Charter Oak Award

Charter Oak Award

About the Charter Oak Award

The Charter Oak Award for Best Historical is Alternating Current Press’ annual writing award to recognize the best pieces of history-themed writing submitted to our history journal, Footnote. We’re seeking individual pieces of historical writing in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, or hybrid that give an author’s intimate or emotional take on historical places, people, events, or ideas. Pieces must noticeably fit a historical theme. The alignment of the award announcement corresponds with the release of our annual edition of Footnote, which contains the winners therein. We especially want to hear from marginalized and underrepresented authors, and we are an LGBTQUIA+ safe-space. Find out more about Footnote: A Literary Journal of History.

What Is the Charter Oak?

Legend has it that this unusually large white oak tree on what early colonists named Wyllys Hyll in Hartford, Connecticut, was where the Royal Charter of 1662 was shoved into a hidden hollow to thwart its confiscation by the English governor-general who wished to revoke the piece of legislation that granted autonomy to the colonists.

Painting: The Charter Oak, oil on canvas, Charles De Wolf Brownell, 1857. Artwork in public domain.

This tree, named the Charter Oak, has since become a symbol of the power of documents and recorded history, the freedom they give us, showcasing the lengths to which one would go to protect, to defend, and to stand by words that could forever change the course of people’s lives. While the Charter Oak is a strong, undeniable piece of American history, its symbol is universal. Words empower us all, the whole world over, and we’ll die to protect our right to them. Here, at Alternating Current, we want to preserve and reward those words that empower us, so that they, too, may go down in history.

Reading Period

Submissions open (issue #9): MAR 1, 2022
Submissions close (issue #9): FEB 28, 2023
FREE submissions: FEB & MAR
Selections made (issue #9): MAR 2023
Publication (issue #9): JUL 2023

The Prizes

The first-place winner receives $100 (upon publication); publication of the winning piece on The Coil and in print in Footnote #9; a listing on the Alternating Current Press award page and on a press release on The Coil; two complimentary print copies of the journal with the winning piece indicated; complimentary digital copies of the journal in all formats; our virtual gold award medallion for use on book covers, social media profiles, and websites; a certificate; and a press release mailing-list email blast.

Second place and third place receive $25 each (upon publication); publication of their pieces on The Coil and in print in Footnote #9; a listing on the Alternating Current Press award page and on a press release on The Coil; one complimentary print copy each of the journal with their pieces indicated; complimentary digital copies of the journal in all formats; our silver virtual medallion for use on book covers, social media profiles, and websites; certificates; and a press release mailing-list email blast.

Nine finalists are published online on The Coil, one per month, with finalist status indicated.

All winners, finalists, and semifinalists receive publication in Footnote #9 (which is published in paperback and ebook formats) and complimentary digital copies of the journal. For issue #9, Footnote will pay $10 for publication of each piece for all finalists and semifinalists selected to appear in the issue. Footnote is distributed through Ingram and all major online retailers, and publication includes a press kit, a book club reading guide, a press release, multiple mailing-list email blasts, social media, review and contest copies, and more.

If we enjoy your entire submission, one or two authors are selected to be the Featured Authors for each issue and will receive a full-page printed profile in the journal. We may additionally ask to see more work or a full collection from authors whose work we admire.

