I’ve gotten several questions lately about a writing contest offering enormous prizes: the Lichfield Institute Writing Contest.
Just about every temptation for a hungry writer is here. Big bucks for the winners. Feedback on every submission from distinguished judges–at least, one assumes they’re distinguished, since they’re finalists for important literary awards. Monthly stipends! Consideration by literary agencies! What more could a contest offer, even if it does charge a $15 submission fee?
You’ll probably already have noticed some…oddities…both in the screenshot above and on the contest page. The mis-spelling of Hemingway, to start (plus, it’s PEN–it’s an acronym–not Pen). The curious absence of judges’ names. Guidelines that fail to state when winners will be announced and how they will be notified. An entry form with a copy-and-paste box for submitting your entry (have fun reading, no-name judges).
In fact, there’s a ton of crucial information missing. How are the extremely large prizes funded? How many honorable mentions will there be, and what exactly are the “monthly stipends” they are promised? Which literary agencies will be considering? How long will judging take? What are winners’ obligations? How will they be paid? How will currency exchange be handled, since the contest “welcomes entrants from outside the United States”? These things and more would normally be covered in a contest’s guidelines–but the Lichfield Institute apparently doesn’t think we need to know any of them.
So…what, or who, is the Lichfield Institute?
According to its About page,
Okay, well, that’s pretty vague.
Three people are identified as the Institute’s “current leadership”. The first, Jordan de Lupis, turns up just a handful of results on a web search, none of which are able to confirm that he is indeed “a researcher and doctoral student specializing in Germanic languages and literatures at New York University.” The second, David Levine, is said to be “a researcher and writer at Harris Legal Group, an immigration law firm,” but a websearch on his name plus “Harris Legal Group” produces no results, and he isn’t mentioned on what appears to be the Harris Legal Group’s website.
The third, Omar F. Najjarine, is described as one of the Institute’s tutors. “Trained in analytic philosophy, he hosts academic interviews and produces cultural and literary vlogs online.” He would appear to be this guy. You can see his work history–which does not include any stints in academe–on his LinkedIn.
In keeping with its mission statement, the Institute invites the public to “Study With Us,” claiming guest lecturers who “hold PhDs or have other significant experience in serious and in-depth intellectual work” and are willing to volunteer their time (suggesting that the Institute is not well-funded and raising yet more questions about those big prizes). However, like the contest, the Fall 2023 lecture topics are curiously devoid of important details, such as the dates of the lectures and the names of the tutors. Registration for the fall session is said to be closed–although with a web domain that was only created on September 13, it’s a bit hard to see how anyone had time to register, let alone close out all the sessions.
So what’s really going on here?
When I first looked into the contest, I thought the Lichfield Institute must just be fluff to dress the contest up, and probably the whole thing was a scheme to steal credit card information or collect $15 from unwary entrants.
Delving deeper, I’m not so sure. There does seem to be at least one real human behind it, and his social media posts and vlogs do seem to fit with the Institute’s purported focus. While I still suspect the Institute is largely fluff, and I’m skeptical that anyone other than Mr. Najjarine is involved, I think this may be a genuine, if very weird, venture…or, rather, an attempt at one, more of a hope than an actual thing, with no strategy other than “if you build a website, they will come”. In that light, maybe the contest is not just a way to generate income, but an effort to build a mailing list.
Regardless, there’s nothing to indicate that Mr. Najjarine is capable of delivering either the contest prizes or the promises of feedback, stipends, etc.. Even if the contest isn’t just a scheme to steal entrants’ $15, in my opinion there’s no good reason to enter.
UPDATE 11/25/23: Of course I submitted a poem. I stopped short of paying the entry fee. Even so, I just got this:
January, then. We shall see.