Calling all short story writers in lockdown: Sargeson Prize open

31 March 2020

Owen Marshall.

New Zealand’s richest short story competition, the Sargeson Prize, is open for entries. Sponsored by the University of Waikato, the 2020 competition will be judged by celebrated master of the form Owen Marshall.

The Sargeson Prize, which was launched by the University last year, offers the overall winner a $5,000 cash prize and includes two divisions: Open and Secondary Schools.

Eminent New Zealand writer Catherine Chidgey, who is a lecturer in Writing Studies at the University, initiated and judged last year’s inaugural competition that attracted more than 800 entries.

“We’re excited to open up this competition for the second year, and it comes at an opportune moment, when many people will be looking to distract themselves from the COVID-19 lockdown. What better way to get through the next few weeks than to create an outstanding short story?” says Chidgey.

As well as receiving the cash prize, the winner of the Open Division will be published in Landfall, New Zealand’s longest-running literary journal, and the runners up will be published in Mayhem.

L to R: Judge Catherine Chidgey, Open Division Winner 2019 Sam Keenan, and University of Waikato Pro Vice-Chancellor Allison Kirkman

The winner of the Secondary Schools Division will receive a $500 cash prize and the opportunity to take up a one-week summer residency at the University of Waikato, with accommodation and meals provided, along with mentorship from postgraduate writing students. The winning story will also be published in Mayhem.

Catherine said the competition is about celebrating the short story form, which has a long and proud history in New Zealand. She added that giving writers a deadline to submit their best work was also a useful motivator.

“I firmly believe in the value of creative writing competitions: writers need deadlines. There’s great motivation in knowing entries open 1 April 2020 and entries close 30 June 2020 and you need to have produced your best work in that timeframe.”

She was thrilled to have convinced renowned short story writer and novelist Owen Marshall to judge this year’s competition. Owen has received numerous honours, awards and fellowships for his work. In 2000 he became an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) for services to literature and in 2012 became a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZM). In 2013 he was awarded the Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement.

Owen said the competition with its namesake helped remind us of the roots of New Zealand literature and was an opportunity to give new writers a platform for their writing careers.

“Sargeson showed us you could write in New Zealand and become a successful author without having to travel overseas to achieve that.”

Owen said in judging entries he would be looking for perception, originality, sincerity, word skills and courage in pushing the short story form.

“There are many aspects of a short story and many types. It can be perceptive and informative. It can tell us about the business of living and the relationship we all have with life and the landscape and with each other.”

He was looking forward to being surprised by what this year’s entries would bring to the table.

“Any writing is a collaboration between the writer and the reader. They both come with certain predispositions and hopefully when the two successfully combine, that’s where the magic is.”

Entries open for the Sargeson Prize on 1 April 2020 and close at 11:59pm (NZST) on 30 June 2020. There is no entry fee, and entries are limited to one per writer, per division.

Full entry details and conditions can be found on the University of Waikato website here.

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