV and PBS stations nationwide. It features testimony from nearly 100 witnesses, including many Americans who fought in the war and others who opposed it, as well as Vietnamese combatants and civilians from both sides.

Read More About the Festival of Books

The SDHC blog will be frequently updated with author announcements, event information and more. To subscribe to these updates, click here.