How to express my enthusiasm for the profundity, irony, prose poetry and stylistic innovation in many of these pieces! This year we received more fiction submissions than ever before, and many from established, much-published authors.
Paul Beatty, our award-winning contest judge chose Joanna Kim’s debut publication “Betta” as the winner. Kim has received an Emerging Writers Award from Grub Street. She tells the tale of a nineteen-year-old struggling to pay back a debt for being born to her frustrated, immigrant mother. This story is replete with irony, a hard-hitting style, a distinctive voice, as well as the skillful use of metaphor to show pain and redemption through, of all images, a fighting fish.
The runners-up offer varied, deep looks into two aspects of our troubled times—mental illness and a refugee crisis, respectively. In both stories the helpless are “under lockdown.” Sally Lipton Derringer’s “Medals” uses a fragmented, poetic, innovative style to depict the institutionalization of a son with psychotic episodes. She reveals the mother’s and son’s grief yet also their deep mutual empathy.
Mike Holtzman, with wide experience in world affairs, also uses fragments in “Paper Dolls of the East” to reveal a Syrian refugee camp at the Lebanese border and the painful choice a mother makes to sell one daughter as a sex slave in order to save another daughter who is handicapped. These two stories are truly unforgettable.
Also, my deep admiration goes to the outstanding finalists: “The Pious Man” by Lindsay Oldham, uses British English in phrases infused with prose poetry as they show a father/daughter relationship while the father nears death. “Beyond their time” by Tristan Marajh offers the unique fantasy of an anthropologist as she speculates in vivid detail about the loving, consensual union between two entwined fossils, found 60,000 years later, that of a Neanderthal male and a Homo sapiens female. And the other finalist, Ginger McKnight-Chavers offers a novel excerpt from Oak Cliff. This riveting chapter about mixed racial identity mixes humor with profundity.
Now to the Editor’s Pick. “The Witch” by Michael Pritchett. Too long to be considered for the contest, this story was so compelling that I wished to include it. It is told from the point of a view of a sensitive, neglected child. An uncaring father unceremoniously drops off his son to live with Greta, his verbally abusive aunt. In this frightening setting the boy grows up. “The trees weaved and shuddered and jumped toward him and then away, like they were being tortured to death but could not run, because of their roots. They were groaning with the agony of being alive.”
Yet in spite of suffering, or because of it, most of these pieces show the power of the human spirit triumphing against or standing up to the odds. And so I refer you now to these highly talented, mesmerizing stories, so worthy of your attention. Please feel free to offer comments or to reach out to the authors through us.