Southeast Missouri State University Press

The Cowles Poetry Book Prize

an biennial competition in honor of Vern Cowles, a man who loved literature

2022 Update: Moving forward, the Cowles Poetry Book Prize will take place every other year (on odd numbered years), rotating with our Nilsen Prize. The reason comes down to time–we’re a small press at a small school, and while our resources are sound and secure, the teaching and service parts of our jobs have increased a great deal over the last two years. We love doing this work and sharing amazing books with readers, we just need to spread that work out a little bit. It’s our hope that both Nilsen and Cowles contests will return to an annual schedule in the future, but for now, they’ll take turns rotating annually. The only other change, here, is the Cowles Prize deadline will move from the Spring, where it’s traditionally been, to the fall.

Reading Fee: $25 payable through our Submittable page.
Deadline: November 1, 2023
Prize: $2,000 and 30 copies for the author, publication and distribution of a full-length poetry manuscript with a full-color perfect-bound cover.

Manuscripts submitted to the contest will be read and judged anonymously.


Submission Guidelines

  • Individual poems in the manuscript may have been published previously in a chapbook, magazines, journals or anthologies, but the work as a whole must be unpublished.
  • Translations and previously self-published books are not eligible.
  • Open to any living poet writing in English, age 18 or older, regardless of publication history.
  • Send 48-100 pages of poetry–any style or theme–with a table of contents and an acknowledgements page for any previously published poems.
  • The page count doesn’t include the table of contents or acknowledgements.
  • Manuscripts must be typed, each manuscript page numbered, with the following information submitted in the cover letter field on Submittable:
    • Contest title
    • Manuscript title
    • Author name
    • Address
    • Telephone number
    • Email (if available)
    • Your name and contact information must not appear anywhere else on the manuscript.
  • Contestants may submit more than one manuscript, but a separate entry fee must accompany each manuscript.
  • Please let us know immediately if your manuscript is accepted elsewhere.
  • Employees and students of Southeast Missouri State University Press are not eligible.
  • Failure to follow these guidelines may disqualify entry.

Submit entries with $25 reading fee to our Submittable page:


Winner and finalists will be announced in the winter following the contest deadline, on our website.

For further information email