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. First-place winners receive a $500 prize.

Written submissions are typically accepted during the summer for the contest, which is open to veterans or current service members of any branch of the United States military currently living in South Dakota. We will announce submission details as the deadline approaches.

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.”


  • Entries must consist of new, unpublished material addressing the military experience, such as recovery or lessons learned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, mailing address, phone number, and email address
  • Submit stories by August 12, 2022 to:
    Carolyn Marshall-Speakman
    1215 Trail Ridge Rd Ste A
    Brookings, SD 57006

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, 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 of Books, 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.

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. In 2016, James R. Teller won first place for his essay “The Reunion.” The prize that year was presented by Ron Capps, creator of the Veterans Writing Project.

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South Dakota Humanities Council
1215 Trail Ridge Road, Suite A
Brookings, SD 57006
(605) 688-6113