Six-Word Story Contest Winners Tackle 2020, Pandemic, Politics, Hope
Many writers find it difficult to express themselves in only a few words, but Brianna McCadden managed to perfectly capture 2020 in just six.
“ What is meaningful is we’re coming together as a community and we’re celebrating language and expression. ”
On Thursday, the undergraduate English major took the top prize in this year’s Six-Word Story Contest for her entry: “She’s forgetting the feeling of hugs.”
The Six-Word Story Contest, sponsored by the Master’s of Fine Arts and undergraduate Creative Writing programs, challenges undergraduate students from any major to submit a story told in exactly six words. This year, 139 students from 24 majors submitted 265 stories.
“That means student writers came from all over the university. I really want to celebrate that,” said Associate Professor of English John Fulton, director of the MFA in Creative Writing program. “We clearly have a lot of writers and creatives among our students.”
In its tenth year, the contest has become a tradition on campus, and was originally inspired by the six-word story that Ernest Hemingway supposedly wrote: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
“While readers might not expect much from so few words, we’ve learned that our students at UMB have a lot to say and make every word count,” Fulton said.
McCadden won $100. Two runners-up, Hannah Ortiz and Annie Tong, each received $50. Ortiz, an English major, wrote, “He prefers blondes. I buy dye.” Tong, who majors in both English and psychology, wrote, “Her amygdala was in her purse.”
Economic major Agung “Dee” Festyanto received an honorable mention for: “’I never said that,’ uttered Christ.”
Cardinal Belgrave, a contest judge and MFA student, said the breadth of creativity shown by these students is applaudable.
“We encountered 2020, the year, and much of its ‘glory.’ We encountered the coronavirus pandemic and its myriad effects… the mask life, the Zoom life of which we are currently in, the socially distant life. We encountered tragedy in its many forms. Death. Lost chances. Lost time,” Belgrave said. “Politics. The current political and social climate. Self-assessments. Comedic. Absurd. Dystopian. Abstract. Metaphysical. … We also encountered not only fear for our collective futures, but also a little bit of hope.”
The top 20 finalists read their pieces, and four judges, all students in the MFA Creative Writing program, announced the winners, commenting on each entry. Read each of the judges’ commentary below.
Judge Lisa Allen said she appreciated the way that many of the six-word stories commented on the experience of living through a pandemic.
“We read so many wise insights, so many slices of life that rang true and moved us,” she said.
Allen said every judge had “She’s forgetting the feeling of hugs” on their list.
“It doesn’t mention the pandemic by name, it doesn’t mimic a newspaper headline,” Allen said. “It evokes one specific character and makes the reader feel time and loneliness and loss wearing away at her. The subtlety and surprise of that move opens the floodgates before we have a chance to look away.”
Fulton said the program plans to hold a poetry contest in the spring.
“The contest part, the winning part, the runners-up part, etc., that’s all exciting, but really what is meaningful is we’re coming together as a community and we’re celebrating language and expression,” he said. “I think now more than ever we need that.”
Cardinal Belgrave, Jr.’s comments on: "I never said that," uttered Christ.
By Agung ""Dee"" Festyanto (Economics major)
"In the Bible, the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all tell similar, but in some ways differing accounts of the life of Christ. This six-word short story is subtly able to supply both humor and a questioning of religious history. It makes you wonder who Christ is speaking to, and when this story takes place. Is Christ in Heaven, disappointed with the transcripts published after his death and resurrection? Or, maybe he is on trial and mounting his own defense in front of Pontius Pilate. We may never know. What we do know is that this entry deserves an honorable mention for its boldness and ability to cause the reader to consider many possible narrative threads that these six words suggest."
Cherish Collin’s comments on: “He prefers blondes. I buy dye.”
By Hannah Ortiz (English major)
"This story shows and speaks to the lengths that we'll go to to appeal to people and to present an image of ourselves that others will accept."
Andrea Kossyrev’s comments on: Her amygdala was in her purse.
By Annie Tong (English, Psychology major)
"Much like this story, I'll be brief. In just six words, this story invokes feelings of being numb, perhaps by choice, and captures the dark humor often found in speculative fictions."
Lisa Allen’s comments on: She’s forgetting the feeling of hugs.
By Brianna McCadden (English major)
(To all the writers) We appreciated the way that many of your six-word stories commented on the experience of living through a pandemic. We read so many wise insights, so many slices of life that rang true and moved us. When we compared our choices for the finalists, this story was on all of our lists.
(About Brianna’s story) A six-word story is around the length of a newspaper headline. Every day, I get emails in my inbox from the Boston Globe with case numbers in the subject line. Yesterday’s read: Mass. reports 2,744 new confirmed coronavirus cases, 47 new deaths. Journalism is quantifying the pandemic for us, breaking down how it affects different groups and communities and what policies are working to stop the spread, and telling the stories of lives touched by the virus. Faced with so many months of huge numbers and tragic stories, there’s a risk of getting overwhelmed, becoming numb to it. One thing that fiction is especially well-suited to do is to catch a reader off guard. To approach a situation in an oblique or unexpected way. She’s forgetting the feeling of hugs takes a minute to sink in. It doesn’t mention the pandemic by name, it doesn’t mimic a newspaper headline. It evokes one specific character and makes the reader feel time and loneliness and loss wearing away at her. The subtlety and surprise of that move opens the floodgates before we have a chance to look away. Thank you, Brianna.