Last night, I gathered with other members of the DC-Baltimore-area literary community at the Rockville Memorial Library to celebrate the winners, runners up, and honorable mentions of the 2023 F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival Short Story Contest. It was refreshingly wonderful and an all-too-rare reminder why I sit alone and confront blank pages.
Contest Judge Nate Brown said many inspiring and kind things, but one of the sentiments I know I’ll keep with me is the idea that, after everything, what matters most is the writer and the page. There is a lot of good in everything surrounding what writers do, and last night’s celebration was a testament to that. Nate also spoke about the baggage of doing this writing thing, such as all of the rejection many of us face. Most important, though, is that we keep sitting down with the pages.
I like that idea because it so often feels like success in writing is entirely beyond our control, but doing the work is something we can absolutely control. Yes, writers are people, and every person has much to contend with (jobs, families, relationships, illnesses, disabilities, etc.), but because we have control over whether we sit down and write, it’s something we can lose without accountability. It’s easy to do it tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.
But if we do it today and today and today, success—however we define it—comes.
This today, I’m riding a high and feeling good because, last night, alongside some very impressive and brilliant writers whom I was grateful to meet, my story, “A Winter Bloom,” was recognized as the contest winner.
Far too often, many of us are left speechless because of grief and loss. It’s interesting to me that, if we’re fortunate, we may each experience times in our lives in which we’re at a loss for words because something good has happened. As a writer, words are my currency, and here I am, incapable of adequately describing my gratitude and appreciation.
This story is precious to me. It’s about my experience with grief and loss, but I hope others can connect with it through their own experiences and thoughts about loved ones and their expiration. Our lives continue without a piece of our hearts, like a celestial body breaking up as it burns through atmosphere, and we’re powerless to stop, to go back and reclaim what we lost, and all the while, we know we will either crash into the earth or break up entirely into dust and vapors.
Nate also spoke last night about how literature is a gift. He said, every piece he reads reveals to him its heart, that which drew the writer to it, and when we share our writing, that’s a gift. If that’s true, it means grief and loss have bloomed something beautiful through this story, and there’s something amazing about being able to share that now.
If you take the time to read this story, I appreciate you.
Author Michelle Brafman, who previously won this contest, also spoke last night, and one of her thoughts I’ll be carrying with me for a long time is that, amid all of this rejection and grief that we call this writing thing, she’s found solace in the act of celebrating and lifting up other writers. In embracing that spirit, I want to congratulate Jeremie Amoroso for his story, “Holivay, Holivay,” which I found tense in its sparkling dialogue and a mythical figure turned into a real, compelling character. I also want to congratulate Zach Styles for his story, “We All Made Sacrifices,” which I found funny but also ultimately relatable in its satirical construction and compelling in its creative use of form. Read their stories, along with stories from some exceptional student writers (Lucas Yamamoto, Dresden Benke, Naomi Goldstein, Cheyenne Mugisha, Sofia Lazarus, and Kit Seckel) here.
Thank you to all who worked hard to make this contest a success. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend the festival on Oct. 20-21, but if you’re in the area, I encourage you to check it out. Jonathan Franzen and Ron Charles are headliners, but if there’s nothing else I took from last night, it’s that assembling with a literary community is not only wonderful but necessary. I think the writer and the page is how we create meaning in literature, but when we assemble, we share, observe, and celebrate it. I think, when we come together, we close a circuit that begins with the writer, and I think that’s a kind of completion we should seek out.