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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, Sept. 22-24 in Deadwood. Prizes will be awarded for first, second and third place.

August 9 is the deadline for written submissions 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. Three finalists will be invited to the South Dakota Festival of Books in Brookings for a reading of their work. U.S. Army veteran and 2023 Festival author Brian Turner will announce the winners and hold a workshop specifically for veterans.

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  • Entries must consist of new, unpublished material addressing the military experience, such as recovery or lessons learned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 9, 2023 to:
    Colby Christensen
    1215 Trail Ridge Rd Ste A
    Brookings, SD 57006

Winners, Past and Present

The South Dakota Humanities Council has awarded first place in the 2022 Veterans Story Contest to U.S. Army veteran Jeff West of Brookings for his piece, “The Long Road Home.” West received $500 for his winning entry, which describes his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder after returning home from a one-year combat tour in Vietnam.

While undergoing therapy for his condition, West found storytelling beneficial, and he began teaching online writing classes to encourage other veterans to process their experiences through language. “Several of them commented that thinking through their issues while writing about them helped them as it did me,” West wrote. “Every vet who shares his or her story is unknowingly helping someone deal with their problems.”

West and two other finalists read their work during an awards ceremony at the 20th annual South Dakota Festival of Books in Brookings in September. Gary Grittner of Fort Pierre placed second with “Another Kind of Veteran” and Stephen Randall of Sioux Falls took third place with “Two Paintings.”

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.