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Guest Blog: BOA Short Fiction Prize-winner ZACH POWERS

I used to keep a folder of hardcopy rejection letters in my file cabinet. OK, so maybe it was two or three folders. These rejections were from the era when many literary journals still required paper submissions. The folks at the post office on Telfair Square in Savannah knew me well. They didn’t even have to ask if the contents of my envelopes were hazardous. They knew that inside was nothing but a stack of paper and a self-addressed, stamped envelope that I hoped I’d never have to see again.

Here’s the thing: at that magical point in literary history, journals only used the SASE to return a rejection letter. These were usually photocopied form letters, often just a slip of paper, one of many rejections clipped from the same letter-sized sheet. Sometimes an editor jotted a note at the bottom, this personal response no small victory. I swear I even once got a rejection that had been duplicated on a Ditto machine.

If a journal wanted your story, you’d get an email. Alas, I’m too young to know if acceptances for stories ever came via phone.

When BOA Editions selected my story collection for their Short Fiction Prize, though, there was in fact a phone call. Dinah Cox, a previous winner of the prize, wrote about her own call from BOA last week. My experience was similar, though when my call came, I had the good fortune of working in a cubicle next to one of my best friends, Gino, a fiction writer himself. If I recall correctly, we celebrated at our favorite restaurant, a Mexican joint with the strangely possessive name Tequila’s Town. I recommend the Piggy Burrito.

Jump ahead a couple months. I get an envelope in the mail, my address handwritten in the curvy all-caps I use when I need something to be legible to others. Another SASE, the American flag stamp in the corner one of hundreds I’ve affixed over my years of submitting. I don’t bother to read the return address. At this point, all each new SASE means is that I need to update the spreadsheet where I keep track of all the submissions I have out in the world. Add another rejection to a list that creeps towards four digits.

But for once, and probably for the only time, this SASE contains something a little bit different. The paper inside—a full sheet, nonetheless!—features my name in bold. Then it mentions my name several more times. Apparently, I am the subject of this letter. Apparently, I am worthy of subjecthood. This is BOA’s press release announcing the winner of the BOA Short Fiction Prize. And surprise, that winner is still me.

I recently moved, and decided it was no longer worth it to haul around the old rejection letters. I’d abandoned my plan to one day paper my office walls in them, anyway. But I saved that press release, maybe even the envelope it came in. Not that I’ve looked at it since the day it arrived, but I like knowing it’s there in my file cabinet, a single sheet large enough to fill the void left by the hundreds of rejections I recycled.

As of last month, my book is an actual object. A beautiful, touchable, thumb-throughable thing. The official release date is just over a month away. People will order my book and an envelope will arrive with the book inside. I hope receiving the book is half as exciting for them as that press release was for me.

And now, like all writers, I’ll go back to waiting for the next piece of good news. A call from my agent, perhaps. Novel sold! Or an email from the editor of a favorite journal. Story accepted! The wait is impossibly long. But I’ll always have that SASE, the one that for once didn’t contain some variation of not good enough. I’m a writer, y’all, and now I’ve got the paperwork to prove it.

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!

Zach Powers's debut fiction collection, Gravity Changes, won the BOA Short Fiction Prize. His work has appeared in Black Warrior Review, Forklift, Ohio, PANK, Caketrain, and elsewhere. He is the co-founder of the literary arts nonprofit Seersucker Live, and leads the writers’ workshop at the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home, where he also served on the board of directors. His promotional writing for television won an Emmy, and he is currently a columnist for Savannah Morning News. For more about Zach Powers, visit www.zachpowers.com.


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