Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize

Wheelbarrow Books is an imprint of the RCAH Center for Poetry, with two new volumes of poetry published annually by

MSU Press.


Submissions for the 2019 (Emerging) Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize are now open. See guidelines below, or download them here.

Judge: George Ella Lyon



Inquiries: cpoetry@msu.edu

Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize

RCAH Center for Poetry

Snyder Hall, 362 Bogue St., Room C210

East Lansing, MI  48825









2019 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize (Emerging) Guidelines Eligibility • 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 2019 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may have appeared previously in journals, anthologies, or chapbooks, but the collection as a whole must be previously unpublished.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, 2018, and February 28, 2019. 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, 2019. Send manuscripts to: Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize RCAH Center for Poetry 362 Bogue St., Room C210 East Lansing, MI 48825 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

2018 Wheelbarrow Books Prize for Poetry (Established)

 Congratulations to Brad Johnson, winner of the 2018 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize for Poetry (Established), for his collection, Smuggling Elephants Through Airport Security. Selected by judge Carolyn Forché, Smuggling Elephants Through Airport Security will be published by MSU Press in 2020. Born in Michigan, and raised in Maryland, Brad Johnson holds an MFA from the University of Miami (FL). His first full-length poetry collection, The Happiness Theory, was published by Main Street Rag in 2013. His work has appeared in Atlanta Review, Hayden’s Ferry, J Journal, Nimrod, Permafrost, Poet Lore, Salamander, The South Carolina Review, Southern Indiana Review and others. He lives in South Florida with his wife and two children.


“Smuggling Elephants Through Airport Security is a kaleidoscopic tour of the American moment,” writes judge Carolyn Forché, “as conducted by a poet unafraid of the vertiginous highs and lows of a culture that sends into collision its smart cars, hurricanes, emojis, pop heroes, meth houses, TV pundits, rock stars and refugees. This moment, he writes, is the rising tropical storm surge of American’s second antebellum. One reads these voicings of our collective bewilderment with a frisson of recognition: the present has never seemed more unpredictable and portentous, the future more uncertain. Johnson writes playfully and poignantly about his children, who make cameo appearances schooling their teacher about evolution; his daughter mutes alarm clocks just by pointing at them. His surrealism resides in the blur of absurdities with deeply political ramifications. The secret to the title is revealed by an incident in an airport having to do with a belt buckle shaped like a revolver, and its genius is its argument regarding the thingness of things. The tutelary spirit of this work could easily have been John Ashbery. I have not encountered many poets as brave as Johnson, as willing to go anywhere and see what happens, all the while imagining that even here, even now, it is possible to find one’s way.”



                Jeanine Hathaway, Long After Lauds                                Erin Murphy, Human Resources

     Derek Sheffield, Not for Luck but Letting Go                        Arne Weingart, Counterfactual Regret Minimization




2018 Wheelbarrow Books Prize for Poetry (Emerging)

Congratulations to Kristin Brace, winner of the 2018 Wheelbarrow Books Prize for Poetry (Emerging), for her collection, Toward the Wild Abundance. Selected by judge Sarah Bagby, Toward the Wild Abundance will be published by the MSU Press in 2019.

"Toward the Wild Abundance," writes judge Sarah Bagby, "conjures emotions initiated by the frailty and wonder of our lives. The multifaceted nature of this work demands that it be read for voice and validation. A second reading reveals a deeper commentary on the nature and value of art and the artist. These kaleidoscopic poems also shine brilliance on themes of memory and the passage of time. They fluidly transport us from past to present and into the imagination to pose questions about how our experiences inform identity and meaning. Go to your chosen place and bask in this (or any) day’s dose of her words."

2017 Wheelbarrow Books Prize for Poetry (Established)

Congratulations to Gary Fincke, winner of the 2017 Wheelbarrow Prize for Poetry (Established) for his collection, The Infinity Room. Selected by judge George Ellenbogen, The Infinity Room was released by MSU Press in February 2019.

"The poet holds our hand, separating us from where we were in a way," writes judge George Ellenbogen, "leading us down the mine shaft of his vision, one in which we see perfectly, even as far as those remote layers of meaning. All this is done so richly, convincingly, that we forget our starting points, where we came from, with no especial desire to return to the usual, but instead maintain a driving curiosity to stay with the revelation in these poems, to explore further, because we realize that this poet’s mission touches us in ways we cannot ignore."

2017 Wheelbarrow Books Prize for Poetry (Emerging)

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 was published by the MSU Press in August 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."

2016 Wheelbarrow Books Prize for Poetry (Established)

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 was published by the MSU Press in March 2018.

"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."


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 founder 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.


George Ella Lyon

George Ella Lyon is the author of over forty books, in genres for readers of all ages.

Lyon’s books have received many awards, including ALA’s Schneider Family Book Award, a Jane Addams Honor, a Golden Kite, the Appalachian Book of the Year, and the Bluegrass Award. She’s had numerous Notable and Best Book citations, and her poem Where I’m From is used as a writing model around the world.

George Ella holds a PhD in English from Indiana University, where she studied with poet Ruth Stone. She has taught writing on many campuses and spoken at hundreds of schools, libraries, and conferences throughout the country.

The mother of two grown sons, she is married to musician and writer Steve Lyon and lives in Lexington, Kentucky, where she writes songs and works for peace.


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.




Call us: (517) 884-1932  | Contact Information


Call MSU: (517) 355-1855 | Visit: msu.edu | MSU is an affirmative-action, equal-opportunity employer.

SPARTANS WILL. © Michigan State University



Andrew File System Retirement

Andrew File System, which hosts this address, will be ending service by January 1, 2021. Learn about the retirement process, managing your existing files, and alternative services at the Andrew File System Retirement Information Page.