The HyperTexts

The Story Behind "Lines of Gold" and the Prize It Won but Was Not Awarded

In the fall of 2002, Daniel Fernandez, director of The New York Poetry Forum, asked Rhina Espaillat, a poet and former resident of NYC, but never a member of the Forum, to judge the Forum's Dorothy Neale Memorial Contest. Espaillat gladly agreed, and soon after receiving the blind entries sent to her, replied to Fernandez, giving, by number and title, the list of her choices for First, Second and Third Prize, plus one Honorable Mention.

Some weeks later, not having heard from Fernandez, and wishing to know the names of the poets to whom she had awarded prizes for poems she had judged anonymously, Espaillat wrote to Fernandez asking for that information. He replied some time later, informing her that the Second and Third Prizes had been awarded according to her decisions, but not the First, which had been deemed "inferior" by a "reviewing committee" not identified by names, with whom Fernandez agreed. First Prize had therefore been awarded, instead, to another poem chosen by the "committee" and Fernandez, who hoped that this event would not damage the "amity and mutual respect" presumed to exist between himself and the judge whose decision he had chosen to set aside in favor of his own.

Espaillat objected, as person and as contest judge, to the tampering of the Forum's Director, who, as coordinator of the contest, knew perfectly who all the contestants were, and therefore should have had no share at all in the judging, since the contest was understood to be anonymous by those who had entered it. His intrusion in the adjudication process was therefore in violation of the understanding under which the contest was held, as well as unjust to the unacknowledged winner and offensive to the judge personally. Espaillat's letter conveying her objections received no answer, and neither did her request for the name of the First Prize winner, who had been arbitrarily deprived of his award for a villanelle titled "Lines of Gold."

After several months of effort and inquiry, however, Espaillat succeeded in discovering the name of the legitimate winner, and recently had the pleasure of congratulating him, albeit belatedly, for earning the award he never did receive, but should have. The story is worth airing, not only because it corrects--at least partially--an injustice, but also because it may lead poets, readers, contest coordinators and sponsoring organizations to rediscover the importance of observing sound ethical practices in an enterprise that concerns us all.

The HyperTexts