Veterans Story Contest

Submissions Accepted for Veterans Story Contest July 15-Aug. 15

The South Dakota Humanities Council is sponsoring a storytelling contest for veterans that will culminate with an awards ceremony at the South Dakota Festival of Books Oct. 2-4 in Brookings.

Written submissions will be accepted from July 15-Aug. 15 for the 2020 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.

Submissions Should Address Military Experience

Submissions should consist of new, unpublished material addressing the military experience, such as recovery or lessons learned.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."

Three finalists will be invited to the South Dakota Festival of Books in Brookings for a reading of their work by U.S. Navy veteran and 2020 Festival author Jerri Bell, who will announce the winners and hold a workshop specifically for veterans. Bell is one of many award-winning veteran authors who have appeared at the Festival of Books, which in the past has 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.

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. 

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.

She and former Marine Tracy Crow are the co-authors of “It’s My Country Too: Women’s Military Stories from the American Revolution to Afghanistan” (2017, University of Nebraska Press/Potomac Books).

The South Dakota Humanities Council, a statewide humanities organization that hosts the annual the Festival, will work with the finalists to support their attendance at the Festival Oct. 3 in Brookings. Writers do not need to attend the festival to submit work. A representative can read the author’s work on the finalist’s behalf.

Prizes will be awarded for first, second and third place.

Stories should be submitted to:

Carolyn Marshall-Speakman
1215 Trail Ridge Rd Ste A
Brookings, SD 57006

For more information or questions, contact SDHC at 605-688-6113.

2020 Festival of Books presenter Jerri Bell. 


Winners, Past and Present

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.

South Dakota State University Veterans Affairs and the South Dakota Humanities Council in 2019 created a new veterans storytelling contest that culminated with an awards ceremony at the South Dakota Festival of Books Oct. 4-6 in Deadwood. While similar to the Veterans Writing Prize program conducted by SDHC in 2016 and 2017, the Veterans Story Contest featured a new partnership with SDSU and a dual submission format allowing participants to submit 3-5 minute oral stories recorded on video or written stories of up to 1,500 words (past contests accepted written submissions only).

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.

Event Calendar

6:30 pm | Hilton M. Briggs Library, SDSU Archives and Special Collections