Leon Forrest Prose Awards - 2018

November 28, 7:00 – 9:30 pm CDT, Chopin Theatre


Congratulations to 2018 Leon Forrest Prose Award winners Serena Simpson (l) for nonfiction & Natalie Rose Richardson (r) for fiction!

& to all the 2018 finalists! – L to R: Gabriel Antolin, Serena Simpson, Natalie Rose Richardson, Michael Fischer, Ree Sherwood, Lisa Zook.


The Leon Forrest Prose Awards is an annual competition through which The Guild Complex honors the memory of Chicago novelist, essayist, and educator Leon Forrest (1937-1997) by acknowledging promising new work by emerging and established prose writers in fiction and non-fiction from Chicago and throughout Illinois.

The contest culminates in the annual Leon Forrest Prose Awards event, a public recognition of literary achievement at which semi-finalists in each category, selected by accomplished writers invited by The Guild to be guest judges, read their work, the winners are chosen by audience ballot, and a cash prize of $500 is awarded in each category.





Chopin Theatre



Leon Forrest (1937 – 1997) was a Chicago author of fiction and essays, whose long career as a writer was celebrated not only in Chicago, but with national renown. His work is dense, and rich with the vibrancy and darkness of Chicago. Henry Louis Gates called Forrest’s Divine Days (1992) “The War and Peace of African-American Literature” and he earned a place on Chicago magazine’s list of the Most Important Chicagoans of the 20th Century with what the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame described, upon his induction in 2013, as “stream-of-consciousness writing” that wrestled with “the legacy of slavery.”

His novels, some of which are set in a mythical ‘Forrest County’ that closely resembles Chicago, document a real place by inventing a fictional one. Two wings to Veil My Face (1984) won the Society of Midland Authors Award for adult fiction, the DuSable Museum Certificate of Merit and Achievement in Fiction, the Carl Sandburg Award, and the Friends of Literature Prize. Divine Days, his fourth book, won the Chicago Sun-Times Book of the Year Award for local fiction.

During his long literary career, Forrest served as president of the Society of Midland Authors, wrote for numerous South Side Chicago newspapers (including the Nation of Islam’s Muhammad Speaks, for which he was the last non-Muslim editor,) and published six books. He was a professor at Northwestern University from 1973 until his death in 1997, and served as the head of the African American Studies Department from 1985-1994. This award honors the work and the memory of a great writer whose gifts have not diminished with time, but rather whose work has grown in estimation and relevance, with the hope that his legacy will inspire new generations of Chicago writers.


Tickets: $10 at the door (cash or charge)
(Free to all who submitted to the 2018 competition.)

View Facebook event.


Jessica Anne is the author of A Manual for Nothing (Noemi Press). She also edits Nonfiction for MAKE Literary Magazine and is an artistic director for MAKE Literary Productions’ biannual international Lit & Luz Festival of Literature, Language and art. Jessica Anne is an alumna of The Neo-Futurist ensemble and currently teaches Creative Writing at Roosevelt University.

Vesna Neskow is a writer, editor, and translator. She is the author of travel guidebooks, guides on art and art exhibitions, short stories, feature articles, and TV documentaries. Her work has been published in the US, France, Italy, and Greece and broadcast nationally and internationally. Vesna has translated numerous screenplays, articles, and poetry and is the recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts fiction fellowship.

The founder and poetry curator of “Pesma,” a series on Serbian poetry and song, Vesna has also taught creative writing and has served on the Boards of Four Way Books, the Guild Literary Complex, and Hypertext Magazine and Studio.


Nikki Patin

Nikki Patin has been writing, performing, and educating for almost 15 years. She is a Peabody Award-winning poet, was recently honored with a 3Arts Make A Wave award, and has been featured in The Guardian, Chicago Tribune, HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, and on international television and radio. She has released several chapbooks, a full-length collection of writing and design, two EPs and a full-length album entitled “Bedroom Empire.” She holds an MFA in Creative Non-Fiction from the University of Southern Maine.



Gabriel Antolin, Like Amazons
Gabriel Antolin is a Chicago native who got hir BA from Sarah Lawrence College in New York. Now back in Chicago and getting hir MFA from the School of the Art Institute, ze shares an apartment with five flourishing houseplants. When not writing, ze spends hir time playing video games, knitting, and thinking very, very hard about writing.

Natalie Rose Richardson, The Year of the Cockroaches
Natalie Rose Richardson generally considers herself a writer of poetry but has lately been experimenting with writing fiction and non-fiction. She is a current MA+MFA Candidate at the Litowitz Creative Writing Program at Northwestern University and lives in Chicago.

Ree Sherwood, Finding Judith
Ree Sherwood’s work is published or forthcoming in Pennsylvania’s Best Emerging Poets, Lavender Review, and Rivet. Currently, Ree is pursuing an MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and reading for Carve magazine.


