By Anne Korkeakivi
Reading each story—which I did at least twice, if not many times more—on the shortlist of the inaugural Woolf story competition has been a privilege and pleasure. But singling out a first-, second-, and third-place winner is a little heartbreaking. Each story owns its own universe and concerns; even in those sharing a similarly domestic scenario the narrators range from a dissatisfied, well-heeled married couple (“Dialectics”) to a vengeful sightless woman (“Love is Blind”) to a grieving African expatriate (“Mangled Polygon vs the Robinets”). One exhilarating story (“Raw Pleasures of Valais”) plunges the reader down fresh powder in the Swiss Alps. A particularly imaginative, haunting work (“Milk”) takes the reader into a dystopian future devoid of privacy. Two of the very most accomplished stories are polar opposites in genre: a stomach-turning piece of verisimilitude about culture clash (“Sannackji”) and an eerie fairytale about mother-daughter abuse (“Red My Marrow and Supply My Bones”).
With such a panoply of excellence to choose from, I decided to follow the lead of the competition’s theme, Raw. In both the Merriam-Webster and Oxford English dictionaries, “raw” has multiple definitions: “not cooked”; “in its natural state” and “unprocessed”; “strong and undisguised”; “new to an activity”; “unprepared”; “chafed”; “unbridled”; “frank and realistic”; “not protected”; “susceptible to hurt”; “naked.” I loved how each of the three winning stories integrates both literal and metaphoric interpretations of the word to create a resonance well beyond its scenario.
Third place goes to the terrifying “Of Baking and Blackbirds,” in which a mother cheerfully mixes cookie dough with her suicidal daughter, while internally trying to stave off panic.
Second place goes to the affecting “Wounds,” in which a survivor of violence re-visits both past trauma and its incarcerated perpetrator, in a slow bid for recovery.
And then there is the surprising “Melting Ice,” in which a group of drunken, supposed friends at a barbecue share one brief moment of transparency, before retreating into their individual prisms of existence. Appearing at first simple, almost comic, this story ends up being anything but. The same can be said for its incisive descriptive language, so deftly has it been fused to the story’s theme and voice. I couldn’t stop thinking about “Melting Ice,” which is one of the best things that can be said of a work of fiction and why I am awarding it first place.
Congratulations to everyone. It’s a terrible responsibility to sort out winners with so many deserving stories in the mix, and I sincerely hope and expect to see many of those works that don’t appear in The Woolf published somewhere else in the future.
1st place: Kate Paine – Melting Ice
2nd place: J. Rushing – Wounds
3rd place: K.C. Allen – Of Baking and Blackbirds
Anne Korkeakivi is the author of the novels An Unexpected Guest (2012) and Shining Sea (2016), both from Little, Brown. Her short fiction and nonfiction have been published by the Atlantic, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Times (UK), Travel & Leisure, Time, Ms., Architectural Digest, the Yale Review, the Bellevue Literary Review, The Millions, Literary Hub, and many other periodicals in the US, the UK, and online. An essay that ran originally in Brain, Child was chosen for Best Women’s Travel Writing, Vol. 10. She is a Hawthornden Fellow and recipient of the Lois Kahn Wallace Writers Award.
Anne holds a BA in Classics from Bowdoin College and an MA in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University. She was born in New York City, raised there and in western Massachusetts, and has since lived also in any number of places, including Helsinki, Finland; Los Angeles; Washington, DC; Cambridge, MA; and Strasbourg in eastern France, from where she worked for the publisher Flammarion and traveled to Paris often. She currently splits her time between New York City and Geneva, Switzerland, where her husband is a human-rights lawyer with the UN. They have two daughters.
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