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Nelson Algren Short Story Contest

The Chicago Tribune invites writers to enter short stories in our annual Nelson Algren Short Story Contest.

Stories are judged blind and there is no entry fee. Writers can enter up to two stories. We award one winner ($5,000), three finalists ($1,500 each) and six runners-up ($500 each). All stories will be considered for publication in the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row literary section.


This piece first ran in Printers Row Journal, delivered to Printers Row members with the Sunday Chicago Tribune and by digital edition via email. Click here to learn about joining Printers Row.


Details: Previously unpublished short fiction of no more than 9,000 words. Find more specific rules online at printersrowjournal.com.

Deadline: Feb 1. Entries can be submitted online at algren2013.submittable.com.

Past winners

Printers Row caught up with almost all 30 winners of the Nelson Algren Short Story Award last year to talk about what winning the prize meant to them. Here are a few of the answers we received:

"The recognition dazzled me. Later, I became friends with Studs Terkel and Kay Boyle, the judges, toward whom I carry a lifelong gratitude. This prize made an immense difference in my life." — Louise Erdrich, "The World's Greatest Fisherman," 1982 (inaugural winner)

"I was still at an early stage of my career when "Blight" won the Nelson Algren Award, and that kind of confirmation for a younger writer is invaluable. The fact that the prize was named after a writer who wrote about the city I grew up in and whose work I admired gave it special meaning. I would later serve as a judge for the Algren Award, and I was very aware of how important winning this prize would be to the writers whose entries I was reading." — Stuart Dybek, "Blight," 1985

"I'd been writing quietly, but steadily, since my graduation from the Iowa Writers' Workshop a few years earlier. Teaching English as a second language abroad allowed me to support myself and travel. It gave me both the excitement of new countries and new perspectives and the freedom to take risks in my writing and discover my voice. Yet in those pre-Internet days, it was hard to submit stories, so I was writing without much feedback. Winning the Nelson Algren award was a tremendous affirmation of the work I'd been doing, and it gave me confidence to continue. There were many literary luminaries at the awards dinner in Chicago, and I was so honored." — Kim Edwards, "Sky Juice," 1990

"I credit the Nelson Algren Award with launching my career. It won the interest of my literary agent and gave me the confidence to expand my short story into what became my first novel, "The Professor's Daughter." Most important, it made me think of myself as an author. I remember riding in the white stretch limo the Tribune sent to pick me up at O'Hare airport to take me to the award ceremony. I was drinking a vodka and tomato juice thinking, 'If this is what it feels like to be a writer, then I'm SOLD.' Of course, that's not what it feels like to be a writer at all, but it was the loveliest ride!" — Emily Raboteau, "Bernie and Me," 2001

"Winning the Algren Award was a pivotal moment for my writing. I had published two books to little attention and felt like, at the age of 28, my writing career was over before it began. When I found out I had won the Algren, I suddenly felt like I was part of the national conversation, that my writing had merit, that my effort was validated. I still think of that event as one of the great coups of my career." — Joe Meno, "Midway," 2003

"Winning the Algren Award put me on a list with writers I have long admired. I still feel like a bit of an impostor to be on that list. It makes me want to work harder at studying the craft and growing as a writer in order to deserve it." — Billy Lombardo, "Clover," 2011

"Winning the Nelson Algren Award was a tremendous honor and inspiration. Writing can be filled with a lot of rejection and self doubt, so I think more than anything, winning this award helped boost my confidence. It's probably still too early to assess how the award has helped my career, but it's certainly given me enough of a charge to power through the more difficult spells." — Jeremy T. Wilson, "Everything Is Going to Be Okay," 2012

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