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Everyone Has a Story: How Sisters in Crime Works to Help Emerging LGBTQIA+ Crime Writers With Their Pride Award

Former Sisters in Crime president Sherry Harris spotted a need for more LGBTQIA+ representation in crime writing and decided to make her legacy project focused on a new Sisters in Crime Pride Award for Emerging LGBTQIA+ Crime Writers.

Sherry Harris experiences a happy jolt every time she opens her email and learns another emerging LGBTQIA+ crime writer has submitted work to be considered for the Sisters in Crime Pride Award. “I don’t get the actual pages, but I receive an email notice every time someone submits an entry,” she said. “It’s a thrill every time.”

The Pride Award, which features a grant of $2,000 for an emerging writer in the LGBTQIA+ community and manuscript critiques for the five top finishers, is the legacy of Harris’s term as president of Sisters in Crime in 2018-2019. “The goal of the Pride Award is to lift up writers who don’t always feel lifted up,” she said in a recent interview. “It fits so well with the mission of Sisters in Crime.” She references the proud history of the organization, which declares on its website that one of its goals is “to expand shelf space [for diverse writers]—literally and figuratively [and] encourage writers to get a seat at the table not by unseating someone else but by building a bigger table.”

(Rachel Howzell Hall and Alex Segura Discuss Diversity and the Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award.)

Even before her time as SinC President, Harris was struck by the biases faced by LGBTQIA+ authors. “In 2016 I attended a discussion about diversity in crime fiction at a New Orleans Sisters in Crime conference called SinC into Great Writing. Panelist Greg Herren, a gay man who writes in a variety of genres, including mystery and young adult, said all too often, his books were relegated to the LGBTQIA+ shelves in bookstores, limiting his audience. I was stunned by that comment, and it stuck with me,” Harris said.

How Sisters in Crime Helps Emerging LGBTQIA+ Crime Writers

Leslie Karst, who writes the Sally Solari Culinary Mystery series and is one of the judges of this year’s Pride Award entries, agrees with Harris that many hurdles exist for LGBTQIA+ authors.

“It’s a sad fact that there are still few queer authors published by the traditional crime fiction press, and among those books which do make it into print, even fewer have queer protagonists,” she said. “The SinC Pride Award not only gives up-and-coming queer writers a platform by which to be heard, and seen, and read, but it will also hopefully inspire those who don’t currently see themselves portrayed in crime fiction to go ahead and write their story.”

During her presidency, Harris made a point to engage with LGBTQIA+ crime writers, many of whom reported obstacles on their roads to publication. “The bias wasn’t visible except to those who were experiencing it,” she said. When the time came to consider the post-presidency legacy project each Sisters in Crime leader is encouraged to undertake, Harris knew where she wanted to focus.

“My proposal to the SinC Board to establish a Pride Award grew out of my conversations with LGBTQIA+ writers and the organization’s founding principles,” she said. “It also follows the lead of those who established the Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award, an honor given each year since 2014 to a crime writer of color.”

Applicants for the 2022 Pride Award must submit 2,500-5,000 words not previously published—perhaps a short story or manuscript-in-progress—along with a resume and cover letter describing how the applicant is emerging in the genre and how the grant money would be used. The Pride Award is open to those who have not published more than 10 pieces of short fiction or two books. Preference is given to previously unpublished authors. Stories for readers of all ages, from children's chapter books through adults, are welcome.

Applicants aren’t required to be members of Sisters in Crime, which was founded in 1986 by women crime writers who wanted equal treatment with male writers, SinC is now an international organization boasting more than 4,000 members drawn from the ranks of mystery authors, readers, publishers, agents, booksellers, and librarians. Persons of all genders are welcome. Numerous local chapters offer extensive networking and educational opportunities.

The winner of the inaugural Pride Award in 2021 was C.J. Prince of West Orange, New Jersey. Her novel-in-progress was selected by judges (and SinC members) Cheryl Head, John Copenhaver, and Kristen Lepionka. “It was incredibly meaningful to receive this award,” Prince said at the time her winning entry was announced. “It was the first time I had ever let anyone outside of my friend circle read my fiction, and it was really life changing. At times during this journey, I have been told that publishers would not know how to market a mystery that featured a queer protagonist. This award gave me the confidence to stick with my project [and] tell the story I want to tell.”

(Yasmin McClinton: Don't Give Up On Your Writing.)

The $2,000 grant is intended to support activities related to career development, including workshops, seminars, conferences, retreats, online courses, and research activities required for completion of the honoree’s work. In addition, the winner and five runners-up receive a one-year Sisters in Crime membership and a critique from an established Sisters in Crime member. Submissions for the 2022 contest are open until July 31. The 2022 judges are Dean James, Leslie Karst, and Brenda Buchanan. The link to submit is here:

Harris, the author of nine cozy mysteries, says the goal of the Pride Award is to make someone’s dream to be taken seriously as a writer come true. “The talent [of LGBTQIA+ crime writers] has always been there,” she said. “The opportunity to showcase it has not. I was so grateful the Board agreed with me that there was a need for the Pride Award and recognized its importance.”

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