Awards & Prizes

John McCarthy Wins 2017-18 Jake Adam York Prize

Milkweed Staff — 03/04/2018

We are pleased to announce that judge Victoria Chang has selected John McCarthy’s collection Scared Violent Like Horses as winner of the 2017-18 Jake Adam York Prize for a first or second collection of poems, presented in partnership by Copper Nickel and Milkweed Editions. McCarthy will receive $2,000 and his collection will be published by Milkweed in February 2019.

McCarthy is the author of one previous poetry collection, Ghost County (Midwestern Gothic Press, 2016), which was named a Best Poetry Book of 2016 by the Chicago Review of Books. His work has appeared in Best New Poets 2015, Columbia Poetry Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Minnesota Review, Redivider, Sycamore Review, and elsewhere. The recipient of an MFA from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, McCarthy serves as the Managing Editor of Quiddity International Literary Journal and Public Radio Program. He is from Springfield, Illinois. Learn more about McCarthy and sign up for updates about Scared Violent Like Horses here»

About the winning manuscript, judge Victoria Chang said:

Scared Violent Like Horses is the story of a ‘lost boy with a quiet ache’—a story about a boy and a young man who grows up amid the landscape of a vast yet specific Midwest filled with switchgrass, scarecrows, dead leaves, dirt, factories, and family and childhood people. It’s the people the speaker is really writing about—the speaker’s connection and disconnection with those who populate the landscape and the feeling of being different or not fully belonging. McCarthy’s impulse is narrative but this impulse is struck by the lightning of his linguistic powers, as in the poem, ‘Switchgrass’: ‘A mangled cat mats the crankshaft and fan belt, / fur-shredded and soaked.’ Unusual images and figurative language are in abundance: ‘The cornfield’s tassels are wicks burning toward the sky and the fields / are sutured by utility poles marching like a procession of crosses …’ Ultimately, what the reader is left with is a stunning overlap of lost boy and lost landscape glimpsed through the lens of a gifted poet’s magical linguistic and storytelling abilities.”

About receiving the prize, McCarthy said:

“While I never had the privilege of meeting Jake Adam York, I know writers who were mentored by him and who were greatly influenced by his profound and generous spirit. The work that he has left behind is a rare blessing to us all. Receiving an award in his name is an honor I accept with the deepest gratitude. Scared Violent Like Horses is an extremely vulnerable and personal book, and I’m thankful to Victoria Chang for trusting the work and selecting it. I’m also thankful to Wayne Miller and the folks at Copper Nickel for putting such positive energy behind it. Last but not least, to have the book printed with a press founded in the Midwest feels true to me and, ultimately, to the nature of the poems.”

The Jake Adam York Prize is facilitated by the editors of Copper Nickel, and the winning manuscript is published by Milkweed Editions. The prize seeks to honor Jake’s name and legacy with a top-tier, ethical book prize that offers not just publication, but also high-quality design, marketing, and a strong national distribution.

About this year’s prize, Wayne Miller, editor of Copper Nickel, said:

“There were more than 800 manuscripts submitted to the prize this year, which our screeners narrowed to 16 finalists and 8 semifinalists. It’s our opinion that every one of these finalist and semifinalist manuscripts is outstanding and imminently publishable. Indeed, several have already been accepted for publication elsewhere.”


Craig Beaven, Natural History
Emily Bludworth de Barrios, Having Stumbled in a Thicket of Shadowy Desires
Diana Delgado, Tracing the Horse
Melissa Dias-Mandoly, Fusion Figures
Lukas Hall, loudest when startled
Carlie Hoffman, This Alaska
Gary Jackson, origin story
Michael Lavers, After Earth
Rebecca Lehman, Ringer
Rachel Mennies, Salt
Jenny Qi, I will be somewhere else yesterday
Ryan Teitman, The Dream Protects the Dreamer
Michael Torres, Homeboys with Slipped Halos
Ellen Wehle, Eden Underwater
Jihyun Yun, Some Are Always Hungry


Charlie Clark, Summer Music
Ena Djordjevic, Bells in the Afterlife
Matt Morton, Spring if Anything
Emily Skaja, Brute
Alissa Valles, Hospitality
Corey Van Landingham, Love Letter to Who Owns the Heavens
Devon Walker-Figueroa, Be Thou—
Cori Winrock, A Real Spacesuit Is an Envelope of Earth Conditions

And, since screeners do essential—if too-often unsung—evaluative work narrowing the field of entrants, we think it’s important to note each year who our screeners are (both to say thank you and in the interest of transparency). This year’s screeners were:

Brian Barker, author of The Black Ocean (Southern Illinois, 2011)
Carolina Ebeid, author of You Ask Me to Talk About the Interior (Noemi, 2016)
Janine Joseph, author of Driving Without a License (Alice James, 2016)
Shara Lessley, author of The Explosive Expert’s Wife (U of Wisconsin, 2018)
Randall Mann, author of Proprietary (Persea, 2017)
Wayne Miller, author of Post- (Milkweed, 2016)
Juan Morales, author of The Siren World (Lithic, 2015)
Khadijah Queen, author of I’m So Fine: A List of Famous Men & What I Had On (YesYes, 2017)

“Finally,” Miller adds, “we want to mention something briefly about our process. Since a number of entrants had previously published in Copper Nickel, and since other entrants knew one or more of our screeners on a personal level, we were sure to pass the manuscripts among the screeners until no one was tasked with screening work by anyone s/he had published or knew personally. We believe strongly in running an ethical contest, and we try hard to ensure we do so.”

Thank you to all who submitted manuscripts to the Jake Adam York Prize. Submissions will next open from July 1 to October 15, 2018. As always, many of next year’s screeners will be different—as will be the judge. See full guidelines for more information»