Michael Fischer, Hail Mary
Michael Fischer was released from prison in 2015 and is currently a graduate student at the University of Chicago. He’s a Moth Chicago StorySlam winner, a Luminarts Foundation Creative Writing Fellow, and a mentor for incarcerated authors through the Pen-City Writers program. His work appears in The New York Times, Salon, The Sun, Guernica, The Rumpus and elsewhere, and his audio essays have been broadcast on CBC Radio’s Love Me podcast and WBUR’s Modern Love: The Podcast.

Serena Simpson, High-top Serenade
Serena Simpson is a Chicago native. She is a kid from Cabrini and a Latin School alumni. She earned a BA in English at Spelman College, an MA in Writing & Publishing at DePaul University, and is currently pursuing an MFA and MA at Northwestern University. She writes character-driven fiction and non-fiction and is deeply interested in narratives that revolve around place and memory… and the overlap, interplay, and interstices between them. Serena is a daughter, a sister, and a mother. She loves tacos and cool shoes.

Lisa Zook, Grief: A Memoir
Lisa Noel Zook works as the Director of the InterReligious Institute of Chicago Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. She is a lifelong collector of stories, lover of words, and curator of family memories. She believes the best genealogy is found through the stories of generations and she works to preserve and share her family’s stories. This memoir is an excerpt from a larger work she is developing. She lives in Chicago with her partner Jake and one very lazy hound named Ripley. This work is dedicated to her father, David, and her mother, Karolyn, and to keeping memories alive.

Thanks to the judges & everyone who submitted!


-Author must be 18 years of age or older by the last day of the submission period.
-Author must reside in, or a be a permanent resident of, Illinois.
-Submit one (1) original work of either fiction or non-fiction up to 2000 words (approx. 6-8 pages) per author. No exceptions.
-Previously published work is not eligible.
-Entry must be submitted as .DOC or .PDF file.
-Text should be double-spaced and in a legible 12-point font.
-Remove author’s name from the copy of the story or essay submitted.
-Author must be available to perform at the live Prose Awards event. If selected as a semi-finalist, attendance at the event is mandatory. You will not be considered for the prize if you are not able to perform at the event.
-A submission fee of $5 is required, payable directly as part of the submission process. Submissions without a fee will not be considered. (Your submission fee includes a non-transferable ticket to the Prose Awards event. The submission fee is less than the price of a ticket, so if you plan to attend the event you save money just by submitting + you could win $500!)
-Previous Prose Awards first place winners are not eligible, but previous entrants and semi-finalists are encouraged to re-submit.
-Deadline to submit for 2018 is Saturday October 20th at 11:59 pm CDT. Late submissions will not be accepted.
-Incomplete applications or applications that do not follow these guidelines will not be considered.

The online form will confirm that your entry & payment has been submitted. Please save that confirmation for your records.

You will be notified of the contest results by email on November 16th, 2018.
Semi-finalists will read their work at the live Prose Awards event planned for November 18th, 2018.

If you have questions, please read the FAQs below. If you do not find the answer you need, write to us at: GuildComplex.Programs@gmail.com.


I write BOTH fiction and non-fiction, can I submit in both categories?
No. You may only submit in one category, so choose your best work overall.

What if my story or essay is really good, but it’s more than 2000 words?
In order to judge the entries on the same level, preserve the judge’s sanity, and fix six semi-finalists into one live event we need to strictly preserve the word limit. If you feel an excerpt of a longer piece can stand on its own, you are welcome to submit that as its own piece.

Can I submit two different pieces of less than 1000 words each (or 4 pieces of less than 500 words each, or 8 pieces of less than 250 words each, etc.) so long as I do not exceed 2000 words?
No. You will be judged on only ONE work of fiction or non-fiction up to 2000 words, no matter how much shorter than that it might be.

What if I don’t like reading my own work in public? Can someone else do it?
Some writers don’t like to read to an audience. That’s ok. But like a lot of events with the Guild, we want to bring writing to life for our audiences. And we know no one can do that for your story better than you! We want to hear your voice.

I have a (wedding/job/Dr’s appointment/etc.) the day of the event. Can I skip the live event, or come early/come late?
No. If you are a semi-finalist, you are required to be there in order to remain in the contest, and we ask you to be available for the full event to enjoy the recognition and hear great work by your writing peers.

Why does the Guild require a submission fee? I’m not a rich writer.
We understand. But the submission fee helps offset part of the Guild’s costs for the event, PLUS your submission fee allows you entrance into the event whether you are selected as a semi-finalist or not—and is actually cheaper than a ticket to the event.

Do I have to submit my entry and pay my submission fee through the online form?
Yes. At this time our limited staff support makes this the best way to process entries quickly and accurately. If you are unable to submit or pay online, please email GuildComplex.Programs@Gmail.com well in advance of the deadline to make alternate arrangements, we will do our best to accommodate your needs, but no deadline extensions will be granted under any circumstances.

Should my work focus on a particular theme or style besides fiction or non-fiction?
No, just send us your best (unpublished) work. We look forward to reading it!