Winning the Writers Unknown competition launched aerospace engineer Petra Perkins’ career on a new trajectory.
“It opened up a whole new world of possibilities,” said Perkins, who lives at Highlands Ranch and is now a professional memoir writer.
The contest, sponsored by the Women’s Press Club of Denver (DWPC), also helped Denver author Corinne Joy Brown launch her career as a novelist.
“I felt like I had been recognized by women I respected and idolized,” she said. “Looking back, it was a life-changing experience.”
After a pandemic pause, the DWPC is once again soliciting entries with a February 23 deadline. All Colorado residents, 18 and older, can participate as long as they have never been professionally published.
Founded in 1898, the DWPC is one of the oldest clubs for women journalists in the country. Although the Unknown Writers Contest doesn’t date back that far, the contest has been pulling unknown writers out of obscurity for decades.
“It’s one of my favorite sources of surprise,” said Katherine “Kim” Millett, who is contest chair and nationally-published reporter and retired Denver Post editor. “He’s reaching the unknown, all over Colorado.”
DWPC Chairman Mindy Sink, a freelance non-fiction writer, said: “We’re really interested in people’s stories, whether they’re pandemic-related or not. It is a wonderful time for our group to once again share with the world.
The winners celebrate over a good English tea
Entrants can write their way to first, second and third prizes in three categories: Short Fiction, Non-Fiction and Poetry. Contest winners will be invited to read their work aloud at an April 10 awards ceremony to be held at DWPC’s historic clubhouse, 1325 Logan St., on Capitol Hill.
Contest winners often bring their families to the ceremony, which Millett and Sink find particularly touching.
“It’s wonderful to see adult children cheering on their parents,” Millett said.
After the readings, members and laureates adjourn for a good English tea. According to Millett, this tradition started years ago with a member of the English club who provided an authentic tea service with delicate porcelain teacups and homemade scones.
Tea is served under the approving gaze of Mary Elitch Long, whose formal portrait adorns the club’s main meeting room. A turn-of-the-century entrepreneur and society hostess, Long was also an enthusiastic promoter of DWPC. Before the club acquired permanent quarters in 1912, she held many gatherings at her quaint cottage on the grounds of Elitch Gardens, the amusement park and zoo she co-founded with her husband, John Elitch. Elitch Gardens originally occupied 16 acres of farmland in northwest Denver.
Coach instead of criticize
who enters the Unknown Writers Contest? According to Millett, entries come from cities large and small, across Colorado. Some contestants write while battling poverty or homelessness, including people served by Denver’s nonprofit day center The Gathering Place, where DWPC members have led writing workshops . The center, located at 1535 High St. in the City Park West neighborhood, offers support services for women, children and transgender people. Millett noted with pride that some writers from The Gathering Place have won awards, joined DWPC, and become published authors.
Whether they win awards or not, all entries receive constructive written feedback from two professional writers who are members of DWPC.
This was especially important to former pageant winner Corinne Joy Brown.
“There are very few places where you get peer-reviewed recognition,” she said.
According to Millett, DWPC judges undergo special training to ensure contestants receive supportive coaching – rather than criticism.
“As judges, we are neither teachers nor editors, we are there as sensitive readers,” she said. “Our mission is to encourage.”
The club dates back to the era of women’s suffrage
Not to be confused with the Denver Press Club, originally for men, the Denver Woman’s Press Club was founded as a haven for female journalists during a repressive era of hustle and poke beanies.
“It was the equivalent for these women of going out for a beer,” Millett said. “They used the club as a way to let loose and have fun with their writing.”
The club originated amid the women’s suffrage movement, when prominent female journalists such as Minnie J. Reynolds, the society columnist for the Rocky Mountain News, urged editors across Colorado to write editorials advocating for women’s suffrage. These efforts paid off when 70% of state newspapers complied. Her efforts helped women gain full suffrage in 1893, making Colorado the first state to enfranchise women by popular referendum.
A striking poster in the club lobby depicts Reynolds smartly dressed and seated at her typewriter. She went on to become a national advocate for women’s suffrage and the first president of the DWPC. Many prominent women joined, including Helen Ring Robinson, Colorado’s first female state senator, and Mary Coyle Chase, who won the Pulitzer Prize for her 1944 Broadway play, “Harvey.”
Today, the club occupies a historic building that was once the former home and studio of professional artist George Elbert Burr. Burr was known for his Colorado etchings and they are on display in the Main Hall, near the portrait of benefactress Mary Elitch Long. The shelves are filled with volumes written by club members.
Every time the Denver Woman’s Press Club meets, it’s surrounded by the history it helped make.