Ready Your Pens: TU Literary Contest Opens Submissions

By Z.T. Mitchell

It’s that time of the year again! Submissions are open for the Curtis Owens Literary Contest. Tusculum University student writers can have their works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama recognized by a master of the craft. Monetary prizes of $250 go to the winners.

Held every spring, the Curtis Owens Literary Contest aims to recognize its submitters’ work, putting a spotlight on TU students with a talent for the craft. Student submitters also have the opportunity to be published in Sit Lux, a student-run journal launching its third volume in April.

Woman in blue shirt smiling

Dr. Monic Ductan, award-winning writer and author of the recently published short story collection Daughters of Muscadine, will serve as this year’s contest judge. Ductan, a resident of southern Appalachia and associate professor of English at Tennessee Tech, will announce the contest winners following a reading and Q&A on Thursday, April 11 at 7:00 p.m. in the Meen Center Board Room. A book signing and refreshments will conclude the event.

“When I was a graduate student, I won a writing contest at my school,” said Ductan. “Winning that award gave me the confidence to keep writing. The Curtis Owens awards celebrate student work and reminds them they can be rewarded for their hard work.”

Contest namesake Professor Curtis Owens, a 1928 Tusculum graduate and prize-winning writer, and his wife Billie established the Curtis Owens Literary Prize in 1995 to highlight creative accomplishment among aspiring student writers.

Abi Campbell, a recent TU graduate and winner of last year’s fiction prize, never expected to win in the first place. “From the get-go, I felt like my work didn’t measure up. I felt like my classmates’ work blew mine out of the water, and truthfully, I questioned if I measured up.”

An AOS student who worked full-time, Campbell felt she stuck out. However, it wasn’t until Professor Kelsey Trom, editor and fiction editor of The Tusculum Review, suggested Campbell submit to Curtis Owens that she followed through.

Campbell submitted in all four categories and, to her surprise, took home the fiction prize for her short story “Like Grandma.”

“This story is very near and dear to me,” Campbell said.

“Like Grandma” is a story about a young girl who has to learn to do everything in life on her own. The girl is placed in temporary custody with her grandmother, and, for the first time, feels what it is like to be loved. Campbell based her story on the ones told by her mother, who works in early childhood education, about neglected, unloved, and forgotten children.

“Winning this contest made me so proud of my work . . . It encourages me to seek out other avenues of publishing and pushes me to continue writing. It’s my goal to write a book one day, and since winning that award, I feel like there are at least a few people out there who would read my work. It was truly the confidence boost I needed.”

“The competition is great motivation to get writing and put out your best work,” says Kiersten Paxton, a TU junior and English major whose poem “Take Longer” was selected for last year’s 2022-2023 Tennessee Voices Anthology, published by the Tennessee Poetry Society. Her short story “My Dogs” won an honorable mention in the 2023 Curtis Owens contest.

“My favorite part about the whole thing is getting to meet the guest authors and being able to ask them questions. Learning about their own writing process helps me navigate my own,” says Paxton.

three smiling standing figures with certificates

The submission window for the Curtis Owens awards closes March 11 at 11:59 p.m. Sit Lux submissions close Sunday, March 17 at 11:59 pm. Additional contest guidelines and the submission dropbox are located at Any additional questions can be directed to Kelsey Trom at

Tusculum graduates are ineligible for the awards, but alumni may submit their creative work for the opportunity to be published in the third volume of Sit Lux, Tusculum’s student literary journal. Paul A. Lawless’s (’70) poem “Picture Postcard Day” was published in the 2023 issue.

three standing smiling figures

Past recipients of Curtis Owens prizes include Justin Phillip Reed (’13), winner of the 2018 National Book Award for Poetry, and Anup Kaphle (’08), Executive Editor of Rest of World. Tusculum student writers go on to the highest levels of creative accomplishment, and the judges of the Curtis Owens awards are similarly significant.

U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón, essayist Ethel Morgan Smith, journalist Erin Tocknell, dramatist David Muschell, and nonfiction writers  Patrick Madden and Juljia Šukys have judged past contests.

The Curtis Owens Literary Awards are more than a contest. They’re a chance to both prove and assure, to make your mark on the mountain of literary achievement. It’s for you to show the world what you’re made of.

Your spot on the submission list is open: what are you waiting for?