Our big thanks to the 23rd Award judge, Sudha Balagopal for selecting the twenty stories for the short list within our narrow time frame and for writing such interesting and insightful notes. Her general comments on the process and her specific comments on the winners are below.
Thank you, Jude Higgins, for giving me the opportunity to judge the Bath Flash Fiction Award, the gold standard of very short fiction. Truly, this has been such an honor.
I knew choosing the winners would be difficult right after my first perusal of the stories on the longlist―a compendium of so many gorgeous tiny tales, varied in styles, in subject matter, in approach, in geography, in history. I read about grandfathers and newborns, children and youth, sports and food, animals and colors. And, I read them again. I went over the wondrous assortment several times before I whittled them down into a shortlist.
Once I created the shortlist, I knew an even more daunting task lay ahead: choosing the five winners, which includes the top three and the two highly commended stories. I did a lot of sorting, I did a lot of thinking, I read the stories out loud and, at times, even wished the list of winners could be longer.
The language, the unsaid between the lines, the tightness of the prose and the resonance are all paramount in such small stories and the winning pieces exemplified all those elements. These tales, I believe, will leave an indelible impression on the readers’ minds. I still think about the stories, days after I first read them.
Thank you, writers, for the gift of your precious words. It’s been my pleasure to inhabit the alluring worlds you’ve created.
Congratulations to the winners! I cannot wait to find out who penned these stunning gems.
Notes on Individual Stories
Market Forces 1
This story captivated me upon first read, and the second read and the third read. A sense of displacement, of not belonging, pervades this touching, well crafted story. The juxtaposition of the celebrating football fans, and Juma―who escaped his homeland and made it to Milan under harrowing conditions―makes for a painful contrast. The reader aches for Juma, for his loneliness, for his struggle to survive. At the end, we welcome the rain so he can sell his umbrellas, and for once, make enough to fill his belly. The tale might focus on one person who’s leading an in-between, temporary life, but underneath, the story hums with issues that are larger, stretching across countries and continents.
Walking to Wollongong 2
The details in this story are mesmerizing. An entire continent comes alive in a very small space. While the richness of Australia is illustrated via a tablecloth that doesn’t quite fit on the rectangular table, below simmers the story of a protagonist who craves information, for any snippet of knowledge that may help unearth their own history. This craving tugs at the reader and we find ourselves rooting for this young person. We too, walk that map of Australia as we ponder about the unspoken story hidden at Wollongong.
Lakota Widow 3
This poignant story about an old woman evokes such a majestic sense of place, of nature, of connection and all of that in five economical paragraphs. Yes, it’s about two people forging an unexpected relationship―a ninety year old woman and a hospital worker who becomes a friend. However, it’s also about the history of a people, about that which is sacred, about that which is so much bigger than us. In this lyrical, mystical piece the reader can breathe the air of those hills, see the buffalo cross the river, observe the broad sweep of sweetgrass and revel in all of that magic.
The Astronauts Meet for a Picnic on the First Thursday of Every Month (Highly Commended)
The unusual and deft use of the third person plural drew me into this story about a group of astronauts. The story is set at a picnic, not exactly a place where you’d expect astronauts. Beautiful details―the strawberries, the hot dogs, the ants—serve to ground the astronauts. They talk about what they wanted and what they have now. The real story, though, resides in the shared experiences they don’t discuss, in the things that hover in their minds, in the things that are present at the picnic and yet absent at the same time.
Fissure (Highly Commended)
The urgency and the pace in this one-sentence story kept me rapt until the very last word. We are with our ice-skater as she performs her routine, with the thoughts in her head, with the strain of everything weighing on her mind. We can comprehend her stress, see how she’s pushed and pulled, understand how enormous the burden of performance must feel and we want her to succeed, despite Ryan, and then, there’s that finish, the unforgettable, climactic finish to the story.