A writing contest for seniors that grew out of Dallas, Texas, a few years ago is seeing a lot of Vermont winners.
“We have a number of people from Vermont who have entered the contest, and usually it would just be Jean (Yeager) who would get some notice, but this time there were several,” said Larry Upshaw, head of the Ageless Authors Writing Contest.
Yeager, 70, is a prolific playwright and screenwriter who lives in Rutland. He took first prize in the latest Ageless authors contest with his short story, “Old Pirates of the Heart.”
Taking second prize in poetry was Joyce Thomas, of Castleton, who taught English courses at Castleton University for 37 years prior to retiring a few years ago. Her short poem “Something Simple As” and her haiku, “Thaw” earned her the honors.
Edward Myers, of Montpelier, got an honorable mention for his essay, “Rotas-Sator? Sator-Rotas.”
Upshaw said the Ageless Authors contest was started about four years ago by him and the late Ginnie Bivona, a then-83-something poet and novelist who wanted to see her elderly friends be more active and creative. She passed away from cancer last year, said Upshaw.
“There’s lots of contests out there, but you’re going against younger people and sometimes younger sensibilities, and they were not having a lot of success in journals and contests,” said Upshaw.
The theme for this last round was “Short,” said Upshaw. Shorter works, be they prose, poems or essays, were limited to low word counts. Perhaps because of this, there were many entrants, he said.
The contests aren’t on a schedule, said Upshaw, instead they’re held more or less one right after the other. “Coping with Crisis” is the theme for the current contest. He said he got the idea from the COVID-19 pandemic, though submissions don’t have to be about that in particular.
Upshaw said unlike many contests, judges are encouraged to give entrants advice on their writing.
“We have a marvelous group of judges for these contests; they’re writers and poets and editors and professional people from literally all over the world,” he said. “We have people in Europe and India who read out stuff and evaluate, and they’re extremely good.”
Yeager said Monday he met Upshaw years ago when they were both living in Dallas. Their kids were in the same school system, which is how they came to know each other.
Yeager said it’s nice for older people to have a contest geared towards them.
“Before I got into this kind of writing, I was doing a lot of, and still do, playwriting. The way in which somebody over the age of 65, or even 55, writes plays and dramas is based on a whole different cultural kind of set than younger people,” Yeager said. “A lot of directors and producers I sometimes submit stuff to are people in their 30s or 20s and the way in which I write a scene and the language I use — hell, even the content I pick — is very different then what they find from younger writers. That’s just the way it goes.”
He said he was once told by a producer in Hollywood that given his age and where he lives in Vermont he’d do well to write stories that then become adapted.
“Tell the stories, own the stories, from which later screenplays will be made,” Yeager said.
He said he still writes plays, though, and works with the Dorset Theatre Festival.
“These days I’ve been trying to relearn to write, actually, after all these years because right now I’m in the midst of a very long nonfiction memoir which for me is a real struggle because most of the pieces I write are fairly short,” he said.
His story, “Old Pirates of the Heart,” uses the metaphor of pirates and sea chests to talk about looking within oneself. Yeager said he works with incarcerated people and helps them open up about their thoughts and feelings.
Thomas said that in her retirement she’s been teaching a creative writing workshop at Castleton Community Center where one of her students was raving about this contest. She looked over some of her past work and saw a few she wanted to submit. She said she doesn’t think she’ll enter this next round, however.
Her poem, “Something Simple As” is about memories and milk.
“It’s simply a reminiscence about when one used to get milk bottles delivered to your house,” she said.
She said she’s been writing for decades and doesn’t feel her age has shut her out of much. She submitted her last book to a contest and while she didn’t win, a publisher was interested and picked it up.
“I think a lot depends on where one submits in terms of getting published, and I don’t think it has anything to do with age because they don’t know how old you are,” she said. “It has to be fairly decent with the writing but beyond that it’s a crapshoot, because there are so many people writing these days. And I think it’s because of the damned computer, it’s let everyone sit down and write.”
Myers’ entry “Rotas-Sator? Sator-Rotas” is an essay he wrote some time ago about a discovery made an even longer time ago.
“It’s a peculiar story about an artifact from the first century A.D. that was found in what is now Syria,” he said. “It’s a small plaque with some words on it and basically it’s a word puzzle.”
The plaque that serves as the centerpiece for his essay has the words “rotas, opera, tenet, arepo, sator” arranged in a square.
“What’s amusing about this thing is you can read this plaque forward or reverse or up or down,” said Myers.
He first saw the plaque at the Yale University Art Gallery in 2016.
“I took a picture of it, thought about it, and I ended up writing this brief essay because it’s an interesting artifact,” he said. “I wrote an essay on how we as a species use words and get fascinated by words, so it’s kind of a playful thinkpiece on how words blossom in our imaginations.”
He said the Ageless Authors contest is a great opportunity for seniors to see their work published, as other avenues they might pursue tend to be dominated by those with younger sensibilities.
Upshaw said the age limit for the contest has been lowered from 65 to 50. Up to date information on the contest can be found at AgelessAuthors.com/current-contests/.