Interview with Lorian Hemingway about the
Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition

The Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition for emerging writers has a first prize of $1500, but the contest deadline is approaching. Submit your short story before May 1 every year. But first, read the interview below.

I recently contacted contest judge and founder Lorian Hemingway, granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway, to learn a little more about this generous competition.

The resulting interview is fascinating and provides important insights into what it takes to win this and other creative writing contests.

PL: Why did you choose emerging writers as the focus of the prize?

Lorian Hemingway: The competition has been in existence for 31 years, and over time we began to receive a lot of stories from established professional writers who had already had notable success.

We didn't consider this fair to the new writers who had yet to be heard, so we put a codicil in the guidelines that states that the writer's work cannot have appeared in a nationally distributed publication with a circulation of greater than 5,000. This opens it up for the writers who are working hard at their craft, but who have yet to be read by a wider audience. We seek fresh new voices.

PL: To date your contest has given away $70,000 in prizes to emerging writers. I've read that your grandfather gave generously to others during his time in Cuba. Did he ever do anything comparable to help writers starting out?

Lorian Hemingway: The help my grandfather gave to other writers is, historically, a double-edged sword. While he gave generously at times, he also lambasted other writers publicly.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was humiliated by Ernest after he published "The Crack Up". Fitzgerald, in essence, gave Ernest his introduction to Scribner's by suggesting him to Maxwell Perkins.

On the other hand, Ernest could, as you noted, be quite generous. I think that in later years he was aware of this duality and of his unfairness to certain writers. To be perfectly honest, our competition attempts to amend some of the lack of attention Ernest paid to writers he could have helped.

Over the years I have come to believe that my grandfather would have been pleased by what is at the heart of our competition: to help as many writers as possible receive the credit and recognition they so deserve.

PL: Do you have any interesting anecdotes about the contest or the judging of it?

Lorian Hemingway: Oh my! I'm stammering on paper, wondering where to begin.

There was the year we helped crack the case of a serial killer who had entered our competition. His "story" entries--there were three--were handwritten confessions on lined notebook paper. A friend and writer who was helping me read that year found one of them, and moments later I found another. There was no doubt that these were true confessions. We sat and read in horror. The details, which I can't reveal, were so disturbing that I became physically ill. My friend, fortunately, also had ties to the FBI, and we immediately took the stories to them. The man who entered had actually provided his true residence on his contact information sheet, and his real name. It took less than 8 hours for the FBI to find him and take him into custody.

To help counterbalance the above: There was the year I slipped on wet tile and dropped 100 story manuscripts into the pool. Yes, all the writers were contacted and we received fresh copies.

And the year I was so torn by who the winner should be, this at 4 a.m. on the day of the announcement of the winners, that I got down on my knees and prayed, and then screamed out, "Show me which one it is. I know it's in there." The title of the story?: Lazarus.

PL: Are you aware of any ongoing success stories about people who have won the prize?

Lorian Hemingway: Oh yes. There are many. I might go so far as to say that they are legion. And the honor is entirely ours to have read the early work of these fine writers.

Our 2005 winner, Naomi Benaron, recently won The Bellwether Prize for Fiction. Her novel on Rwandan genocide will be published by Algonquin in 2012.

Heidi Durrow, who won our competition in 2004, recently hit the New York Times Bestseller List for her exquisite novel The Girl Who Fell From The Sky.

Kate Small, who won in, I believe, 2002, became an NEA recipient.

Kate St. Vincent Vogel for her memoir Lost and Found.

Mark Richard, who placed in the early years of the competition, is now an established name in American fiction.

The list truly goes on and on. It is thrilling to hear of the success of these writers, to receive a note that says, "Hey, guess what?" And then the purely beautiful news of the writer's dream fully realized.

PL: What qualities do most of the prize-winning entries share?

Lorian Hemingway: Voice! A unique voice, above all. And a sense of the rhythm of that unique voice that carries the story.

One can have an extraordinarily interesting character, but without the voice in place the character is two-dimensional. The unexpected phrase. The piercing insight into the human condition that is not stated but evoked. A story that shows rather than tells. A freedom of expression that is not bound by what the writer has been taught is the "correct" way to write. Those who have broken free of those chains have the most superb voices of all.

What these writers share personally is so often a deep humility, and a quiet and persistent dedication to their craft. One bright day they come to realize that the gold ring is there, and that all they have to do is reach out and grab it.

It is a tough market these days, but the world is hungry for meaningful connections with others. The writers who enter our competition--and I am not speaking of just those who place--provide that connection with their prose, with wisdom and grace that has been hard-won, and with words that resonate and live on long in the hearts and minds of those who read them.

Over three decades of uncommonly brilliant prose has taken deep root in my own heart. What else do these writers share? They are my teachers, my mentors, my heroines and heroes.

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