Contest judges are selected and announced ahead of the submission deadline each year. Judges are selected and invited to participate each year by the creative writing director. In 2020, the judges were as follows:
Mark Craver Poetry Award
Judge: Molly McCully Brown
Molly McCully Brown is the author of the poetry collection The Virginia State Colony For Epileptics and Feebleminded (Persea Books, 2017), which won the 2016 Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize and was named a New York Times Critics’ Top Book of 2017, and the forthcoming essay collection Places I’ve Taken my Body. (Persea Books, 2020) With Susannah Nevison, she is also the coauthor of the poetry collection In the Field Between Us (forthcoming from Persea Books, 2020). Brown has been the recipient of the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship, a United States Artists Fellowship, a Civitella Ranieri Foundation Fellowship and the Jeff Baskin Writers Fellowship from the Oxford American magazine. Her poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in The Paris Review, Tin House, Virginia Quarterly Review, Crazyhorse, The New York Times, The Yale Review, Blackbird, and elsewhere. Raised in rural Virginia, she is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Stanford University, and the University of Mississippi, where she received her MFA. She lives in Gambier, Ohio and teaches at Kenyon College, where she is the Kenyon Review Fellow in Poetry.
Virginia Downs Poetry Award
Judge: January Gill O'Neil
January Gill O'Neil is the author of Rewilding (CavanKerry Press, 2018), Misery Islands (CavanKerry Press, 2014), winner of a 2015 Paterson Award for Literary Excellence, and Underlife (CavanKerry Press, 2009). She is an associate professor at Salem State University, and serves on the boards of AWP, Mass Poetry, and Montserrat College of Art. The recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem and the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, O'Neil is the 2019-2020 John and Renée Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi, Oxford, where she lives this academic year with her two children.
Joseph A. Lohman III Poetry Award
Judge: Sarah Browning
The daughter of a war refugee, Sarah Browning is the author of Killing Summer (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2017) and Whiskey in the Garden of Eden (The Word Works, 2007). She is co-founder and for 10 years was Executive Director of Split This Rock. An Associate Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies, she is the recipient of the 2019 Lillian E. Smith Writer-in-Service Award, as well as fellowships from the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities, Yaddo, Mesa Refuge, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the Adirondack Center for Writing. She has been guest editor or co-edited special issues of Beltway Poetry Quarterly, The Delaware Poetry Review, and POETRY magazine. For 13 years, Browning curated and co-hosted the Sunday Kind of Love poetry series at Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC. She is currently pursuing an MFA in poetry and creative nonfiction at Rutgers University Camden. More at: http://www.sarahbrowning.net
Mary Roberts Rinehart Poetry Award
Judge: Alan Michael Parker
Alan Michael Parker is the author of nine collections of poems, including The Age of Discovery (forthcoming from Tupelo Press in 2020), and four novels. Awards for his poetry include three Pushcart Prizes, two selections in Best American Poetry, the North Carolina Book Award, the Brockman-Campbell Award, the Medwick Award from the Poetry Society of America, the Fineline Prize, the Scott Award, and the Randall Jarrell Poetry Prize (in 2013, 2014, and 2019). New poems of his may be found in APR, Virginia Quarterly Review, the Academy of American Poets’ “Poem-a-Day” program, and elsewhere. Houchens Professor of English at Davidson College, he also teaches in the University of Tampa low-residency MFA program. He can be found at www.alanmichaelparker.com.
Mary Roberts Rinehart Nonfiction Award
Judge: Sean Murphy
Sean Murphy has appeared on NPR's "All Things Considered" and been quoted in USA Today, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and AdAge. His work has also appeared in Salon, The Village Voice, The New York Post, The Good Men Project, Memoir Magazine, and others. He has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and served as writer-in-residence of the Noepe Center at Martha's Vineyard. He’s Founding Director of 1455 (www.1455litarts.org). To learn more, please visit seanmurphy.net/ and @bullmurph.
Mary Roberts Rinehart Fiction Award
Judge: Jessica Anthony
Jessica Anthony is the author of The Convalescent (McSweeney’s/Grove) and Chopsticks (Penguin/Razorbill), a multimedia novel created in collaboration with designer Rodrigo Corral. Chopsticks, called a “21st Century Novel” by the Los Angeles Times, was an Amazon Book of the Month, won App of the Year, and was featured in a Wall Street Journal article on digital publishing. Anthony’s books have been published in several countries, and her short stories can be found in Best New American Voices, Best American Nonrequired Reading, McSweeney’s, The Idaho Review and elsewhere. She is the inaugural winner of McSweeney’s “Amanda Davis Highwire Fiction Award,” and has recently received fellowships from the Creative Capital Foundation for Innovative Literature, the Bogliasco Foundation in Bogliasco, Italy, and the Maine Arts Commission. Her next novel, Enter the Aardvark, will be published this spring by Little, Brown in the USA and Doubleday in the UK. She lives in Maine.
Alan Cheuse Nonfiction Award
Judge: John Lingan
John Lingan is the author of Homeplace: A Southern Town, a Country Legend, and the Last Days of a Mountaintop Honky-Tonk. He is a contributor to the Washington Post Magazine, the New York Times, Oxford American, and many other publications, and is writing a biography of Creedence Clearwater Revival for Da Capo Press. johnlingan.com
Alan Cheuse Fiction Award
Judge: Mattew Norman
Matthew Norman’s new novel, Last Couple Standing, will be published in March 2020 by Ballantine Books. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Baltimore, Maryland and holds an MFA from George Mason University. His first novel, Domestic Violets, was nominated in the Best Humor Category at the 2011 Goodreads Choice Awards, and his second novel, We're All Damaged, was an Amazon bestseller. Visit his blog at thenormannation.com, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @TheNormanNation.
Dan Rudy Fiction Award
Judge: Melissa Scholes Young
Melissa Scholes Young is the author of the novel Flood, winner of the Literary Fiction Category for the 2017 Best Book Award from American Book Fest. Her writing has appeared in the Atlantic, Washington Post, Narrative, Ploughshares, Poet Lore, and Poets & Writers. She’s a Contributing Editor for Fiction Writers Review and Editor of Grace in Darkness: D.C. Women Writers. Scholes Young was named a Bread Loaf Camargo Fellow and a Quarry Farm Fellow at the Center for Mark Twain Studies. She is an Associate Professor in the Department of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C.
Shelley A. Marshall Fiction Award
Judge: Patricia Smith
Patricia Smith is the author of the novel The Year of Needy Girls, a 2018 Lambda Literary Award finalist. She received her MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Make Out Creek, Hippocampus Magazine, The Masters Review, Heart and Humanity Magazine, Salon, Gris-Gris, Prime Number, Tusculum Review, So to Speak, and Parhelion Literary Magazine, where it was nominated for Best of the Net, as well as in several anthologies. Her essay, “Border War,” which appeared in Broad Street Magazine, received a Special Mention by Pushcart. A teacher of American literature and Creative Writing at the Appomattox Regional Governor’s School in Petersburg, she lives in Chester, VA.