Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize

Wheelbarrow Books, established in 2016, is an imprint of the RCAH Center for Poetry at MSU, published and distributed by the MSU Press.


Submissions are now open for the fourth biannual Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize, open to poets who have not yet published a first book. The winner will receive $1,000 and publication in 2019 under the Wheelbarrow Books imprint. Please see below for guidelines.


A list of winners and finalists of the third biannual prize, judged by George Ellenbogen, will be announced in February 2018 after the winning author is notified.





• Manuscripts are eligible for the Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize if the author has not yet published a collection of original poetry. Translations are not eligible.

• Current faculty, staff, and students of Michigan State University are not eligible to submit their work.

• Multiple submissions are welcome and simultaneous submissions are acceptable (please inform us if the manuscript is accepted elsewhere).

• The Center for Poetry in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities at MSU reserves the right to consider all entrants for publication; a list of winners and finalists will be posted on the Center for Poetry website (poetry.rcah.msu.edu) in June 2018 after the winning author is notified.

• Publication is contingent upon the poet’s agreeing to the terms of the publishing agreement.


Rules and Submission Guidelines


• Manuscripts must be in English and a minimum 64 pages.

• Manuscripts must be typed in a 12-point font.

• Manuscripts must be accompanied by two title pages: one with the title of the collection, the author’s name, address, email address, and telephone number; and one with only the title. Manuscripts will not be returned.

• Submitted poems may have appeared previously in journals, anthologies, or chapbooks, but the collection as a whole must be previously unpublished.

• Manuscripts must be postmarked between December 15, 2017, and February 28, 2018. Early submissions are encouraged. For proof of receipt, send the manuscript using a delivery confirmation service.

• Include the nonrefundable reading fee of $25 as a check or money order payable to Michigan State University. Please include “Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize” on the memo line.

• The postmark deadline for submission is February 28, 2018. Send manuscripts to:


Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize

RCAH Center for Poetry

362 Bogue St., Room C210

East Lansing, MI  48825



2017 Wheelbarrow Books Prize for Poetry










2017 Finalists


Marianne Peel Forman for Overstepping Boundaries: Notes from a Coal Miner's Granddaughter


Mercedes Lawry for Vestiges


Eileen Murphy for The Knife Tree


Joanna White for Drumskin Tight to your Bones


2016 Wheelbarrow Books Prize for Poetry

Congratulations to Cortney Davis, winner of the 2016 Wheelbarrow Prize for Poetry for her collection, Taking Care of Time. Selected by judge Naomi Shihab Nye, Taking Care of Time will be published by the MSU Press in 2018. Cortney Davis, a nurse practitioner, is the author of Leopold's Maneuvers (University of Nebraska Press), winner of the Prairie Schooner Poetry Prize; Details of Flesh (Calyx Books); three poetry chapbooks; two works of nonfiction, and two anthologies (as co-editor). Her poems have appeared nationally and internationally in journals including Poetry, Hudson Review, Crazyhorse, Poetry East, Rattle, and others.

"Davis' skills as a nurse practitioner and her unflinching to-the-bone gifts as a writer mix eloquently to create a manuscript that will grip and compel readers," writes Naomi Shihab Nye. "A great book, not to be missed. It was an honor to select Taking Care of Time for the first Wheelbarrow Books prize."


2016 Finalists

                 Carol Barrett for Alchemy of Breath                    Donald Levering for Long Past the Last Stop


             Ruth Moon Kempher for Backwater News               Robert Miltner for Orpheus and Echo




Wheelbarrow Books Editorial Board


Anita Skeen, Series Editor

Anita Skeen is a professor in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities (RCAH) at Michigan State University, where she is the arts coordinator and director of the RCAH Center for Poetry. Anita began her teaching career at Bowling Green State University, where she received an MA in English literature in 1970 and an MFA in creative writing in 1971. She later taught in the MFA program at Wichita State University, where she received the Regents Award for Excellence in Teaching. She joined the Michigan State University Department of English in 1990. She has been the director of the Creative Arts Program at Ghost Ranch for 32 years and director of the Fall Writing Festival for 16 years. She is the author of six volumes of poetry: Each Hand A Map (1986); Portraits (1990); Outside the Fold, Outside the Frame (1999); The Resurrection of the Animals (2002); Never the Whole Story (2011); When We Say Shelter (2007), with Oklahoma poet Jane Taylor; and The Unauthorized Audubon (2014), a collection of poems about imaginary birds accompanied by the linocuts of anthropologist/visual artist Laura B. DeLind. With Taylor, she co-edited the literary anthology Once Upon A Place: Writings from Ghost Ranch (2008). Her poetry, short fiction, and essays have appeared in numerous literary magazines and anthologies.


