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 2019, the judges are as follows:
Mark Craver Poetry Award
Judge: Sandra Beasley
Sandra Beasley is the author of Count the Waves; I Was the Jukebox, winner of the Barnard Women Poets Prize; Theories of Falling, winner of the New Issues Poetry Prize; and Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life, a memoir about living with disability. She also edited the anthology Vinegar and Char: Verse from the Southern Foodways Alliance. She lives in Washington, D.C., and teaches with the University of Tampa low-residency MFA program. In spring 2019, she is in Ireland as the John Montague International Poetry Fellow for Cork’s Munster Literature Centre (but looks forward to judging poems from afar!).
Virginia Downs Poetry Award
Judge: Henry Hart
Henry Hart, Virginia’s Poet Laureate, has published four books of poetry, the most recent being Familiar Ghosts (Orchises, 2014). He has also published two biographies: James Dickey: The World as a Lie (Picador: St. Martin’s Press, runner-up for a Southern Book Critics Circle Award in 2000) and The Life of Robert Frost (Wiley-Blackwell, 2017), as well as critical books on the poetry of Seamus Heaney, Robert Lowell, and Geoffrey Hill. His poems and essays have appeared in journals such as Poetry, The New Yorker, Southern Review, Yale Review, Sewanee Review, New England Review, Gettysburg Review, Georgia Review, and Kenyon Review. He is the Hickman Professor of Humanities at the College of William and Mary.
Joseph A. Lohman III Poetry Award
Judge: Erica Dawson
Erica Dawson is the author of three books of poetry: When Rap Spoke Straight to God (Tin House, 2018), The Small Blades Hurt (Measure Press, 2014), winner of the 2016 Poets’ Prize, and Big-Eyed Afraid (Waywiser Press, 2007), winner of the 2006 Anthony Hecht Prize. Her poems have appeared in Barrow Street, Birmingham Poetry Review, Blackbird, Literary Imagination, Unsplendid, Virginia Quarterly Review, and other journals. Her poems have been featured in several anthologies, including Best American Poetry 2008, 2012, and 2015. She holds a BA from Johns Hopkins University, an MFA from Ohio State University, and a PhD from the University of Cincinnati. Erica is the Director of the MFA in Creative Writing program at the University of Tampa, where she’s an associate professor of English and Writing.
Mary Roberts Rinehart Poetry Award
Judge: Vivek Narayanan
Vivek Narayanan was born in India and raised in Zambia. He earned an MA in cultural anthropology from Stanford University and an MFA in creative writing from Boston University. He was a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University (2013-14), and a Cullman Fellow at the New York Public Library (2015-16) for work on his ongoing current project, an experimental “writing through” of the Sanskrit of Valmiki’s Ramayana. Narayanan’s books of poems include Universal Beach and Life and Times of Mr S. A full-length collection of his poems in Swedish translation was published in 2015 by the Stockholm-based Wahlström & Widstrand. He is co-editor of Almost Island, a ten-year-old India-based journal, literary organization, and press.
Mary Roberts Rinehart Nonfiction Award
Judge: Dale Keiger
Dale Keiger is a writer, photographer, and walker living and working in Baltimore, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. He has been paid to write since he was a 19-year-old stringer for The New York Times. In a career spanning more than forty years, he has published more than 2,000 pieces in sundry publications large and small. He recently retired from Johns Hopkins Magazine after twenty-six years, the last four as the magazine’s editor. He is now at work on "The 10,000 Days Project," the online record of 10,000 days of his creative work. He takes notes. As Marilynne Robinson wrote in Gilead: “This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it.”
Mary Roberts Rinehart Fiction Award
Judge: Danielle Evans
Danielle Evans is the author of the short-story collection Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, which was a co-winner of the 2011 PEN American Robert W. Bingham Prize for a first book, a National Book Foundation 5 under 35 selection for 2011, the winner of the 2011 Paterson Prize for Fiction and the 2011 Hurston-Wright award for fiction, and an honorable mention for the 2011 PEN/Hemingway award. It was named one of the best books of 2010 by Kirkus Reviews and O Magazine. Her work has appeared in magazines including The Paris Review, American Short Fiction, Callaloo, The Sewanee Review, and Phoebe, and has been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories 2008, 2010, 2017, and 2018, and in New Stories from the South. She received an MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers Workshop, and now teaches in The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University.
Alan Cheuse Nonfiction Award
Judge: Tim Wendel
Tim Wendel is the author of thirteen books, including the award-winning Summer of '68: The Season That Changed Baseball, and America, Forever (Da Capo Press); the novel Castro’s Curveball (Ballantine); the novella Habana Libre (CityLit Press); and Cancer Crossings: A Brother, His Doctors and the Quest for a Cure to Childhood Leukemia (Cornell University Press). A writer-in-residence at Johns Hopkins University, his work has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, National Geographic, GQ, and Esquire. Twice Tim received JHU's Teaching Excellence and the Professional Achievement awards. He was also a Walter E. Dakin Fellow and a Tennessee Williams Scholar to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference.
Alan Cheuse Fiction Award
Judge: Danuta Hinc
Danuta Hinc’s essays and short fiction have appeared in Washingtonian Magazine, Literary Hub, Popula, Consequence Magazine, and Litteraria, among others. She holds an MA in Philology from Gdansk University in Poland, and an MFA in Writing and Literature from Bennington College. She completed three years of postgraduate studies at the Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences. She is the recipient of the Barry Hannah Fiction Award, and the author of the novel, To Kill the Other. Hinc is also translating into Polish The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel by Amy Hempel. She is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Maryland where she teaches writing.
Dan Rudy Fiction Award
Judge: Stefan Kiesbye
Born on the Baltic coast, Stefan Kiesbye moved to Berlin in the 1980s. A DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) scholarship brought him to Buffalo, New York, in 1996, and he received an MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan. His stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, and the Los Angeles Times, among others. His first book, Next Door Lived a Girl, won the Low Fidelity Press Novella Award. Kiesbye’s second novel, Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone, was published by Penguin in 2012. It was a Top Ten pick of Oprah Magazine, made Entertainment Weekly’s Must List, and Slate editor Dan Kois (a Mason MFA alumnus) named it one of the best books of the year. His new novel Berlingeles is available from Revelore Press.
Shelley A. Marshall Fiction Award
Judge: Jen Michalski
Jen Michalski’s debut novel The Tide King was published by Black Lawrence Press (2013; winner of the Big Moose Prize and "Best Fiction," Baltimore City Paper, 2013), and as was her second novel, The Summer She Was Under Water (BLP, 2017). She is the author of two collections of fiction, Close Encounters (So New, 2007) and From Here (Aqueous Books, 2013) and a collection of novellas, Could You Be With Her Now (Dzanc Books, 2013). Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in more than 100 publications, including McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Poets & Writers, LitHub, failbetter, storySouth, Barrelhouse, Baltimore Review, Baltimore Magazine, Baltimore Style, 42 opus, Hobart, The Literarian, The Summerset Review, Gargoyle, wigleaf, The Potomac Review, PANK, Smokelong Quarterly, and others. She is the founding editor of the weekly literary journal jmww.