Submission Guidelines

  • This category is only for INDIVIDUAL pieces (not book-length manuscripts) with themes of history. Submissions can be poetry, fiction, hybrid, creative nonfiction, or straight nonfiction, but must noticeably fit a historical theme. Other than the blanket term “history,” there is no set theme per issue.
  • All genres, styles, and subjects within the theme considered. A soft upper limit of 10,000 words is suggested, and preference may be given to shorter works.
  • You may submit up to 5 pieces in a single document file.
  • Submissions are read incognito. DO NOT PUT YOUR NAME OR ANY IDENTIFYING MARKS INSIDE THE FILE, including headers, footers, cover pages, acknowledgments, and file names. If you do leave your identifying marks inside the file, the submission will be read as-is, but the reader may disqualify the submission if he knows you on any personal level.
  • All work must be in English and must be the author’s own. Single work by multiple authors considered. We will also consider reliable side-by-side (English and a second language) translations for this category.
  • If you need to adjust a submission, please use the Request to Edit option through Submittable. Please don’t request to edit for minor flaws, however—all accepted work will go through an editing process and will have the chance to be updated before publication, and your work will not be disqualified for a missing comma.
  • All authors must be at least 18 to submit.
  • Simultaneous submissions allowed. You do not have to withdraw a piece that is accepted elsewhere, as long as you still own the reprint rights after first publication.
  • Previously published pieces are considered, as long as you still own the reprint rights. Don’t include acknowledgments in the file.
  • ACP and The Coil staff may submit work for publication consideration, but they are ineligible to win prizes while on our staff (including volunteers).
  • Submit via Submittable only. We do not accept email submissions.
  • Straight or scholarly nonfiction should have references cited.
  • There is a $4.99 fee for each submission (up to 5 pieces in a submission). You may submit as many times as you’d like, but each submission must be made separately with a separate fee. The fee helps us with needed administration and journal production costs, but it’s not meant to be too inhibitive. If you are unable to pay, please submit during the free months or email us for an alternative submission method.
  • Each paid submission comes with a digital copy of our latest issue of Footnote, currently #4 ($7.99 value).
  • It is highly recommended that you read our past Charter Oak finalists and winners.
  • We will send a response and notification of the winners to every submission by the end of March. Form response only, unless we are interested in publishing your book. We are regretfully unable to provide feedback.
  • Historical pieces can be submitted for free during Black History Month (February), Women’s History Month (March), and Native American Heritage Month (November). We close our free submissions when we reach our monthly Submittable submissions cap, so submit early in the month, and please only submit to free categories once per month, to give everyone a chance to submit before submissions are capped. When free submissions are open, the portal link will be active here.
  • We accept approximately 40 pieces per issue. We do not give out complimentary print editions, except to the first-, second-, and third-place winners of the Charter Oak Award whose work is therein contained. We do give out complimentary digital editions to everyone included in the issue.
  • We acknowledge that we are headquartered on what should be Arapaho land on a street that is instead named for a dead white male president who owned enslaved people and severed Native American Nations apart irrevocably. To honor the reparations that this entire country needs to make, Black writers and Native American Indigenous (United States and Canada) writers may submit for free to this journal (please note that if the portal is not open, then we have reached our free-submission monthly cap until the beginning of the next month).
  • If you’re ready to submit, head on over to Submittable.

Past Charter Oak Award Winners

2022 Charter Oak Award Winners for Best Historical (Footnote #8)
Will be updated here soon.

2021 Charter Oak Award Winners for Best Historical (Footnote #7)
Will be updated here soon.

2020 Charter Oak Award Winners for Best Historical (Footnote #6)
Will be updated here soon.

2019 Charter Oak Award Winners for Best Historical (Footnote #5)
1st Place: “Lynnhaven River, 1706” by Chelsea Bunn
2nd Place: “Cardinal Virtues” by Gretchen Rockwell
3rd Place: “The Girl from No Gun Ri” by Esther Ra
Finalist: “The Notary’s Conquest (A Fragment)” by Deva Eveland
Finalist: “For Samuel Ajayi Crowther” by Ayokunle Falomo
Finalist: “The Explosion at the Arsenal” by Jamie Todd Hamilton
Finalist: “The Death of History” by Jahman Hill
Finalist: “Beginnings Emerge out of Endings and the Like” by D. Seth Horton
Finalist: “Jubilo Done Pass” by Jeremy Ray Jewell
Finalist: “At New Lebanon They Danced Like Ghosts” by Bob Sykora
Finalist: “The Train” by Anique Sara Taylor
Finalist: “After the Hostile Takeover, 1990” by Laura Budofsky Wisniewski

2018 Charter Oak Award Winners for Best Historical (Footnote #4)
1st Place: “After I Get Top Surgery, J. Robert Oppenheimer Watches Me Make Out with My Partner” by Linnet Ezra
2nd Place: “Yara ni ‘Ua” by Rebecca Pelky
3rd Place: “The Nurseryman” by Arthur Allen
4th Place: “Brothertown” by Rebecca Pelky
5th Place: “Nights Spent Flying” by DeMisty D. Bellinger
Finalist: “Let’s Ask Leda about Consent” by Rebecca Pelky
Finalist: “Get the Story” by Charissa Menefee
Finalist: “Twenty Mile Dead” by Robert Busby
Finalist: “The Well-Shooter’s Wake” by Lenore Hart
Finalist: “Lost Language” by Kindra McDonald
Finalist: “Maternal Bonds” by Kindra McDonald
Finalist: “Athanasia” by Marion Lake

2017 Charter Oak Award Winners for Best Historical (Footnote #3)
1st Place: “Baroness Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven & the Fountain” by Stacey Balkun
2nd Place: “Red Cross” by Kierstin Bridger
3rd Place: “Ancestors” by Laura Potts
4th Place: “Sheets” by Cynthia Anderson
5th Place: “1955” by Stacey Balkun
Finalist: “Were You There?” by Sue Blaustein
Finalist: “radium girls” by Toby Buckley
Finalist: “Āfa-Bat” by Toby Buckley
Finalist: “Learned in the Old Ways” by Jon Chaiim McConnell
Finalist: “Blindfold” by Joyce Schmid
Finalist: “The Ballad of Luella and the Tame Parrot” by Chavonn Williams Shen
Finalist: “By you that made me” by Micah Vider

