Why do we write stories? We could go back to the cave, trace the history of oral storytelling and pictograms, or ruminate on the evolutionary imperative for humans to create meaning by imposing narratives. We could answer that stories are models for living, escapist realities, or a way to purge our basest impulses, but I suppose all writers have their reasons.
Perhaps the most obvious reason to write, and one common to each of the winning pieces in Story|Houston’s Contest Issue, is to be read—to find an audience. Although this answer seems simplistic, for the modern writer, finding readers isn’t easy. It’s difficult to stand out in a saturated industry, to grab a reader’s interest, to make an editor stop and take notice. But Story|Houston believes that now, more than ever, stories are important. We work to make a home for as many writers as possible because we believe that every good story deserves an audience.
Guest judge Lacy M. Johnson, author of the memoirs Trespasses and The Other Side, has chosen four outstanding stories from a competitive selection pool of hundreds. Please meet our winners below.
Congratulations to Thomas McConnell for “How We Die Now,” which takes first place in our contest. McConnell deals with issues of family, aging, and mother-daughter relationships playfully but with sensitivity. Lacy Johnson praises the author’s ability to capture the universal through the particular:
In this story of mourning in a small southern town, we’re asked to turn our attention to love and loss in the lives of those our culture tells us to mistrust and disdain. In doing so, this work transcends the particulars of time and place and appeals to a universal impulse towards compassion. At once tender and razor-sharp, “How We Die Now” merits comparisons to Dorothy Allison and Flannery O’Connor, though the writer’s voice and style is spectacularly [his] own.
Second place goes to Dana Reva De Greff for “Miami Boys,” a story whose sharp, incisive prose and tough characters bely a deep emotional undercurrent. Ms. Johnson praises De Greff’s “fascinating and complicated portrayal of toxic masculinity,” and notes that the story “explores how young men struggle against a powerful and destructive social force.”
Victoria Provazza’s “Confirmation” takes third place. According to Ms. Johnson, “‘Confirmation’ is charged with equal parts wonder and suspense. This story makes clear that every miracle demands that we occupy a thin line between faith and fear.” Provazza combines the voice of adolescence with the maturity, insight, and disillusionment of adulthood. I would like to add that “Confirmation” should remind us all why we stopped going to church.
Our final winner is Adam Blake Wright, whose story “Pork” takes the reader places we may not want to be, but definitely need to see. Ms. Johnson says that “Complex and violent histories—both personal and political—underscore this powerful portrait of an emotional reunion between father and son.”
Special thanks go again to Elena Lacey, Chelsea Keeton, and newcomer Mary Childs for their wonderful story illustrations, and to Matt Boelsche for another excellent cover. Writers, keep working and trust that good stories will find a home. Readers, keep reading, keep sharing, and show our winning stories some love.