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2023 Short Story Contest

Congratulations to our 2023 Short Story Contest Winners!
(click story titles for PDFs of stories)

Student Winners

"Chatbot Blues"

by Lucas Yamamoto


Judge Nate Brown says: A formally inventive story, "Chatbot Blues" is told from the perspective of a newly sentient chatbot who is ambivalent about its newfound capacity for feeling. Set in the future aboard a long-haul spaceship ferrying cryo-sleeping humans to an unnamed destination, "Chatbot Blues" is both a meditation on human emotions and a surprisingly timely investigation of sentience. What, the story asks us, does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be a personality that lives in a machine's body? Near the story's ending, the chatbot is faced with a grueling choice: to save itself and its human cargo, or head straight into oblivion, thereby avoiding the inevitable pain that comes with being a thinking and feeling being. This is a remarkable, deft, and wise speculative work of fiction.


"Beneath the Surface"

by Dresden Benke

Judge Nate Brown says: What at first seems an alternate history becomes something more sinister in this wildly good tale of a subterranean community of Americans living below what they believe to be the irradiated wasteland that was once the lower forty-eight states. Beatrice Thomas, a lifelong member of this community, longs to see the sky after having spent her entire life underground. As she seeks the surface, a terrible secret of her community becomes clear and Beatrice becomes more motivated than ever to dig upwards toward her freedom. As in all great parables (and science fiction thrillers), Beatrice's newfound knowledge comes with severe consequences, and the story ends on a dire note that's rendered perfectly on the page. 


by Naomi Goldstein

Judge Nate Brown says:  Set in a future in which men and women live in physical, cultural, and social separation, a classically beautiful young woman investigates the nature of her segregated world, only to find that the origins of her culture's schism lie in the history of transgenderism and society's severe backlash to trans-identifying people. As in all tales of secret knowledge, our protagonist is changed by this suppressed history. As much about finding peace within oneself as it is about human folly, this parable presents readers with significant questions about the nature of beauty, embodiment, self-image, history, and identity. 

Honorable Mentions:

"American Dream"

by Cheyenne Mugisha

Judge Nate Brown says: This is a lovely tale about what we owe to our ancestors. Nzingha is ambivalent about moving from Kenya to her ancestral home in Uganda to get an education, but with the encouragement and accompaniment of her grandfather, she adapts and learns to love school. Following his death, she experiences a deep period of darkness, but through her strength of will, she dedicates herself to continuing with her education, eventually migrating to the United States. Like the warrior-queen for whom she's named, Nzingha's resilient core doesn't protect her from harm, but it does empower her to keep going. A powerful story, indeed. 

"A House in a Clearing"

by Sofia Lazarus

Judge Nate Brown says: Told in the second-person (an incredibly difficult point-of-view to pull off, in my opinion), "A House in a Clearing" reads like an excellent prose poem. Here, the author gives the protagonist a choice: walk toward a rickety shack where they can sense a presence of a kind (beautifully called the Un-emptiness) or leave the clearing and head back to the gray city where they reside. This choice is neither simple for the protagonist nor for the reader, and the use of the second-person point of view necessarily implicates the reader in the decision. The resulting tension in the piece is remarkable, as weighty and hair-raising as a Shirley Jackson tale. 

"You May Call Me"

by Kit Seckel

Judge Nate Brown says: Like all good fantasy, this efficient and engaging story takes figures from folklore and adapts them to meet contemporary sensibilities. Here, the protagonist comes to find that they are not at all what they'd once believed themselves to be. Both magical and allegorical, this story is as much about human maturation as it is about the literal magic of transfiguration. Can a parable also be a coming-of-age tale? Can a story about growing up also be, at its core, a genre-bending work of fantasy? This story shows us that the answer to these questions is a resounding YES! 

Adult winners

"Winter Bloom"

by Timothy Johnson

Judge Nate Brown says: In this stunning and subtle story, an unnamed protagonist tromps through the woods, guided by a friend (perhaps a relative) named Alex, as they seek a spot to scatter a loved one's ashes. As the story progresses, the narrator's thoughts turn both toward the cosmic and the earthly, weighing the implications of gravity and decomposition and the inevitable passage of time. It's a powerful, existential meditation on impermanence, one grounded by the clear friendship between the protagonist and Alex, who is both emotional ballast and literal guide in the story. Grief is the story's clear subject, but fealty and friendship are at the story's core, too. This is remarkable thematic ambidexterity, particularly given the story's efficiency and brevity. Absolutely beautiful work. 


 "Holivay, Holivay"

by Jeremie Amoroso

Judge Nate Brown says: This story deftly handles dialectic speech as it tells the story of a Kalinda fighter, Terrence, who unexpectedly finds himself training with a master of the art. An action-heavy piece heavy on sensory details, "Holivay Holivay" examines both the boldness and folly of youth, asking a tremendous question of Terrence: how much is a person willing to sacrifice in the pursuit of greatness?

"We All Made Sacrifices"

by Zach Styles

Judge Nate Brown says:  In this gut-punchingly funny story, a couple's family has grown tired of waiting for a young couple to wed and takes it upon themselves to organize a wedding by proxy. Structurally inventive, expertly paced, and surprisingly heady in moments, this story says much about the disconnect between what we want for ourselves and what others may want for us. Anyone who has felt the pressure of family and friends to date, to wed, to have children, to buy a house, to change jobs, or to move to a new town will understand precisely the pressures facing Eli and Grace in this story. Like all good satire, the absurdity of the story is balanced by the real; in this case, the very real family pressures we all, at some point, face. 

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