Sarah Bagby

Sarah Bagby is the owner of Watermark Books & Café in Wichita, Kansas, and publisher of Watermark Press. Involved in numerous regional and national industry organizations, she advocates for issues facing local independent businesses. She served on the fiction panel of the 2015 National Book Awards.

She loves her store and café, and all the opportunities it affords the staff and customers to come together to create a vibrant literary culture in Wichita and Kansas.


Mark Doty

Mark Doty is the author of nine books of poetry, including Deep Lane (April 2015), Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems, which won the 2008 National Book Award, and My Alexandria, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the T.S. Eliot Prize in the UK. He is also the author of three memoirs: the New York Times-bestselling Dog Years, Firebird, and Heaven’s Coast, as well as a book about craft and criticism, The Art of Description: World Into Word. Doty has received two NEA fellowships, Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundation Fellowships, a Lila Wallace/Readers Digest Award, and the Witter Byner Prize.


George Ellenbogen

George Ellenbogen, a native of Montreal, Canada, studied literature at McGill University and Tufts University in Massachusetts. Between degrees, he worked in the Arctic and lived for extended periods in Mexico and in England. Until his retirement in 2004, he taught poetry at Bentley College in Massachusetts. He is the author of eight poetry collections, including Winds of Unreason (1957), The Night Unstones (1971), Along the Road from Eden (1989), The Rhino Gate Poems (1995), Portes aux rhinos et autres poemes (1997), Winterfischer (2002), Morning Gothic (2007), and Matin d’horreur (2008). He has also published a memoir of his childhood and adolescence in Montreal’s Jewish district, A Stone in My Shoe: In Search of Neighborhood (Vehicule, 2013).

Ellenbogen’s work has been supported by the Whiting Foundation, the Montalvo Foundation, the Karolyi Foundation, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Canadian Department of External Affairs, Gesellschaft fur Kanada Studien, the Canada Council, United States Information Service, and Canadian International Cultural Relations.


Carolyn Forché

Carolyn Forché’s first volume, Gathering the Tribes, winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize, was followed by The Country Between Us, The Angel of History, and Blue Hour. She has translated Mahmoud Darwish, Claribel Alegria, and Robert Desnos. Her famed international anthology, Against Forgetting, has been praised by Nelson Mandela as “itself a blow against tyranny, against prejudice, against injustice,” and is followed by the 2014 anthology The Poetry of Witness. In 1998 in Stockholm, she received the Edita and Ira Morris Hiroshima Foundation for Peace and Culture Award for her human rights advocacy and the preservation of memory and culture.


Thomas Lynch

Thomas Lynch is the author of five collections of poems and four books of essays, as well as a book of stories. His essays, poems and stories have appeared in The Atlantic and Granta, The New York Times and Times of London, The New Yorker, Poetry and The Paris Review and elsewhere.

Thomas Lynch has taught with the Department of Mortuary Science at Wayne State University in Detroit, with the graduate program in writing at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and with the Candler School of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA.  He is a charter member of the faculty of the Bear River Writers Conference at Walloon Lake in Michigan.

He lives in Milford, Michigan where he has been the funeral director since 1974, and in Moveen, Co. Clare, Ireland where he keeps an ancestral cottage.


Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye is the author and/or editor of more than 30 volumes. Her books of poetry include 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East; A Maze Me: Poems for Girls; Red Suitcase; Words Under the Words; Fuel; and You & Yours (a best-selling poetry book of 2006).

Naomi Shihab Nye has been a Lannan Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a Witter Bynner Fellow (Library of Congress). She has received a Lavan Award from the Academy of American Poets, the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award, the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, the Paterson Poetry Prize, four Pushcart Prizes, the Robert Creeley Prize, and "The Betty Prize" from Poets House, for service to poetry, and numerous honors for her children’s literature, including two Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards. Her collection 19 Varieties of Gazelle was a finalist for the National Book Award.

She has been affiliated with The Michener Center for writers at the University of Texas at Austin for 20 years and also poetry editor at The Texas Observer for 20 years. In January 2010 Nye was elected to the Board of Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets. She is also laureate of the 2013 NSK Neustadt Award for Children’s Literature. In 2017 the American Library Association presented Naomi Shihab Nye with the 2018 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award.



Congratulations to William Orem, winner of the 2017 Wheelbarrow Prize for Poetry for his collection, Our Purpose in Speaking. Selected by judge Thomas Lynch, Our Purpose in Speaking will be published by the MSU Press in 2018.

"What distinguishes this evocatively titled collection is the comingling of religious literacy, spiritual fluency and a comfortable apostasy," says judge Thomas Lynch,  "the result, possibly, of an ambivalent relationship with the dead father (always a stand in for the gods) that haunts a fair few of these poems, and the learnedness, intelligence and scholarship that undergirds these astonishing poems."



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