Restless Books Immigrant Writing Prize

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Author Ilan Stavans was frustrated and disgusted by the few number of books from his native country translated to English every year. In 2013, only five literary books from Mexico were printed as English editions, according to Nathan Rostron, book editor, writer, and director of marketing for Restless Books.

Stavans, a professor of Latin American and Latino culture at Amherst College, decided to team up with Joshua Ellison, the founding editor of Habitus, a literary journal of Jewish culture and literature.

“They were both interested in publishing international literature—books in translation—so they started Restless Books as an e-book publisher,” says Nathan Rostron, book editor, writer, and director of marketing for Restless Books.

In March, the Brooklyn-based independent company expanded its reach to include print publishing.

“Ilan always wanted to make a way to promote writing from immigrants and to increase the visibility of immigrant artists and also just telling immigrant stories,” Rostron says.

So they came up with the idea of the Restless Book Prize for New Immigrant Writing.

“I kind of think of it as it’s for first time, first generation authors,” Rostron says, adding that people have very strong opinions about what first generation means. “We leave it open to self definition. So some people think that first generation means you’re the first generation born in America. Other people consider it the first generation who moved to America. We let you self define.”

The contest will alternate every year between fiction and non-fiction. This year, the genre is fiction, and the reading period for entries is now through December. Submissions of manuscripts are being accepted online only at restlessbooks.com. The grand prize? A $10,000 advance and publication by Restless Books. The winner will be announced in the spring and published in Fall 2016. And the selected works of five finalists will be published in a digital chapbook. More details about prize and entry requirements are online.

Stavans, whose latest book Quixote, The Novel and the World was published this past September, is one of this year’s judges. The other judges are Maaza Mengiste, an Ethiopian-American writer and documentary maker, and Javier Molea, a New York bookseller who launched a bilingual publishing company.

Rostron insists there’s a need for more stories written by people of diverse backgrounds. He says the publishing world is centered in New York City and staffed by “really well-meaning, liberal-minded white people for the most part.”

“Of course, that’s not entirely true, but I would venture that it’s at least 75 percent white to kind of upper middle class, liberal arts colleges, a lot of Ivy League,” Rostron says. “So the danger is always that we don’t want to be talking to ourselves. We want to be hearing from people who are not us.”

Ultimately, for Rostron it’s about the voice and the writing itself, about a story readers haven’t heard before.

“It’s impossible to define the thing you’re looking for when the thing you’re looking for is something you haven’t seen,” he says. “So we’re looking to be delighted and surprised by talented young writers. It doesn’t have to be off the wall. It could be a traditional story but from a unique point of view.”

Stella Chávez is an education reporter at KERA Public Radio in Dallas. She spent nearly 13 years in newspapers, including six and a half years at The Dallas Morning News. She’s won numerous awards, including the 2007 Livingston Award for Young Journalists in National Reporting, which honors outstanding reporting by journalists under the age of 35. The award-winning entry was “Yolanda’s Crossing,” a seven-part series she co-authored that reconstructs the 5,000-mile journey of a young Mexican sexual-abuse victim from a small Oaxacan village to Dallas. In her spare time, she enjoys writing about her experience as a caregiver.

Find her personal essays: My Parents’ Keeper.

Hear her: Iraqi Refugee Death Puts Spotlight On Crime-Ridden Dallas Neighborhood

Read her series on first-generation Texans and their educators: American Graduate: Generation One

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