Prison professor

A literary prize that really helps
By NINA MACLAUGHLIN  |  December 5, 2007

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Laura van den Berg
There are lots of small presses. Dzanc Books, based near Detroit, is one of them, but it’s not like the rest. There are also lots of writing prizes. The Dzanc Prize, awarded for the first time this year, is one of them, but, again, it’s not like the rest. Dzanc, which began publishing a little more than a year ago, is run by author Steve Gillis and Dan Wickett, founder of the Emerging Writers Network and a former quality controller for an auto-parts supplier. Besides serving as a publishing house (Roy Kesey, Yannick Murphy, and Kyle Minor are among the authors with current or upcoming works in their catalogue), Dzanc is a “nonprofit set up to publish and promote literary fiction, educational programs, and literary journals,” explains Wickett over the phone from Michigan.

The Dzanc Prize awards $5000 to a writer with a promising work-in-progress and a literary-related community-service proposal. What differentiates the prize from most is “there’s no guarantee of getting published,” says Wickett. Instead, the prize “is a means of helping a writer find some money to write and help out some sort of community.”

With 162 entries, the inaugural prize went to 24-year-old Laura van den Berg, a fiction teacher at Grub Street, and an MFA student at Emerson, where she’s the editor of the literary magazine Redivider. Her proposal involved teaching writing workshops to prison inmates. “I’m interested in teaching in alternative environments,” she says over the phone, “and teaching that occurs outside an academic basis.”

Van den Berg had long been interested in teaching in prisons, and the prize gave her an excuse to pursue it. “I believe in the restorative power of art,” she says, “and writing in particular. It’s such a wonderful thing to provide an outlet for people who are in desperate need of one.”

  Topics: Books , Media, Criminal Sentencing and Punishment, Books,  More more >
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