“American? But what are you, really?”
Sarah Hassan, a freshman at UMass Boston, read the poignant line to a campus center lounge packed nearly full of students and faculty on Wednesday, Nov. 7. It sounded like the beginning of poem, but it was already over.Hassan’s “short story” was the winning entry for the school’s first ever six-word story contest. The contest, put together by UMass Boston’s creative writing department, was inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s legendary six-word story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
“The challenge is to tell a complete story, with a sense of conflict, development and revelation,” said the school’s director of undergraduate creative writing, Tom O’Grady. “It’s amazing to be able to do that in six words.”
Over 100 students emailed in their entries over the last couple months. Creative writing teachers whittled down the total of 212 super-short stories to 20 of the best that were read to an enthusiastic audience Wednesday. The writers of the top three stories received gift cards to the campus bookstore.
Some of the entries were comical – “Ten items or less. Thirteen. Damnit.” Some were tragic – “Dear love, he’s back, I’m leaving.” And some were both – “Engagement ring, wedding ring, suffer ring.”
They came from English majors and chemistry majors, from freshmen and seniors, and from serious writers who spent hours on their stories and those who participated because it was “easy.”
Steeve Joazard (pictured above right), a senior English major, submitted a story that was chosen as one of the two runners-up: “Seeds don’t take in her garden.”
Josh Weiss (pictured at left), a junior Psychology major, was chosen as the other runner-up. His story: “Twelve boys entered, nine soldiers left.” He said he was surprised that his entry won.
“I honestly didn't think that hard [about the story.] I didn't think it was that great,” he said.
O’Grady said that he and the other creative writing staff were hopeful the six-word story contest would become an annual event at UMass Boston.
“The stories were so concise,” he reflected. “It’s almost as if they’re ready to explode with resonant meaning.”
More stories that were in the top twenty are listed below.
“But I did what you asked.”
“White dress, new neighbor, empty church.”
“Wait, you gave him peanut butter?”
“His machine worked. He could fly.”
“'I have no regrets:’ famous lie.”
“Two were married, one was happy.”
“Sinking boat, rock bottom, lustrous hurls.”
“Sin City: Please let me in.”
Emily Files can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.