James Petigru and Carrie McCray

Written by Jayne Bowers

Thirteen or fourteen years ago, I attended the South Carolina Book Festival in Columbia. What a joy it was to walk up and down the long aisles, gawking at vendors’ wares and talking to “real life” authors, publishers, and book sellers. The atmosphere was abuzz with positive energy, and I was agog with excitement.

At the end of one aisle, I was attracted to a table of lively, friendly people and stopped to see what the excitement was all about. Turns out they represented the South Carolina Writers’ Association (SCWW at that time). Happy to be part of the statewide organization, they told me about its many chapters and the annual conference.

I picked up a book and began leafing through it, and one of the women behind the table stood up, smoothed her skirt, leaned in closer and said, “That’s a book we publish each year.” Titled Catfish Stew, it included a variety of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. As I recall, the woman showed me her story and then said something like, “We have fun. And we write, too.”

Really? There’s a book published in the Palmetto State each year by a group of writers? I wondered.

I bought a copy and knew I wanted to be part of such an organization in which people wrote and had fun, two of my favorite activities.

Like all organizations, change occurred over the years, and twelve years ago the South Carolina Writers Association (SCWA) changed the name of its annual literary anthology to The Petigru Review. Named after James Louis Petigru, a staunch unionist who once said, “South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum,” the journal’s contributors believe in their truths like Petigru believed in his. With categories of fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, flash, and first chapter of a novel, the journal serves as a forum which affords SCWA members the opportunity to publish their best works.

There’s nothing like an award to get those creative juices flowing, and each year there’s a Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Award to do just that. Created to inspire writers and to honor one of the founders of SCWA, Carrie Allen McCray, the contest has first, second, and third place winners in these areas:

  • First Chapter of a Novel – 3,500 word limit.
  • Short Fiction – 3,000 word limit.
  • Creative Nonfiction – 3,000 word limit.
  • Poetry – submit up to three (3) poems, not to exceed 80 lines in total.

Every edition of TPR obtains guest judges who select the most polished submissions for publication and for the award. The quality of writing and the judges’ assessments are perhaps part of the reason the Petigru, as it is fondly referred to, earned a positive and relatively lengthy review from Kirkus Review in 2016. Its summative statement: An impressive, wide-ranging collection of a region’s creative voices.

Although we’re still narrowing the search for a judge for the First Chapter of a Novel submissions, the other four judges have been selected: Fiction – Rebecca Hammond Yager; Nonfiction – Joni Tevas; Flash – Luke Whisnant; Poetry – Katie Pryor.

I’ll be writing more about each of them, but in the meantime you can read about their backgrounds, publications, interests, and influences on the SCWA website. Their bios also reveal just what they’re looking for in the areas in which they’re judging. Hint hint.

For now, polish your prose, tweak your story, and submit your work to this year’s The Petigru Review. It’s open for submissions until May 31.

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