Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest 2022
Congratulations to the winners of the 2022 Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest!
First Prize $3,000 Fiction
CB Anderson, Blood Ties
First Prize $3,000 Nonfiction
Elizabeth Becker, Manny
Honorable Mention $200
- Ryan Collett, We Go Way Back, Fiction
- Michael Foote, In Lieu of Flowers, Fiction
- Shannon Hancock, Balance, Fiction
- Ronald McGuire, Fitting In, Fiction
- Sandra Sidi and Lauren Serrano, Searching for the Clear, Nonfiction
- Byron Spooner, Marshmallows, Fiction
- Cynthia Stock, A Final Deployment, Nonfiction
- P.L. Watts, The Lizard Girl and the Alligator King, Nonfiction
- Debbie Weingarten, A Garden in the Desert, Nonfiction
- Jeffrey Weinstock, Laundry Day, Nonfiction
In our 2022 contest, 2,441 entries were judged by Mina Manchester, who shares her thoughts below:
As diverse and separate in tone and subject as this year's short stories and essays are, they are also united in having a specific quality of voice, language, and most of all, the ability to cast a spell and pull you into their world. Each story and essay among the finalists and winners demonstrates a facility with structure and pacing, and dazzles with character detail. These stories are not what you expect, and they will surprise you with revelations that remain, even as the story ends.
From the wilds of taming Florida alligators, to the emotional depths of a desperate gardener in a desert, to a washing machine leaking blood, to a lonely nurse preparing organs for transplant, and a commanding officer of Marines taking stock of her responsibilities, the nonfiction pieces will transport you and give you wisdom you didn't know you needed.
In the short stories, long-lost siblings reunite at a Red Lobster, a teen feeds marshmallows to caged bears on his best remembered day, childhood friends navigate new paths to adulthood, a young adult reconciles how to grieve a parent who didn't accept him, a gay man makes peace with the safety violence can bring, and a man looks back on the teenage folly that shaped him and his entire town. These stories are so luminous you feel you've made a new friend, one you might like advice from, or may never want to call again after what happened, but certainly someone you will never, ever forget.
CB Anderson's "Blood Ties", the First Prize winner for Fiction, is an unforgettable story that you have never heard before. Two sisters, one raised by their biological mother, and one adopted at birth, are reunited with each other and their mother in a story that has surprising twists and turns and will leave you rooting for this family and the bonds that are made of love.
Fiction Honorable Mentions went to:
- Ryan Collett, "We Go Way Back"—A beautiful story about childhood friends who meet up at the same university and remain friends, although their identities have shifted. Later, when one friend becomes pregnant and one comes out as gay, they become each other's support system. The end has a surprise speculative twist that ruminates on the nature of time, friendship, and relationships.
- Michael Foote, "In Lieu of Flowers"—An achingly honest story about a gay man whose mother dies and he has to reckon with her homophobia, his grief over her death, and moreover the relationship they had while she was alive.
- Shannon Hancock, "Balance"—This story has prescient insights into how sometimes the things we do in adolescence have a way of casting a shadow over the rest of our lives. Told in an immediate first person, this story catches you off balance.
- Ronald McGuire, "Fitting In"—A moving story about a gay man whose friends and lover turn on him, and he has to defend himself and his actions against campus security officers. The ending is so powerfully rendered it makes you want to read the story over again to understand it anew.
- Byron Spooner, "Marshmallows"—Like so much of the best fiction, this story is about a lot more than what it seems. Employing a subtle retrospective lens and the childlike point of view of a 13-year-old boy, this is the story of a spontaneous road trip. As the teen and his father's friend end up feeding caged bears marshmallows, you realize the whole story is a journey, and a metaphor for how we learn what is truly important.
Elizabeth Becker's essay "Manny", the First Prize winner for Nonfiction, recounts a nurse's experience with an 18-year-old boy who is dying of cancer. Narrated starting at the end, the sense of time marching backward is a brilliant choice to catalog the suffering and insights that Manny leaves behind with the living.
Nonfiction Honorable Mentions went to:
- Sandra Sidi and Lauren Serrano, "Searching for the Clear"—In this essay, a 33-year-old Commander of Marines at Fort Meade, Maryland describes being unprepared for the mental health crisis that faced her. In the wake of the suicide of one of their own, she wonders what she could have done better, and what she can still do to help save lives both on and off the battlefield.
- Cynthia Stock, "A Final Deployment"—This moving essay recounts a nurse's experience preparing a brain-dead patient's organs for transplant. While the nurse tends to the patient, a member of the military who took his own life, she feels the emotional difficulty of keeping someone's body alive for someone else, and wrestles with her own guilt over not serving her country, and how the soldier, in the end, achieves something heroic.
- P.L. Watts, "The Lizard Girl and the Alligator King"—A beautifully thought-out essay about growing up in Florida with a troubled father, and how the author's perceptions of him shift and change as both of them age. This essay is interspersed with facts about alligators which function as additional narrative.
- Debbie Weingarten, "A Garden in the Desert"—This essay is a study in sentence-level voice and setting detail. It is the story of a woman reckoning with how she wants her life to be. As she tries to create a garden the stakes raise: it is the desert, there is a drought, there is a pandemic, her lover leaves, and yet, she continues planting anyway.
- Jeffrey Weinstock, "Laundry Day"—This essay has one of the most compelling first lines: "There is blood leaking out of my washing machine." From there, it goes into detail on the autoimmune disease the author's mother is suffering from, where her skin is full of blisters that bleed when they break. Narrated in the span of time it takes to wash a load of his mother's housedresses, the intimacy in this piece will leave you feeling as though you've just completed laundry day yourself.
Mina Manchester, final judge of our Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest, is a Scandinavian-American writer chasing the sun in Los Angeles. An editorial intern at new independent publisher Great Place Books, she holds an MFA from the Sewanee School of Letters. Her work has been featured in Electric Literature, The Evergreen Review, Columbia Journal, The Normal School, Inscape, HuffPost, and elsewhere. She's been a Finalist for The Masters Review Short Story Award, the Pinch Literary Award, the Annie Dillard Award in Creative Nonfiction, the Rick DeMarinis Short Story Award, honored by New Millennium Writings, and nominated for the UCLA James Kirkwood Prize. A former editor-at-large for Five South and assistant editor for Narrative Magazine, her workshop experience includes The Kenyon Review Writing Workshop, The Writer's Hotel, and Narrative's Art of the Story.
Photo by Emma Burdett