Interview About River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize Series

Picture of River Teeth LogoAuthor: Sarah Wells

What makes River Teeth a unique part of the publishing community?

River Teeth counts itself among the best nonfiction journals in the country. Our inclusion of literary journalism in addition to essay and memoir sets us apart from other nonfiction literary journals. The journal’s celebration of creative nonfiction extends to its annual book prize, published by the University of Nebraska Press, and its annual weekend conference dedicated to the genre of creative nonfiction.

Please describe the contests of the River Teeth Journal? How long have you been running these contests? What motivated you to start the contest?

River Teeth runs one annual contest – the Literary Nonfiction Book Prize – which has been running for twelve years. We were motivated to start the book contest by Joe’s interaction with Ladette Randolph, then with UNP. Ladette wanted to solidify Nebraska’s reputation as a leader in creative nonfiction and saw our energy and experience as a way to build a new River Teeth Prize series that would continue to build UNP’s reputation in the field.

What sort of qualities do you look for in a manuscript or piece of work that you are considering for publication or for becoming a finalist in the contest?

We want to be absorbed by the book. If we find ourselves starting to make excuses for it, that is not a good sign. The number one feeling I look for is a sudden realization and attendant worry: “What if someone else would get this book before we get it? How would I live with myself knowing it could have been ours?” As to specific qualities: truth, graceful writing, compelling structure that makes sense within the norms established by the work, a strong and interesting voice appropriate to the subject, etc.

Do you have a specific aesthetic preference? How would you describe that aesthetic?

The River Teeth winners have been very eclectic–just as is our journal. So no specific aesthetic. I think it is far more important that the MS show that the author has considered the special implications of writing nonfiction and met them in an honest way. I do enjoy books that show evidence of strong research, but it’s not a requirement.

What is the most exciting part about running the River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize Series? What has been been most challenging?

The most exciting part is having the chance to notify a winner and then see the book come to fruition. It’s wonderful to attend an author’s reading and signing and to know that our contest played the pivotal role in the publication of a great book. The challenging thing would be if an author uses our contest only to develop cache with an agent and does not plan on accepting the prize. Fortunately, that sort of behavior is very rare.

What is the next exciting thing happening with River Teeth?

River Teeth is most excited about the second Nonfiction Conference in Ashland, Ohio, May 17-19, 2013. We are bringing Rebecca McClanahan and Scott Russell Sanders as our featured presenters along with about a dozen or so other panelists for a weekend dedicated entirely to nonfiction. More information is available on our website: