Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest 2023
Congratulations to the winners of the 2023 Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest!
First Prize $3,000 Fiction
Billie Kelpin, Sylvia
First Prize $3,000 Nonfiction
Jennifer Tubbs, Reflections
Honorable Mention $300
- Jules Dubel, It Bleeds Without Stopping (The Heart), Nonfiction
- Jen Knox, Steady, Nonfiction
- Janine Kovac, Dancing on the Blade, Nonfiction
- D.T. Lumpkin, Undetermined Circumstances, Nonfiction
- G.H. Plaag, Joy, Fiction
- Blake Z. Rong, Sunny Sixteen, Fiction
- Leslie Schwartz, Gullfoss, Fiction
- Munroe Shearer, The Five Pillars of Intimacy Direction, Nonfiction
- Sandi Sonnenfeld, Pervert, Nonfiction
- Mark Cecil Stevens, Never Fired a Shot, Fiction
This year's winning stories and essays are breathtakingly fresh tonally, structurally, and topically. The winner in fiction is a story with an incredible twist—the surprise ending is a powerful punch to the gut. Honorable mentions in the fiction category include stories about a bad marriage and bad date, a bad Dad, bad choices, even a Bad Art Friend.
In nonfiction the winning essay is a beautiful meditation on grief and guilt, discussing a difficult childhood in a Native American community. Other essays tackle subjects ranging from intimacy in non-monogamous relationships, to veterinary euthanasia, losing a spouse to cancer, parenting a grown child with autism, and dancing for sex workers, as well as a journalistic take on tracing missing persons and the toll it takes on their loved ones.
The talent of these storytellers and essayists is impressive and immense. Spending time with these twelve winning tales may even change you forever.
Billie Kelpin's "Sylvia" is the First Prize winner for Fiction. This story, ostensibly about a teacher of deaf students, is about so much more. Pondering questions about what we owe others, and what we are entitled to in relationships, as well as what we can ask for and what we can't, aren't so much answered as tongued.
Fiction Honorable Mentions went to:
- G.H. Plaag, "Joy"—This story, about meeting a significant other's parents for the first time, ends with the most incredible and moving revelation after a long, painful dinner with somewhat terrible parents. (Wait for it!)
- Blake Rong, "Sunny Sixteen"—This slippery story with a somewhat unreliable narrator creates a whole world in a shared house in Redondo Beach, California. It's impossible not to fall in love with this assortment of characters as housemates. A story about art, or a cautionary tale about love? You be the judge.
- Leslie Schwartz, "Gullfoss"—A classic road trip story taking place in Iceland, this story centers on a long-married couple teetering on the edge of mid-life and questioning their choices. When a questionable choice is made, other choices must follow. But no one knows the outcome of their choices, this story seems to say. So how can we ever know what to do?
- Mark Cecil Stevens, "Never Fired a Shot"—A devastatingly sad story that is at once a coming-of-age tale, a story about a son attempting to understand his father's demons, and a tale of a young person deciding who he is going to be, given where he comes from.
Jennifer Tubbs's essay "Reflections" is the First Prize winner for Nonfiction. This braided essay is masterfully rendered, alternating between the past and present. Childhood innocence and abuse, deprivation, and structural racism and poverty are examined through the lens of perspective in this introspective piece.
Nonfiction Honorable Mentions went to:
- Jules Dubel, "It Bleeds Without Stopping (The Heart)"—This is an incredibly moving essay about the harsh realities of veterinary end of life care and euthanasia. The piece reveals a revelatory insight into the nature of love and how it can transform not only a job, but one's own heart.
- Jen Knox, "Steady"—A brutally honest piece about being eighteen, on the cusp of adulthood, and trying to determine what your future is going to be before you can truly see it. In this piece, which is about the first jobs young adults have, and trying to climb into a new life, domestic violence is examined through personal experience, both as victim and witness.
- Janine Kovac, "Dancing on the Blade"—The title of this story appropriately captures the essence of what it entails, as a ballet dancer prepares a healing performance ritual for sex workers in Oakland, California, while exploring a personal connection to sexual assault and trauma.
- D.T. Lumpkin, "Undetermined Circumstances"—This journalistic investigation into a long-disappeared missing young adult touches on the far more personal story of the author's missing mother. This piece is a courageous essay on the truths we seek, and the ones we try to convince ourselves of.
- Munroe Shearer, "The Five Pillars of Intimacy Direction"—A moving meditation on intimacy in a fresh new context, one of non-monogamous gay males exploring BDSM in their twenties.
- Sandi Sonnenfeld, "Pervert"—The directness of this essay is jarring in the best way possible. In unearthing dark truths, and honestly exploring the sides most of us wish to keep hidden, the author shows the truth about our own complicated desires.
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