For one, it’ll be a coming out party into Lawrence literary society.
For the other, it’ll be a chance to show her chops in a medium other than the one she uses to pay the bills.
For both, it’s validation of their talent — served with birthday cake on the side.
Tuesday, Feb. 1, is the 109th birthday of Lawrencian and famed writer Langston Hughes. To celebrate, there will be a party at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H., on Feb. 17 that will not only champion the writer’s talent and memory, but also two of Lawrence’s most talented living writers — winners of the 15th installment of the award bearing Hughes’ name.
“The Lawrence Arts Center and The Raven Bookstore began this partnership to recognize emerging writers in the region,” says Susan Tate, the center’s executive director. “These are writers who haven’t yet published full-length volumes, but who are competitive in their fields and we want to encourage these best writers from the region with a monetary prize and recognition from the Arts Center and the Raven Bookstore.”
This year’s winners of the Langston Hughes Creative Writing Award include someone who is an old hat at writing, making a living as a travel writer for more than 30 years — fiction winner Beth Reiber. The other, is a graduate student still refining her talents while teaching others as a graduate teaching assistant at Kansas University — poetry winner Mary Stone Dockery.
The winners, both first-time entrants, were picked by a six-person committee that included former Kansas University English professor Beth Schultz, who was extremely impressed with their abilities.
Schultz says Stone Dockery’s poetry manages to create incredible, vivid imagery within a tiny space.
“She brings together the savage and the tender, the intimate and the far out,” Schultz says. “So, I think in very concise language, she accomplishes a great deal through juxtaposition of image and juxtaposition of tones.”
As for Reiber, Schultz says the story, “Rife with the Tokyo brews” really hit home with her because it is set in Japan, a place Schultz lived for six years.
“I felt that she was really writing for all of the non-Japanese people that I knew while living in Japan,” Schultz says. “She seemed to be able to pinpoint just a range of foibles.”
Fiction winner Beth Reiber
A professional travel writer, Reiber has lived for extended periods in Germany and Japan, and has, for the past 20 years, been the driving force behind “Frommer’s Japan,” “Frommer’s Tokyo” and “Frommer’s Hong Kong.”
So it should come to no surprise that the fiction she entered in the contest, was the first 20 pages of a would-be novel about an inspiring place where she lived off-and-on for three years — Japan.
“I was living there, and I just had an idea of writing what it’s like for Westerners to come and live in Tokyo,” Reiber says. “Because it’s so different from the Western world, even though parts of it look like it would be Western because of the buildings and a lot of the things they’ve adapted from the West, but underneath, it’s still very Japanese.”
Reiber says she has always toyed with writing fiction, but as the single mom of two teenagers, she preferred to do what paid the bills — writing about travel. Squeezing in the time for character development while working on a revision of one of her Frommer’s guides or gathering information for a smart phone travel app is good steady work, but doesn’t leave much time for her to play around with her imagination. She took a few creative writing classes at the Arts Center, but even that was just a slight break from work.
“I always thought (writing fiction) was maybe something I could do when my life slowed down,” she says. “But that hasn’t happened yet because I’m a single mom and I travel a lot and work a lot and I have an 1890 old home that needs a lot of attention.”
That said, she says she’s written five chapters of “Rife with the Tokyo brews” and has a basic plot for the book, which revolves around four women sharing a house in Reagan-era Tokyo. She says its easy to get lost in the characters.
“When I write fiction, it’s like it just takes over, and so I don’t know what the characters are going to say and do,” she says. “So, it’s kind of like I go in this other world and so when I read it the next day, sometimes I’m very surprised because it’s almost like I didn’t write it. It’s very strange.”
Reiber is a Lawrence native, a graduate of Lawrence High, where she was valedictorian there in 1972 before going on to get bachelor’s in German and a master’s in journalism from KU. She says that winning this award satisfies her creative side and is a nice push toward writing a bit of fiction whenever she can shoehorn it in.
“It’s an affirmation, because when I was in my 20s I submitted a short story once, and they liked it and they said it just wasn’t their type of fiction and that I should try elsewhere, but I didn’t,” she says, mentioning another contest. “So, you always wonder ... so, for me, it is an affirmation that I should probably continue to do this.”
Poetry winner Mary Stone Dockery
New to Lawrence, this was Dockery’s first shot at the Langston Hughes Award, given entrants must have lived in Douglas County for at least a year. She made the most of her first entry with what she calls her first contest win since “a coloring contest in second grade.”
Stone Dockery’s poetry has a distinctly Midwestern vibe, and isn’t pretty or flowery. There’s grit and truth to it, which may be why Stone Dockery doesn’t shy away from tough subjects.
“I write a lot of poems about mother-daughter relationships. That’s really big in my writing right now, but also intimate relationships. So, I guess, I write about relationships,” she says, laughing. “But, yeah, especially about motherhood and strained mother-daughter relationships, those are really important to me.”
Stone Dockery is a graduate teaching assistant at KU getting her master’s of fine arts in creative writing. She graduated in 2009 from Missouri Western in St. Joseph, Mo., her home town. She says she took about five years off between high school and college to get to know herself a bit before diving into college, despite the fact that she always knew she wanted to write.
“I want to teach creative writing and I want to write books — lots and lots of books,” she says, adding that she’d like to get her doctorate and teach on the college level.
Since moving to Lawrence in fall 2009, she’s been involved in the literary scene on campus, but hasn’t really dipped her toes into the mainstream Lawrence writing society. She says this win is huge for her — her first paycheck as a poet came in the form of the $500 winners receive, and, on top of that, it negates all the unsuccessful submissions to contests she’s made over the years.
“I will officially be a paid author now! I may never get paid ever again,” she says. “That’s why I tell people they need to submit to this all the time ... even though you get 10,000 rejection letters, you just have to ignore that. I don’t care about that. You only care whenever that one person is like, ‘Wow, we like your poems!” and you’re like, “Oh, I got to one person, yay!” That’s really all that matters, just submit, submit, submit.”