Thanks to a generous gift from alumnus Mr. Frank H. Newell, the English Department offers prizes for outstanding student work in short fiction to currently enrolled undergraduate students. Department faculty nominated stories produced in fall creative writing classes, and winners were selected by award-winning author Justin Taylor, whose most recent book is the memoir Riding with the Ghost.
First place: “To Space” by Brooke Cox
Judge’s comments: Brooke Cox has accomplished more in these four pages than some writers manage in ten or twenty. “To Space” is formally inventive, fleet of foot, down in the mouth, and yet somehow a charmer through and through. Its bitter, hapless narrator kept me laughing, while Cox’s finely-tuned sentences were music to my ears. Did this story “need” to be set in outer space, a thousand years in the future? Who knows and who cares? When you trust an author, you go with them wherever they want to take you. “To Space” won my trust immediately and never lost it. I’d follow Brooke Cox to infinity and beyond.
Second place: “The Death of Spiders and Geniuses” by Sally Wooster
Judge’s comments: Sally Wooster’s crisp third person point of view is an apt driver for this sad yet vivid tale of loss. It is also, I think, a story about attention: how we pay it, what it costs us. The smell of pumpkin spice and the movement of fast fingers across a table, the beating of rain drops on glass and the death of a spider—these are just some of the things that captured my attention in this story, which is full of grief but also full of life.
Third place: “Fine” by Cole Lindberg
Judge’s comments: This is a story with a wild premise and the good sense not to overplay its uncanny hand. It has a strong sense of place, even if that place is purgatory, and its confident use of repetition and variation allows meaning and emotion to accrue subtly and by degrees. The full force hits you all at once at the end.
Please be sure to congratulate these students when you see them on campus.
About Frank H. Newell
Mr. Newell graduated from Willamette University in 1949, and subsequently enjoyed a 58-year run in the newspaper and broadcast business. He got his start at Salem’s Capital Journal, where he began in the advertising department. Over the years, he worked his way up through the ranks, and ultimately served as publisher of several news outlets across the nation over his long and successful career. Mr. Newell did not slow down in retirement, however, and at 93, saw his first novel published. He has long had a love for fiction writing, with a particular emphasis on short stories, and wants to foster this interest in future generations of Willamette University students.