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Guest Blog: BOA Short Fiction Prize-winner DINAH COX

Every working writer will recognize what I’m about to describe: the simultaneous anticipation, excitement, and dread when an unknown area code appears on one’s cell phone screen. Telemarketers looking for money they don’t need? Planned Parenthood looking for money they do need? Wrong number looking for someone named Lester? During that fateful four seconds before the phone switches over to voicemail, the mind reels like the Rolodexes of yesteryear: do I have any long, lost relatives now living in Rochester, New York? Did I enter any book contests out of Rochester, New York? In my case, the answers to these two final questions were no and—the moment that actually did change my life forever—yes. I knew I had to pick up immediately.

I soon discovered the people at BOA love books in a way that over and over again struck me as authentic, tenacious, and passionate; they’re doing it for what people used to call, “all the right reasons.” The thrill of seeing a book with your own name on its cover was only the half of it: I knew I was joining a long tradition of literature for literature’s sake, people who loved poetry—and now fiction, too—for the pure pleasure of reading, thinking, transforming, speaking, and doing it all over again with the next book and the next one after that. Could I call myself a writer now? Could I keep writing for the rest of my life? Yes and yes.

I entertained a brief, vain fantasy of myself as highly sought-after, though I am glad to announce I refrained from purchasing a jacket with elbow patches, becoming a smoker of pipe tobacco, or having business cards printed with Dinah Cox, Author. The truth is it didn’t take long for me to go back to feeling unnecessarily sorry for myself. The truth is I still endured—and continue to endure—periods during which it was—and still is—difficult to write. The truth is winning the BOA Short Fiction Prize left me very much the same person I was before, though I carried with me a very real injection of that authenticity, tenacity, and passion I was talking about before. The people at BOA gave me a gift I never can properly repay; that is to say, they gave me the gift of belonging to a true literary community, one that values art and artists above all else.

These days, when my phone rings, it’s usually “restricted” or “unknown caller,” both of which I recognize as various facets of the Democratic Party. Most of the time, I do not pick up. But I’ll never forget that day I shut myself into the bathroom so I could hear the voices in Rochester, New York, over the din of my barking dogs. (Later, I learned the BOA offices sometimes feature barking dogs as well.) I’ll never forget that feeling. Aside from the obvious thrill of winning a contest and knowing I’d finally have a book, I also took uncommon pleasure in the realization that someone, someone smart, someone not wholly forced by profession or circumstance, had read my manuscript—from start to finish—and found merit in its pages. And now, thanks to BOA, I have not just a community of fellow writers but readers as well. People paid money to read my book. And some of those purchasers actually read it. From start to finish. And now—here’s hoping—I’ll have the courage to give those same readers another one, and another one after that.

The BOA Short Fiction Prize will be open for submissions from April 1 - May 31, 2017. The winner will receive a $1,000 honorarium and book publication by BOA Editions in spring 2019. Click here for the complete submission guidelines, and send in your manuscripts!

Dinah Cox’s debut short fiction collection, Remarkable (BOA Editions, 2016), won the BOA Short Fiction Prize. Her stories appear widely and have won prizes from The Atlantic MonthlyThe Texas Observer, and Hayden’s Ferry Review. She teaches in the English Department at Oklahoma State University where she also is an editor at Cimarron Review.

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