Cabin in Colorado. Photo by Pam Houston.

The New Sowell Collection Emerging Writers Prize

By Diane Warner

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For the Sowell Emerging Writers Prize, which opens August 1 for nonfiction manuscript submissions, we are especially interested in books that explore the relationship between human communities and nature.

About ten years ago, I was having lunch with William Tydeman, associate dean of the Southwest/Collection Special Collections Library at Texas Tech University, and Rick Bass, a writer whose papers are in TTU’s Sowell Family Collection in Literature, Community, and the Natural World. Bill and I noticed the director and an editor of TTU Press at another table. Bill, always gregarious and outgoing, said hello to the TTU Press group as we left the restaurant, giving them a smile and a friendly West Texas wave. At some point on our walk back to the car Bill said to me, “We really should find a way to collaborate with the Press, to work on a book.”

The idea of working with Texas Tech University Press on a Sowell book series came up all the time—with Bill Tydeman, Barry Lopez, and several others. There were no obstacles in our way; it’s just that we each had so many other things to do to shepherd this new literary and environmental manuscript collection through its early years. We were all committed to building a strong foundation to ensure years of growth and use. For my part, I oversaw all the curating duties for the Sowell Collection, but I also started an annual conference, a student essay contest, and our first forays into outreach through social media; Sowell Collection manager Kristin Loyd took the lead in a recent digitization project and our virtual reading series; TTU professor and director of Honors Arts and Letters Kurt Caswell taught classes using the archives, mentored students who presented at our annual conference, and offered ideas and contacts for new acquisitions; Bill and Barry were in constant communication, with projects sparking off like fireflies from their open hands—a lecture series, a book of interviews. Working with TTU Press was always there, always on the wish list. 

Serious talks between the Sowell Collection and TTU Press began in 2020. I was tasked with reaching out to some of the writers whose papers are in the Sowell Collection to try to gauge their interest in writing a new piece for a COVID-inspired anthology on “the nature of community in crisis.” Among the varied responses, this from David Quammen: Diane, I would rather spend the same time blurbing a good book by a worthy young writer.

This was such a positive—no, such a great—idea, signaling an extension of our community to aspiring writers! Kurt, Kristin, and I began meeting weekly to discuss an emerging writers book series, keeping in touch with Travis Snyder, the acquisitions editor for TTU Press. We had some funding, we had plenty of enthusiasm, but one day, the logistics of managing a national competition for a book award became quite clear to us all. Not exactly daunting, but layered and complex. At this point, Kurt proposed reaching out to the editors of to see if they were open to a collaboration. They regularly publish a quality online journal that we all read, and two of the editors had presented at past Sowell Collection conferences. They seemed to already be part of our community and we hoped that they would want to join us, share the same excitement, and work together on a new book series. 

Several Zoom meetings later, we are now officially launching the annual Sowell Emerging Writers Prize. How exciting! A collaboration with TTU Press (Travis Snyder, Joanna Conrad, and Katie Cortese), (Simmons Buntin, Elizabeth Dodd, Pam Houston, and Derek Sheffield), and the Sowell Collection friends and staff (Kurt Caswell, Kristin Loyd, and Diane Warner).

For the Sowell Emerging Writers Prize we are especially interested in books that explore the relationship between human communities and nature. Our first call for submissions is for nonfiction, a genre that may be informed by both scientific inquiry and personal experience. Submissions open August 1 and close October 31, and the book prize will rotate annually between poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. The entry fee is $25 per manuscript and the winning writer will receive $1,000 and publication by Texas Tech University Press.

It pleases me to recall that almost everyone who has ever been associated with the Sowell Collection emphasizes the word community when we explain to others what the collection is and why it is important. We are a community and we work together to a common purpose. The winners of this new prize will be inaugurated into a community that includes not only Barry Lopez, Rick Bass, and David Quammen, but also such important voices as Gretel Ehrlich, David James Duncan, Pattiann Rogers, and J. Drew Lanham.

With the Sowell Emerging Writers Prize, the community becomes bigger, stronger, and energized—and it reaches out to a new generation of writers. Visit the Submittable portal on August 1 for the full submission guidelines and to submit. We look forward to reading the manuscripts.



Diane WarnerDiane Warner is the librarian for the Sowell Family Collection in Literature, Community, and the Natural World at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. She is also Texas Tech University Libraries department head for Rare Books, editor of AE: Journal of Literature, Community and the Natural World, and the author (writing as Diane Hueter) of After the Tornado: Poems (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2013).
Header photo by Pam Houston. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.