Print vs Digital Publishing in the Pushcart Prize

Over at Luna Park, Travis Kurowski’s recent post “Is Something Missing from the Pushcart Prize?” talks about the lack of online journals included in the most recent issue of the Pushcart Prize. It’s worth your time to read, and it is honestly a problem I’ve also witnessed, but have been reluctant to talk about since I was one of the nine guest fiction editors for the current Pushcart Prize. Over the course of about two months in early 2011 I read and evaluated over 800 pieces of fiction and nonfiction from almost 80 journals and small presses. It was an amazingly fun, hectic process.

After publication one big shift I noticed from the 2011 to the 2012 edition concerned major changes in the special mention section. In the 2011 edition the special mention fiction section listed over 130 stories from a diverse list of presses and journals; however, this year’s special mention fiction section only listed 37 stories. That’s a huge hit for journals and small presses and especially for emerging authors, because the special mention section is often the first place an author or press gets any attention from major award anthologies, like the Pushcart Prize. And, as Kurowski mentions, very few come from online sources. Kurowski points out:

All of the smartest and best writers I know write, publish, research, and communicate both in print and online: Benjamin Percy, David Shields, Kelly Link, Michael Robbins, Blake Butler, Laura van den Berg, Margaret Atwood … This isn’t even a point that needs to be made any longer; perhaps in 2002, but not 2012.

I wholeheartedly agree with him. The Pushcart Prize remains one of the best measurements for the current state of small press publishing, and in these horrible economic times a narrower focus on the number of stories and journals recognized in something like the special mention section is not a positive message to send out to struggling presses and journals who work tirelessly to produce the finest product they’re capable of making, regardless if that product is published in print or digital format. The Pushcart Prize needs to continue to list a large and diverse selection of stories in the special mention section; otherwise, the number of emerging writers and emerging presses who go unrecognized threaten to weaken the literary landscape of small press publishing.