Backwaters Prize for 2018 has a winner

The Backwaters Press is excited to announce our 2018 winner of the Backwaters Prize. This year’s top prize is $2,500 and publication of the submitted manuscript. The press received over 200 manuscripts from around the world and our dedicated team of readers winnowed that number to the very best of the best, which were then submitted to our gracious judge, Kwame Dawes, for evaluation.


Allison Adair: Ghost Town
Melanie Almeder: The Museum of the Miraculous
Steve Bellin-Oka: Ash Sonata
Gina Franco: The Accidental
Quinn Gilman-Forlini: City of Imaginary Numbers
Carrie Green: Studies of Familiar Birds
William Greenway: Everything We Bring, All We Leave Behind
Michael Lavers: After Earth
Vikas Menon: Skin After Skin
J Stephen Rhodes: Things Not Seen
Carole Stedronsky: Dear Grace

The winning manuscript for the 2018 Backwaters is:
Skin Memory by John Sibley Williams

Our judge Kwame Dawes writes:

“There is a quiet assurance about this collection that speaks to confidence, a kind of intense reflectivity that arrives when a poet is no longer seeking approval or attempting with flash and frenetic earnestness to impress, to startle, to demand praise. Instead, there is a finely shaped vulnerability here, and the intent is to present the self, the imagination full of contradiction and discovery to the reader. These poems move with unhurried purposefulness so that you trust the seething urgency and deliberateness of lines like “memory is a language that’s survived its skin” or the painfully earned benediction and expression of resigned hope in “whatever finally breaks me, I cannot refuse it.” Splendid poetry, never seeking to be pandering in its accessibility, but always, nonetheless, as plainspoken as each complex idea will allow.”

We would like to thank all the poets who submitted their work and congratulate the finalists and Mr. John Sibley Williams for their extraordinary work.

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News from Backwaters Press Authors

We have wonderful news about two of our authors, Twyla Hansen and Trevino Brings Plenty.

Backwaters Press is pleased to announce Twyla Hansen’s newest book, Rock • Tree • Bird, is Winner of this year’s WILLA Literary Award in Poetry by Women Writing the West. The WILLA national competition is named for Nebraska’s own Willa Cather. Congratulations to all the award winners and finalists. For the complete list, go to Women Writing in the West website.

Trevino Brings Plenty’s poem “Not Anyone Can Have One,” from Wakpa Wanagi Ghost River, will be included on an audio playlist that will be used in the Native American Galleries of the Peabody Museum at Harvard for two months starting October 1, 2018 and ending November 30, 2018. The tour and player will be loaned free of charge to adult visitors to add orality to the galleries, update the displays with contemporary voices, and highlight the achievements of Native American artists.

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UnBlocked Workshop, April 2018

Tickets are available for our April 28th UnBlocked Workshop.

Sat, April 28, 2018
11:00 AM – 1:00 PM CDT

presented by Lucy Adkins

Writing poetry involves accessing inspiration, stoking the fire, and doing whatever we can to let the words flow freely. In this workshop designed to encourage and re-energize the poet within, we’ll learn ways to discover the inner muse, create more avenues to inspiration, and using the generative process, we will write our own poems. In addition, we’ll uncover insights into the creative process, and discuss ways to make poetry and the writing of poetry a part of our lives.


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Backwaters Press April 2018 Reading

Wednesday, April 25 at 7 PM – 8:30 PM, Gallery 1516 (1516 Leavenworth Street, Omaha).

Lucy Atkins, Mary Hickman and Natasha Kessler-Rains (select for larger image)

This event is free and open to the public, so join us! Doors open at 6:30pm. Arrive early to enjoy refreshments and peruse the book cart!

Lucy Adkins attended the University of Nebraska and received her degree from Auburn University in Alabama. Her poetry has been published in various journals and magazines which include Rhino, Red Wheelbarrow, Northeast, South Dakota Review, Concho River Review, and several anthologies including Times of Sorrow/Times of Grace, Women Write Resistance, Crazy Woman Creek, and the Poets Against the War anthology. Her chapbook, One Life Shining: Addie Finch, Farmwife, was published in 2007 by Pudding House Press, and her non-fiction book, Writing in Community: Say Goodbye to Writer’s Block and Transform Your Life, co-written with Becky Breed, was published by WriteLife in 2013. She also co-writes a blog of encouragement and inspiration for writers which can be found at

Mary Hickman is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the author of two books of poetry, This Is the Homeland (Ahsahta Press, 2015) and Rayfish (Omnidawn Publications, 2017), which won the 2016 James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, and two chapbooks, Ecce Animot (Projective Industries, 2012) and How to Be Healthy and Heal (Cosa Nostra Editions, 2011). Her work has been featured as a Boston Review Poet’s Sampler and in the PEN America Poetry Series. Her poems and essays have also appeared in numerous journals, including Colorado Review, Fourteen Hills, jubilat, and Sonora Review. She recently read in Turkey and Armenia with the US Department of State’s American Writers on Tour program. A recipient of the Elizabeth Dietz Best Essay Prize, an Iowa Arts Fellowship, and two Iowa Arts Council Awards, she is currently finishing a dissertation on 20th century US poetry and the artist’s book.

