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Home  >  Reading and Writing  >  Creative Contests  >  Creative Writing Contest
Q & A with Ron Spatz, Founder of Creative Writing Contest
By Mark Baechtel

Contest founder wanted wide-open participation
(Published: September 17, 2006)

In 1981, as a young professor new to the English department at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Ron Spatz -- who has since gone on to found Alaska Quarterly Review and LitSite Alaska, the online literary Web site ( -- had an idea: a creative writing contest that would be open to writers around the state. He talked this week with arts editor Mark Baechtel about the effect this big idea has had on the state's community of writers.


Many colleges and universities have creative writing contests, but relatively few are open to the public at large. What made you want to frame the contest in this way?

When I accepted the position as a professor at UAA in 1980, there were so many opportunities here. The first, of course, was within the university itself through teaching and program-building. The second was to find ways to share one's passion for one's work and mission with the larger community. My creative research agenda included two projects, the Alaska Quarterly Review, which I viewed as a means to connect Alaska to the larger literary world, and the UAA/ADN contest, which I thought could be a means of inspiring literacy through creative expression for Alaskans of all ages. This was especially important to me, because universities in general can be quite isolated from the life of the community. A great university, to my mind, is one that reaches out to improve the quality of life both inside its classrooms and in the communities it serves. I felt the UAA/ADN contest could provide a way of reaching out in a large scale to all Alaskans.

Has the creative writing contest fulfilled your wishes in terms of participation and the quality of work?

The vision for the contest has always been that it should be open to Alaskans of all ages and that it should be community-friendly. We wanted people to tell their own stories in their own words and to be encouraged year after year to send these stories and poems into the world for others to read. As any writer who publishes knows, sending your work out is an act of courage, and it also has the potential to enrich one's experience and to inspire lifelong learning. Although there have been some over the years who have felt that the contest should focus on the work of the nearly professional writers among us, I'm glad the contest has showcased a wide range of writers -- always including new writers and new voices.

I know you've always been pretty involved in the judging; are there any entries that particularly stand out in your mind?

There are too many striking entries over the years that come to mind. It would be unfair to single out any particular one. What does stand out for me is that the contest has increasingly drawn submissions not only from the Anchorage area but from all across the state.

When you started the contest, the personal computer was still a glimmer in Steve Jobs' and Bill Gates' eyes. Do you think the advent of word processing technology had an effect on the contest's growth?

I think it has contributed. I remember the days when I used to type my own work on a Royal typewriter with erasable onionskin bond. Now people can submit their work online, which is so much easier. The first year we might have gotten around 400 entries, which wasn't bad for an opening salvo, and the high point has been around 2,600.

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