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What are the Tandem Reader Awards and how are they helping poets?

I’m blown away by the importance and the meaning packed into this project. The folks at the Tandem Reader Awards have attracted support from some outstanding literary community presses and lit mags, such as Milkweed Editions, Copper Canyon Press, Sundress Publicationsand poets and artists such as, Kaveh Akbar, Siaara Freeman, Megan Peak, Chen Chen, Sarah Blake, Heather Bell, Meggie Royer, Orooj-e-Zafar, Francesca Bell, Jeremy Gaulke, and Ruth Foley.

To learn how you can participate and for more info on their early bird chapbook nominations and fee free awards, watch the video and read my in depth interview below with Tandem’s president Rhiannon Thorne.

HOPKINSON: What first gave you the idea for the Tandem Reader Awards? I love a good origin story.

THORNE: It really started with a love affair of chapbooks. We noticed that while there seems to be an upward trend for chapbook prizes which award the winning manuscript publication, there is a real deficit of post-publication awards for these brief collections.

As April and I discussed the possibility of starting our own award, we began researching the competition, so to speak. It became immediately clear that most reader awards were charging in the ballpark of $25 for submissions—a fee that many cannot afford, resulting in a very abrupt gatekeeper to awards in our creative community. Likewise, the publishers for chapbooks are often small publishers who may not be making a profit from their press, let alone have additional funds to nominate from their catalog. We decided that if we were going to move forward, we would only do so if we could guarantee a fee-free nomination process, thus eliminating any monetary obstacles and developing a truly accessible award.

While the idea of “Tandem” began as a way to honor the special relationship between writer and editor that goes into developing, and often hand-binding, chapbooks, it became our creed to both develop an award for this relationship and a commitment to being broadly accessible within the literary community by maintaining fee-free nominations.

We kicked the idea around for a while and began developing our board, and were lucky to have both a business adviser, Kevin McGuirk, and a nonprofit adviser, Erin Elizabeth Smith of Sundress Publications/SAFTA, lend their expertise. From there, well, it’s amazing what a little heart, a lot of time, and some basic networking can do. Our community rocks.

HOPKINSON: I see that you have an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds. How important is it to you that the awards be given fee free?

THORNE: Paramount. An award with a fee privileges those who are able to pay the fee. One of my favorite awards available to our writerly community is the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship, which is run fee-free by the Poetry Foundation. They have been a huge inspiration. We feel it’s important to continue to develop accessible spaces in our community.

HOPKINSON: You have some amazing perks and sponsors, can you tell us a bit about those partnerships?

THORNE: I was lucky, living in Southern California, to make it to make it to both BinderCon and AWP this year, which allowed us to do some networking with publishers and individuals to get the ball rolling. Other connections, of course, come from poets, writers, and artists April and I have worked with in some capacity prior.

Milkweed Editions, Copper Canyon Press, and Sundress Publications have pledged book bundles for our fundraiser; Rattle has pledged subscriptions to their print journal; SAFTA has donated a gift card to be used towards any of their workshops or retreats. It makes me particularly excited to be working with such great and well established nonprofits!

Several poets are offering to hand-write some of their own poems for donors: Kaveh Akbar, Siaara Freeman, Megan Peak, Chen Chen, Sarah Blake, and Heather Bell—if you haven’t had a chance to acquaint yourself with one of these fine individuals, I strongly recommend checking out their work.

Meggie Royer allowed us to use two of her images to make limited edition postcards for our fundraiser, and Orooj-e-Zafar has offered up her talents to create digital broadsides of donor’s own work. We also have these fabulous Francesca Bell broadsides featuring art by Jeremy Gaulke, and four great hand-printed cards by Sentimental Asylum (which is run by poet Ruth Foley).

There are even a couple of perks designed for those who may not be interested in receiving a physical perk, but who want to help us reach our goal. I recently purchased myself a new (old) car to get around at grad school this fall and she’s looking for that special individual who will give her a name, to be printed on a bumper sticker and proudly displayed for everyone in Baton Rouge to enjoy. For a small donation, we can give you a digital shout-out. We even have Spirits Writer Sam Slaughter lending his expertise to craft a donor’s signature drink recipe!

Of course, now that we have the ball rolling, we are networking to bring additional perks to our fundraiser, to surpass our $2,000 goal. The more we raise, the higher the cash prize we can award later this year!

HOPKINSON: When you say “early bird nomination” can you explain what that includes and what the early bird incentives include?

THORNE: We are allowing those who are interested in submitting, either their own chapbook or another writer’s, the option of doing so early by donation. We have two options—either to be able to nominate one chapbook for $25, or two to five chapbooks with a $40 donation. Of course, our intent is to encourage multiple nominations, and as Tandem Reader Awards are a celebration of both the writer and the editor, we are also strongly encouraging editors to nominate chapbooks they have published at their own press.

Early-bird donors will be provided a mailing address to one of our readers. Women writers will be able to also send a PDF to our email to have considered for the Sundress Wardrobe ( These nominated chapbooks will be shared on our social media (FB, Twitter) and updated on our website, allowing them to garner publicity before we open for fee-free nominations.

HOPKINSON: What types of chapbooks and work are you looking for

THORNE: We are open to all types of text-based chapbooks—fiction, nonfiction, poetry, hybrid, and graphic/comic work with a strong literary component. We understand that the page-count on chapbooks varies by publisher, so we’re allowing any collection marketed as a chapbook by the publisher to be eligible for the award.

HOPKINSON: Can you tell us a little about the process and how the awards will be determined?

THORNE: We have volunteer readers who will be picking their favorite chapbooks to move onto a secondary round of reading, from which the top 10 chapbooks will be selected. As the cash prize will be split equally between the author and editor of the chapbook, our selection will be based on quality of both the writing and presentation of the chapbook. Previous publication credits for the author nor press size and notoriety will not be a factor in our judging.

From these finalists, our judge will pick the winner. However, the winner and the remaining 9 finalists will all be housed by SAFTA at their residency at Firefly Farms in Knoxville, TN, to be permanently available in their library for future residents to enjoy.

Non-finalist manuscripts will be given as perks for future fundraisers, to help guarantee subsequent awards and to provide all nominated manuscripts with the opportunity to be further read.

HOPKINSON: If you could say one thing to poets and writers, what would it be?

THORNE: Beyond believing in yourself as a creative individual, believe in your community and be an agent of change when able.

Unable to support Tandem Reader Awards with a financial donation? Help spread the word about their fundraiser and upcoming fee-free awards by sharing their campaign on social media. Use the Indiegogo share tools and the hashtag, #TRA. You can find them on Facebook and Twitter:@TandemAwards. Follow and invite your friends to follow, too! Share their posts and re-tweet their tweets! Thanks for your help!

A 2016 BinderCon L.A. Scholarship recipient, Rhiannon Thorne is the managing editor of cahoodaloodaling, a Sundress Publications journal; an associate interviewer for Up the Staircase Quarterly; and the president of the Tandem Reader Awards, an accessible nonprofit chapbook reader award celebrating the special relationship between writer and editor. Her poetry has appeared in Black Warrior Review, Manchester Review, The Pedestal Magazine, Midwest Quarterly, and The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, among others. This fall, Rhiannon will be moving to Baton Rouge as a MFA candidate in poetry at Louisiana State University.

7 replies »

      • Okay, thank you! The one I’m thinking of definitely had a separate editor, a freelancer who had been with HarperCollins for a long time before striking out on her own. I’ll look into it. Thanks for your quick response.

        Liked by 1 person

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