I Won Another Contest!


Many of you saw my post about being published in The Georgia Review. I collaborated with a wonderful editor at the review named CJ and she had the incredible idea to submit my story for the 2021 PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers. I never thought I would have my name on PEN America's website or that it would be for digging deep within my lived experience and telling a narrative of transformation rooted in my own perspective. But it happened!

For those of you that are young writers, I'd like to tell you a little bit about how this was accomplished. I wrote the winning story "The First Time I Said It" during fall break of my first semester in the North Carolina State University MFA program. I'd applied to MFA programs a total of three times before eventually getting in. I mostly wrote the story to submit to the 2019 James Hurst Prize for Fiction. I was awarded Honorable Mention in that NC State sponsored contest, which I am still grateful for. But Honorable Mention was not the contest win which I thought would kickstart my career. Then the next semester I began to hear talk around my MFA program that the English Department would pay for students to attend AWP conference. I decided to attend and tried to convince friends in my program to go but, ended up going alone. I think this had to do with the fact that I was able to dedicate more funds to my writing efforts due to living at home while attending the MFA program. COVID was also beginning to ramp up around the time that I was scheduled to board my flight. 

I took the flight and got to my Air BNB which was in a rough neighborhood where they had locks on the gas station refrigerators to keep people from buying alcohol after midnight. The front door to the house wouldn't lock behind me after I got in from my flight and I spent the hours between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. using various tools from the drawers in the kitchen to try and fix it. I eventually figured it out. At AWP I stood in a very long line amid many empty booths and conference setups and then registered. Then I sat in a chair in San Antonio's Henry B. Gonzalez convention center by myself and wondered if I'd wasted money and time and risked my wellbeing for no reason. 

Eventually a young black writer named Michaeljulius walked up to me and struck up a conversation. Then another young black writer named Gabriel joined in and we talked about our career aims, the strange turns that were going on in the world, and the various institutions we were affiliated with. We formed our own miniature black microcosm at AWP (eventually including a young poet named Zora) and made sure the others in our group were informed about which events to attend. A few days into the conference, Michaeljulius brought me to a get together at the Hyatt next-door to the conference center which The Georgia Review was holding. I had never heard of The Georgia Review but he had. Eventually I ended up talking to CJ who is the Managing Editor for the magazine and she gave me her e-mail address. After sending her the story and several nudges it was accepted for publication, published, and soon thereafter submitted to this contest.

I say all of that to say that there were many times when I felt like what I was doing wouldn't amount to anything. I had to have the mentality of "what if things work out" instead of "what if things don't" in order to get to this point and I know I'll have to continue having it to get any further. The value of positivity and of forming communities based around that positivity is priceless. I'm so thankful that my foray into fiction has allowed people to come into my life and reveal that to me!