Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize revises guidelines and structure

June 15, 2022

In an effort to improve access to publishing, we at the RCAH Center for Poetry at MSU are pleased to announce a new structure for our publishing imprint, Wheelbarrow Books and the Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize.

Since 2016, we have administered two calls annually for manuscripts: one for previously published poets and one for unpublished poets. Beginning with our upcoming call, submissions are open to work by poets regardless of publication history but must address a theme to be announced with the call. Submissions will be open annually from mid-August to October 1.

In addition to revising eligibility, we have reduced our reading fee from $25 per manuscript to $15 but will continue to award a $1,000 honorarium for the winning manuscript and publication by MSU Press.

Finally, a new theme will be announced for each round. For the upcoming round, it is Breathe In Experience, Breathe Out Poetry:

Muriel Rukeyser, poet and political activist (1913 – 1980), was remarkable in many ways, not least for her poetry’s ability to convey ordinary activities and occurrences of daily life while simultaneously responding to issues of national and international importance. Championing the causes of individuals and movements ranging from the Spanish Loyalists and the Scottsboro Boys to Korean poet and activist Kim Chi-Ha, Rukeyser was deeply concerned with civil rights, women’s liberation, peace, labor justice, respect for the environment, and the power of language, pursuing an activist poetics that insists on honoring both the personal dimensions of human experience and the political forces that shape them. 

Rukeyser’s groundbreaking cycle of poems “The Book of the Dead” (originally published in U.S. 1, 1938),  which investigates the silicosis-related deaths of hundreds of tunnel workers in Gauley Bridge, West Virginia, has inspired generations of documentary and investigative poets with its high stakes, formal versatility and innovation, and continuing social significance. 

In The Life of Poetry (1974), Rukeyser writes of “experience taken into the body, breathed-in, so that reality is the completion of experience, and poetry is what is produced. And life is what is produced.” It is an echo of an earlier expression in “Poem Out of Childhood,” originally published in Theory of Flight (1935), which begins, “Breathe-in experience, breathe-out poetry.”  

Housed in Michigan State University’s Residential College in the Arts and Humanities (RCAH), a living-learning community devoted to using the arts and humanities to make positive change in the world, we at the RCAH Center for Poetry embrace the spirit of Rukeyser’s practice every day. In conjunction with RCAH’s 2022-2023 arts programming theme, Just Breathe, Wheelbarrow Books seeks manuscripts that “breathe in experience, breathe out poetry,” in any of the myriad ways that may be.

For full guidelines and information about our upcoming call, visit our Wheelbarrow Books page. Previously selected authors/titles may be viewed on our Previous Winners page.