Endowment Propels University Press to Spearhead Novel Competition

Photo of Wedel Nilsen and Dr. Susan Swartwout

Wedel Nilsen discusses with Dr. Susan Swartwout, director of the Southeast Missouri State University Press, a gift he has made to the Southeast Missouri University Foundation to launch the Wedel and Dorothy Nilsen Literary Prize for a First Novel.

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., April 4, 2011 — Budding novelists may try their hand at getting their first work published in the new Dorothy and Wedel Nilsen Literary Prize for First Novel competition sponsored by the Southeast Missouri State University Press.

As a tribute to his late wife, Dorothy, and a boost to aspiring, professional authors, Wedel Nilsen of Cape Girardeau, formerly of Elmurst, Ill, has made a gift to the Southeast Missouri University Foundation to launch the Wedel and Dorothy Nilsen Literary Prize for a First Novel.

The annual, national competition will be open to U.S. residents with a completed manuscript in English who have not yet published a full-length fiction novel or novella, said Dr. Susan Swartwout, director of the Southeast Missouri State University Press. The Southeast Missouri State University Press will launch the competition with a Nov. 1 deadline set for submissions.

“Because it is particularly difficult for a first-time novelist to garner publication, The Nilsen Literary Prize will introduce bright, deserving new authors to the literary world and help launch a literary career,” she said.

Manuscripts submitted to the contest will be read and judged anonymously. A final judge will choose the winning manuscript from a pool of finalists.

The winner will receive $1,000 along with publication and distribution of their novel by the University Press.

Swartwout says the competition will provide valuable learning experiences for Southeast students. Student interns who help with production of the winning manuscript into book form will garner hands-on editing instruction and experience, she said.   

The competition also provides other benefits, she says.

“The global public will be introduced to an excellent and worthy new book,” Swartwout said. ‘Hopefully, the winner will get a contract with a commercial press after this.”

Nilsen is a former author who believes in supporting excellent writing and new authors, she said. He spent much of his career writing history and geography textbooks and accompanying workbooks for grades 1-8, most of which were published by Follett Publishing Co.

“It was interesting work,” Nilsen said. ‘I combined illustrations and writing to create lessons. It was a lot of fun.”

Nilsen said he hopes to read the work of the finalists in the novel competition.

“A novel takes inspiration,” he said. “I’ll be interested in seeing some of the work that gets approval.”

Swartwout said writing a novel takes both “inspiration and drive.”

Nilsen says writers are fortunate if they get “a publishing house willing to take their things. You have to put up with a lot of rejection at first.”

He says he’s looking forward to the competition he’s helping launch.

“I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “It gives me a pat on the back to even be associated with it.”