Natasha Kessler-Rains is the author of Dismantling the Rabbit Altar and the collaborative chapbook SDVIG, co-written with Joshua Ware. Her writing has appeared in many journals, such as iO Poetry, Blue Mesa Review, and South Dakota Review. She received her MFA from the University of Nebraska-Omaha and now teaches composition, literature, and creative writing at several area universities.

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Upcoming Events for One Book One Nebraska

Nebraska Presence: An Anthology of PoetryThroughout the state, there are events celebrating A Nebraska Presence: An Anthology of Poetry2018’s selection for One Book, One Nebraska.

The following events are currently scheduled.

Saturday, March 24th, 10 a.m. – Auburn Public Library, Contact: Heather

Wednesday, April 4th, 12:30 p.m. – Bellevue University, Contact: Clif Mason,

Sunday, June 24, 2 p.m. Brownville Fine Arts Association presents a reading at the School House Art Gallery, Contact: Jan Chism Wright,

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Nebraska Presence: An Anthology of Poetry Chosen as 2018 One Book One Nebraska

From the Nebraska Library Commission:

Nebraska Presence: An Anthology of PoetryPeople across Nebraska are encouraged to read the work of Nebraska poets in 2018—and then talk about the poems with their friends and neighbors. Nebraska Presence: An Anthology of Poetry (The Backwaters Press, 2007) edited by Greg Kosmicki and Mary K. Stillwell was selected as the 2018 One Book One Nebraska at the Nebraska Center for the Book’s Celebration of Nebraska Books on October 21.
Poems by more than eighty contemporary Nebraska poets are featured in the collection. This includes Pulitzer Prize winner and former Poet Laureate of the United States Ted Kooser, Nebraska State Poet Twyla Hansen, former State Poet William Kloefkorn, several poets who have had their poems read on Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac (Greg Kuzma, Marjorie Saiser, Grace Bauer, and Greg Kosmicki), and widely noted poets Hilda Raz, Roy Scheele, Steve Langan, and many others.
Libraries across Nebraska will join other literary and cultural organizations in planning book discussions, activities, and events that will encourage Nebraskans to read and discuss this book. Support materials to assist with local reading/discussion activities will be available after January 1, 2018 at

Learn more at the Commission’s website.

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October 25 – Backwaters Press Reading Series with Anna Monardo, Emily Borgmann and Roy Scheele

Please join us on October 25 at Gallery 1516 for our next reading event featuring Anna Monardo, Emily Borgmann and Backwaters Press author, Roy Scheele. Visit our Facebook event for more information.  
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Unblocked Workshop Returns November 4 — make your reservation today

Join us for The Unblocked Workshop at Gallery 1516 on Saturday, November 4th. Anna Monardo and Emily Borgmann are our guest presenters. All the details can be found online.

Note: The workshop is free, but we need you to reserve your spot today. Space is limited.

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20th Anniversary Celebration

Thank you to everyone who attended our 20th Anniversary Party on September 30th at Hot Shops in Omaha. We celebrated with the band Prairie Gators and danced the night away.

We enjoyed Swedish meatballs, egg rolls, gelato, the Cattail Quencher (created especially for this event), the fabulous cake above, cookies, cupcakes and brownies. 

Portrait of the Toddfather as a Hot Mess 😀

Todd Robinson mesmerized the crowd with the tale of how our press was created 20 years ago by Greg Kosmicki. Then Greg, Michael Catherwood and Cat Dixon shared their thanks to our team of volunteers who made this party happen and to our authors and to all of you supporters.

Greg and Michael

Photo Credit: Rex Walton

Raffle winners won great prizes like the mini-Todd statue, baskets of Backwaters Press books, book ends and writerly baskets filled with anything a creative person would need to start that novel or collection of poems. Special thanks to the artists who donated fantastic pieces to our silent auction: Robert Klein Engler, Jack & Lori Hubbell, M.A. Prentice, Matt Jones, Kristin Pluhacek, Randi Hunter, and Linda Hatfield. 
We had a blast! Cheers to 20 more years!  

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Backwaters Prize for 2017

The Backwaters Press is excited to announce our 2017 winner of the Backwaters Prize. This year’s top prize is $2,500 and publication of the submitted manuscript. The press received over 300 manuscripts from around the world and our dedicated team of readers winnowed that number to the very best of the best, which were then submitted to our gracious judge, Bob Hicok, for evaluation.


Samantha Deal: Taxonomies / Something Opened
Kathy O’Fallon:  Listening for Tchaikovsky
Sarah Fishman: Birds of Avarice
Dennis Hinrichsen: [triage]
Francine Conley: What Sweetness from Salt
Kristi Carter: Aria Viscera
Emari DiGiorgio: Girl Torpedo
Heather Angier: Hewn
Liz Robbins: Nets Full of Breath

The winning manuscript for the 2017 Backwaters is:

Not Your Mama’s Melting Pot, Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley.

Our judge Bob Hicok writes:

“From jump, there was such sonic, emotional, and intellectual drive to these poems, that I couldn’t resist – why would I want to – the pull of Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley’s vision and sensibility. Verve and élan are words I might use, but they lack sufficient verve and élan. And if I wrote, “his future is bright,” I’d be wrong – his future is here, and this book is as much fire as I can ask for.”

We would like to thank all the poets who submitted their work and congratulate the finalists and Mr. Kingsley for their extraordinary work.

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