2024 Contest Judges

Poetry Judge

Steven Blythe

Steven Blythe received his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Minneapolis in the spring of 2022. His work has been published in many literary journals both in the U.S. and abroad, including Moth Magazine, Wasafiri, Tule Review and Five Points. He currently lives in Chicago and teaches English at Lewis University and North Park University.  You can view his work at https://stevenwblythe.com/. Please do not contact the judge regarding contest entries.

Fiction Judge

John Robert Mack

John Robert Mack studied writing in college, published the short story, "Jonny Hates Jazz," wrote a column, "Dancing The Rainbow," for two years in the regional Texas dance periodical, The Dancer's Guide, and has written and produced five plays (one on commission). His play Talking With Jacob won statewide recognition in Wisconsin. He produced an adaptation of the Ray Bradbury story, "The Better Part of Wisdom" with the author's input and blessing. He also self-published (before it was cool and edgy) a book called KEEP BREATHING: Zen and the Art of Social Dance. He has a total of twelve completed novel manuscripts, six plays, and ten screenplays.

John spent almost three years on sabbatical working exclusively on his writing in Virginia Beach. He worked on the Board of Directors of the Hampton Roads writers, where he both attended and taught several workshops including six for one of their 2016 annual conferences. He also took workshops at the Muse in Norfolk, run by Michael Khandelwal who helped him workshop several of his novels. He was extremely fortunate to meet Lauran Strait who has now acted as his editor for over five years. All his words are muchly gooder because of her hard work and solidly cracking whip.

When he returned to Texas, he wrote a column for Out in SA and was a regular contributor to SA Monthly Magazine with both his writing and his photography. He wrote five cover stories and shot for one cover and its feature.

His creation of Zen Monster Tarot has seen sales internationally, shipping out to five different countries.

John has written 16 novels and self-published 9 of them. He is now trying to find an audience for the books. Please do not contact the judge regarding contest entries.

Nonfiction Judge

Donald Vaughan

Donald Vaughan has made his living with words for more than forty-five years. He's worked as a staff writer and/or editor for The Lake Worth Herald, Your Health Magazine and The National Examiner. Since 1991, he's worked as a full-time freelance writer, publishing more than 1,900 articles in scores of magazines and newspapers in the United States and abroad, including Writer’s Digest, Scout Life, Encyclopedia Britannica, VFW Magazine, Vanderbilt Magazine and MAD Magazine.

He also has written, co-written, ghosted, or contributed to nearly thirty-five books. Among them: an examination of the Columbia space shuttle disaster (Sixteen Minutes From Home (with Mark Cantrell for AMI Books) and two celebrity autobiographies (Hollywood Inside and Out: The Kenny Miller Story and Reel Tears: The Beverly Washburn Story, both for BearManor Media).

In addition to writing, he is the founder of Triangle Association of Freelancers (TAF), one of the largest organizations in North Carolina devoted to all aspects of fiction and nonfiction writing. Every spring, TAF hosts a one-day, multi-track conference called Write Now!, in addition to monthly meetings and moderated conversations with prominent writers and editors called TAF Talks.

In 2009, he tapped his journalistic skills as a researcher for the television series I Survived on The Biography Channel. his duties included finding and interviewing individuals who had survived extraordinary circumstances, and writing a comprehensive report about each for the show’s producers. Among those he interviewed, and who were featured on the show, was a California woman who had been viciously mauled by a mountain lion, and a North Carolina woman who had been shot nine times and left for dead as part of a violent gang initiation.

He is a public speaker, lecturing often on freelance writing, censorship and other topics. In 2022, he presented two craft sessions at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference in New York City. Previous speaking opportunities include the annual conference of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), where he lectured on writing and promotional opportunities for nurse practitioners in private practice, and the annual conference of the Garden Writers of America, where he spoke on conducting the perfect interview. Please do not contact the judge regarding contest entries.