New poetry prize named after former Deerfield slave

Staff Writer
Published: 11/29/2019 6:39:57 PM

BRATTLEBORO, Vt. — A Vermont literary magazine and small press catering to the rural LGBTQ population and people of color will begin accepting submissions next month for a new poetry prize named after a woman with ties to Deerfield.

Mount Island has established the Lucy Terry Prince Prize to recognize and support exceptional work by rural poets of color and to honor the life of its namesake, who is considered the first known African-American poet in English literature. Lucy Terry Prince was taken from Africa and eventually enslaved in Deerfield before her freedom was purchased by a successful freedman from Curacao. The two married and, in 1764, settled in Guilford, Vt.

Submissions will be accepted from Dec. 1 through Feb. 15, 2020. Winners will be announced in May 2020.

Shanta Lee Gander, creative nonfiction editor and managing editor of Mount Island, said the new writing competition was born about two and a half weeks ago when Editor-in-Chief Desmond Peeples contacted her with the idea. Gander said she has been involved in research on Prince (including performing her ballad “Bars Fight” in period costume) and thought the contest was a great idea.

The grand prize winner will get $500, be published in Mount Island’s 2020 print anthology, and receive an invitation to read at and participate in a panel next fall. Visit for full submission guidelines and eligibility information.

Contest entrants must self-identity as a person of color currently living in or hailing from a rural area. Gander said the competition does not have a definition of a “rural area,” though submissions from people living in large cities will not be accepted.

Gander said that while people of color may not be associated with rural areas, many can trace their lineage to these locales.

“Our roots in America started rural and agricultural,” she said. “And we’ve come a long way from that.”

According to Mount Island, Prince lived from 1730 to 1821. She and her husband, Abijah, were among the first landowners in Guilford, Vt. The couple raised six children and fostered a gathering space for local slaves and freedpeople.

Prince’s only known work is a ballad called “Bars Fight.” The ballad is about an Aug. 25, 1746, attack on two white families by Native Americans in Deerfield. It is the oldest known literary work produced in English in the New World by a person of color.

Mount Island announced that Major Jackson — who lives in South Burlington, Vt., and serves as the Richard A. Dennis professor of English and university distinguished professor at the University of Vermont — will judge the competition. Jackson also serves as the poetry editor of The Harvard Review.

Intimate friends, relatives, colleagues, and former or current students of Jackson are ineligible to enter, as well as staff and volunteers affiliated with Mount Island, the eligibility guidelines state.

In addition to the grand prize, Mount Island will award prizes to a first runner-up and second runner-up, who will receive $100 and $50, respectively. Both will have their submissions printed on Mount Island’s website and be invited to participate in the fall panel along with the grand prize winner.

Reach Domenic Poli at: or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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