2016 Charter Oak Award Winners for Best Historical (Footnote #2)
1st Place: “Michigan Sugar Beet Harvest, 1944” by Mary Buchinger
2nd Place: “Your Bonnet” by Raymond Luczak
3rd Place: “Salt” by Holly M. Wendt
4th Place: “The Search for John Doe No. 2” by Rodney Wilhite
5th Place: “The Death & Birth of Jesse James on April 3, 1882” by GennaRose Nethercott
Finalist: “I Meet Geronimo” by Charles Bane, Jr.
Finalist: “Lodger in the Ripper’s Room” by John Paul Davies
Finalist: “Ernest Hemingway and Hugh Casey, the Artist and the Ballplayer” by Alan Catlin
Finalist: “That the true owner may have it again” by Holly M. Wendt
Finalist: “Out of the dust, light and power” by Yasmin Khan Murgai
Finalist: “Queen of the Mist” by Cynthia Anderson
Finalist: “Emerald Beauties” by Jon Sindell

2015 Charter Oak Award Winners for Best Historical (Footnote #1)
1st Place: “My Father Tells Us about Leaving Vilnius” by Lyn Lifshin
2nd Place: “The Romanov Family Portrait” by Christina Elaine Collins
3rd Place: “Eva” by Elizabeth Laura Woollett
4th Place: “Titanic” by Sean Brendan-Brown
5th Place: “Lynchable Offenses in Alabama, 1889–1920” by Jesseca Cornelson
Finalist: “The Dictionary” by Claudia Serea
Finalist: “The Diabolical Voodoo Experiments of Harry Smith, Folk Music Anthologist” by Ed Hamilton
Finalist: “Gorsas’ Guillotine: A Nonfiction Narrative of Wordsworth and Carlyle” by James O’Brien
Finalist: “The Ballad of Augustin Lefavre” by R. Joseph Capet
Finalist: “No Pasarán!” by Luther Jett
Finalist: “Ode to the Couches of the 1950s” Brian Le Lay
Finalist: “Strathcona Park” by Pearl Pirie

Selection & Judging Process

We subscribe to the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP) Contest Code of Ethics: “CLMP’s community of independent literary publishers believes that ethical contests serve our shared goal: to connect writers and readers by publishing exceptional writing. We believe that intent to act ethically, clarity of guidelines, and transparency of process form the foundation of an ethical contest. To that end, we agree to 1.) conduct our contests as ethically as possible and to address any unethical behavior on the part of our readers, judges, or editors; 2.) to provide clear and specific contest guidelines—defining conflict of interest for all parties involved; and 3.) to make the mechanics of our selection process available to the public. This Code recognizes that different contest models produce different results, but that each model can be run ethically. We have adopted this Code to reinforce our integrity and dedication as a publishing community and to ensure that our contests contribute to a vibrant literary heritage.”

  1. We take submissions through Submittable and use its tools and our own to accept incognito submissions. The editor-in-chief has access to the information, but she does not read or accept submissions. While the editor-in-chief determines what is published on our press, she does not make judging decisions for awards.
  2. We ask submitters not to include their names, contact information, or any identifying marks within the documents, titles, and file names of submissions.
  3. Staff members of Alternating Current may have pieces published on The Coil or submit pieces for incognito submission consideration, but staff members are not eligible to win award prizes while serving on our staff. This includes volunteers while they are volunteering for our staff.
  4. For all awards, the editor-in-chief compiles a spreadsheet of all the eligible pieces, makes sure everything is stripped of any contact information, and sends that spreadsheet to the award editor. The award editor ranks the selections to choose the top finalists. The incognito judging decisions are final.
  5. While the manuscripts are read incognito, the editors are asked to recuse themselves from judging if there are any submissions that they may recognize as posing a personal conflict of interest. Once selected, we will reveal the winner’s name privately to the readers before announcement to clarify that there is no conflict of interest. Should there be a conflict, the next finalist in line without conflict shall become the winner, or judges shall recuse themselves from the ranking tallies. Conflicts of interest are defined as: close friends, relatives, students, and former students of the judges. We do not consider workshops to be disqualifying factors, unless the judge personally feels there is a conflict there. We leave the discretion of conflict identification up to the judges. Submissions that pose a conflict of interest may still be eligible for publication, even if they are ineligible for prizes.
  6. The winner is notified prior to announcement. The results are publicly posted online at The Coil and on the press website.

Medallion Designers

Special thanks and acknowledgment to Devin Byrnes and SuA Kang of Hardly Square, for their creativity in designing our annual medallion imprint. Hardly Square is a strategy, branding, and design-based boutique located in Baltimore, Maryland, that specializes in graphic design, web design, and eLearning courses. Their invaluable design expertise has made our annual awards come to life.


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