Dec 6 Deadline for David Carr Prize
Students want to be taught “the rules.” To come away from their lessons carrying a clear road map to success: Do these 10 things and you’ll get the right answer, score the top grade, achieve personal happiness and reach professional fulfillment. But the older you get, the more you realize that in any discipline, there are few straight lines to success, and there’s a lot more that’s gray than black and white.
This is definitely true in learning how to write. For every teacher who tells you to cut your adverbs, never use passive voice, and strike extraneous details, there’s another who offers up contradictory examples.
Whatever your field, with experience comes an appreciation for nuance and the understanding that there are few pure sinners and saints, nearly everything and everyone is a lot more complicated.
That was certainly true of the witty and erudite journalist David Carr, a popular and prolific speaker at SXSW, who worked at alt-weeklies in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. before moving to the New York Times in 2002. There he earned widespread raves for his coverage of the media and culture until his unexpected death in 2015 at the age of 58.
In his fascinating, gritty 2008 memoir, The Night of the Gun, Carr turned his significant reportorial skills onto his own dark side, examining his long and dangerous period of drug addiction, violent, abusive behavior and child neglect.
That Carr was able to fight back his demons, and find his way to sobriety, professional triumph, and a joyful family life, should serve as a powerful dose of hope to anyone who feels that their particular struggle is too much to bear.
Throughout his career, Carr was known for seeking out and mentoring young writers, so to celebrate his memory SXSW created the David Carr Prize for Emerging Writers in 2016.
Those Carr inspired include CNN anchor Jake Tapper, the National Book Award-winning author Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose first writing job was as an intern for Carr at the Washington City Paper, and filmmaker Andrew Rossi, who wrote in an remembrance in The Atlantic, “I remember at the 2010 South by Southwest conference in Austin, David saw the film Tiny Furniture, directed by Lena Dunham. He instantly saw that Dunham had an important voice. I remember him running over to meet her and her producer Alicia Van Couvering — he was so excited. SXSW was really a playground for him. There were so many young and talented people in tech, film, and music, and they all flocked to him like a guru. It’s because he was so open and generous, not just with flattering advice, but real, concrete help and connections.”
Economics reporter for the New York Times Natalie Kitroeff said that she still hears Carr’s voice when she writes. “He taught me that becoming a better writer is not the inevitable outcome of keeping your head down and working. You have to force yourself to learn.”
That’s good advice in any field and especially for any student writer hoping to win the David Carr Prize. High school, undergraduate, and graduate students (PhD & Masters included) are invited to honor Carr’s interest in the convergence of new media, technology, and culture by entering their original and unpublished essays or short stories of 500 to 1,500 words. Essay content can be creative writing or factual, citing sources as necessary. Students must be currently enrolled or have graduated within seven months of the Friday, December 6 entry deadline.
Submissions for 2020 should respond to this prompt: “What do we do with our time and lives if society no longer depends on us to work?”
Five finalists will be selected by the SXSW David Carr Prize Advisory Board. Each finalist will receive one Platinum Badge ($1,725 value) to attend SXSW 2020. The winner will be announced as part of the Interactive Innovation Awards ceremony on the eventing of Monday, March 16.
In 2019, students responded to the prompt: “In 2050, warmer global temperatures will lead to…” Read the winning essay,“Women are Getting Hotter,” written by Jordan Holtzer, UCLA School of Law, here. See all the 2019 finalists here.
Hugh Forrest serves as Chief Programming Officer at SXSW, the world’s most unique gathering of creative professionals. He also tries to write at least four paragraphs per day on Medium. These posts often cover tech-related trends; other times they focus on books, pop culture, sports and other current events.