Brandon Dudley, of Brunswick, won the Maine Chapbook Series put on by the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. Courtesy / Rebecca Dudley

BRUNSWICK — A local teacher has been named the winner of the Maine Chapbook Series, an annual competition put from the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance that highlights emerging Maine writers and poets.

The organization awarded Brandon Dudley $500 and will publish and promote his submission “Hazards of Nature: Stories.”

Dudley, a former journalist for a newspaper in the Baltimore area, is a high school English teacher in Brunswick, where he lives with his wife and two sons.

“I always told myself that when I became a teacher I would have time in the summers to write, but I didn’t really start doing it until I had my first son almost 10 years ago,” Dudley said. “A big inspiration was having kids and realizing I needed to actually give this a shot and follow through on this dream. I didn’t want them to grow up someday and ask me ‘what’s something that you always wanted to do’ and tell them ‘well I always wanted to be a writer and I just never tried.’”

As defined by Merriam-Webster, a chapbook is a small volume containing ballads, poems and tales; almost 60 manuscripts were submitted to this year’s series for fiction. “Hazards of Nature: Stories” consists of three short fiction pieces, each about 20 pages long. The first story,”Coyotes”, won the 2017 Maine Literary Award for Best Short Fiction and was published in The Forge Literary Magazine.

According to Dudley, “Coyotes” is about a young boy who lives on a farm with his father and brothers who try to toughen him up one night by teaching him a lesson. It backfires in a number of ways. In order to choose what other stories to include, Dudley had to look at not only what happens in the story but what it’s really about.

“(The stories) worked together because they’re all in some way about relationships and how we navigate loving the people in our lives and all of the ways that it can go right and it can go wrong,” Dudley said. “The other thing that they all have in common is the theme of the natural world.” 

According to MWPA Executive Director Gibson Fay-LeBlanc, guest judge and American writer Sigrid Nunez selected Dudley’s work because of the underlying sense of compassion that wove his stories together, which she explained in a December statement announcing the winner.

“She wrote about how nothing makes you care more about what happens in a story than feeling like there’s some compassion in the creation of the characters and the telling of the tale,” Fay-LeBlanc said about Nunez’s decision. 

While this is only the second year Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance has run the Maine Chapbook Series, the organization has been connecting and supporting Maine writers since it was founded in 1975. Dudley said he’s been involved in writing workshops run by Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance for years, and won one a scholarship to attend the Slice Literary Writers’ Conference in Brooklyn in 2016. He also received a month-long writing residency in part thanks to Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance.

According to Fay-LeBlanc, Maine Chapbook is a three-year series. The 2019 competition was for poetry, 2020 was for fiction and 2021 will be nonfiction. There are no age limits set on who can submit work. The yearly award includes a $500 cash prize and having the author’s work published and distributed within the year.

LeBlanc also mentioned that as part of the Chapbook Series, the organization just opened a cover contest, so they’re seeking submissions from Maine artists that might work for Dudley’s book.

“We’ll print the books locally and work with Maine bookstores to get them out there,” LeBlanc said. “We’ll also help do a book launch, whether it’s online or in person.”

Having a group like that behind you that makes you feel like there’s somebody else out there that believes in what you’re doing is hugely motivating,” Dudley said of MWPA. “Writing is so solitary most of the time and you don’t know if what you’re working on is going to turn out to be anything worthwhile, or if you’re going down the right path. To have small moments or big moments like this Chapbook is just great reinforcement that maybe I am doing something right after all.” 

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