2021 Short Story Contest
Congratulations to our 2021 Short Story Contest Winners!
(click story titles for PDFs of stories)
Special thanks to Taryn Trazkovich, Mary Hopkins, Nate Brown and Eric Carzon for their leadership on the contest as well as volunteers from The Bethesda Writer's Center for their story reviews and to the Center for its logistical help making reviews go smoothly.
Adult selections for recognition this year, and some short initial thoughts on each:
Winner: "Searching for the Light"
"Searching for the Light" is a beautifully written, sensitive story that offers readers a narrow yet potent view of loss. As if looking through a keyhole, readers get just a glimpse of the protagonist, Byrne, and her parents, Phil and Caroline. As is the case in all excellent stories, history weighs a great deal here. Byrne's past lies atop her present in surprising and moving ways. We get a glimpse of Phil's injury, a glimpse of the corridors of Philadelphia's Einstein Hospital, a glimpse of Byrne's own desires, interests, and romantic life. A naturalistic story in the vein of Edith Pearlman, Alice Munro, and Ruth Ozeki, "Searching for the Light" is elegantly written and subtle, but its images, phrases, and characters are profoundly engaging and vividly drawn. This is memorable, beautiful writing.
"Will-o-Wisp" opens on a clear, bright Sunday morning in a college town. Dierdre and other weekend revelers are headed back to their dorm rooms and student apartments still wearing their clothes from the night before. But what starts as a familiar story of casual sex quickly turns strange. The previous night, Dierdre saw a warm and benevolent light as she made love to a student she'd met at a club. In this very short piece, the author has managed to avoid the tawdry cliches of sex scenes and instead presents a story about longing for the ineffable. Perhaps, in attempting to recapture and understand that mysterious light, Dierdre's looking for intimacy. Perhaps she's trying to understand something about herself. Or perhaps Dierdre's view of reality is askew. In any case, this story refigures the folkloric Will-o-Wisp as an inscrutable beacon, an ideal of intimacy, a benevolent, elevating presence that puts one in mind of St. Theresa in Ecstasy.
"Sunrise in the Valley"
In "Sunrise in the Valley," a Black doctor comes to work in a rural Pennsylvania nursing facility, much to the surprise of the facility's staff, residents, and administrator. In a lesser writer's hands, this story might be one that overlooks or whitewashes racial complication. Here, though, Dr. Johnson's anxieties are well founded in history, and his unease among rural white people is palpable. When he gets a flat tire on his first commute to work, a truck stops behind him and two white men ultimately help him change the tire. The tension of the moment is alleviated when the doctor comes to no harm, but the echoing sentiment at the end of the story is what makes this one memorable. This story is a powerful reminder that for some of us, danger is to be found everywhere.
Thank you once again for having me. I really enjoyed reading and thinking about these stories! Nate Brown