The Birdwhistle Prizes



In September of 1856, during only its fourteenth trip along the Missouri River, the steamboat Arabia took on water and sank, her hull ripped open by a walnut snag. The wreckage disappeared beneath the mud of the riverbed within days, obviating salvage. No life perished save a mule’s, tied fast to heavy equipment and there forgotten.


More than a century passed before a small team of excavators, led by era-specific maps, a proton magnetometer, and local legend, located the Arabia beneath more than a dozen meters of topsoil at the old Sortor farm. Across the winter of 1988, the team exposed the ship and her artifacts, among them a crate of china, jars of preserved food (still edible), standard supplies, and, curiously, a bound stack of leatherback journals pressed with Percy Birdwhistle’s name.* One passage announced his intentions to institute a set of annual awards, one in poetry, another in short fiction. An anonymous donor has sponsored a prize in Nonfiction.


Editor Birdwhistle’s wishes in mind, we now happily herald the inaugural, eponymous Prizes in Poetry, in Short Fiction, and in Nonfiction.



* In addition to his death having occurred nearly a decade prior to the shipwreck, there is no record that Mr. Birdwhistle had ever traveled so far west.