For the last two weeks, the ten entries that advanced to the finals of Work Stew’s first-ever writing contest have been in the very capable hands of contest judge Pam Belluck. Ms. Belluck is a long-time staff writer for The New York Times and the author of Island Practice, a non-fiction book that debuted to excellent reviews on June 5.
As judge, Ms. Belluck was charged with choosing the first-, second-, and third-place winners of the contest. In the email explaining her selections, Ms. Belluck wrote, “I put a premium on creativity and a sense of surprise, factored in quality and cohesiveness of writing and consistency of voice, and looked for pieces that had layers—images that could be interpreted both literally and figuratively, for example. Also humor, which always earns points with me. (Oh, and the funny thing is all three of my winners have goats in them—is that bizarre or what?)”
Um, yes, that’s extremely bizarre. Reviewing the winning entries, however, it is quite clear to me that the goat thing is simply a happy coincidence. All three pieces have other charms and distinct strengths, and Ms. Belluck’s comments on each (see below) certainly resonated with me.
Thank you to Ms. Belluck for serving as the judge.
Thank you to the Work Stew patrons who so generously donated $1,500 in prize money.
Thank you to everyone who participated, as entrants and/or fans.
And congratulations to the contest’s winners. According to my research, if you pool your money, you could buy approximately nineteen low-end goats. Four if you insist on Nigerian Dwarfs.
—Kate Gace Walton, Work Stew Editor
Comments from Pam Belluck: Points for the title. Points for ‘When in doubt, reread Pessoa: “I’ve never herded sheep, but it’s as though I had.” Points for: “Name your goats (sheepishly) for the daughters you don’t have.” And points for, well, the point of the piece, as I saw it: “Ask yourself: have you discovered new questions you need to investigate?” and “You should be ready to move in any direction. Whatever you do, don’t close your eyes.”
Comments from Pam Belluck: Any piece that starts off with “You have a splendidly low IQ” has an author with some writing chops and an eye for the counter-intuitive. This is also a nice passage–and not just because I’m a flutist and recovering sax player: “Who am I to judge, maybe Plotinov should not have slept with Vladislav’s wife? On the other hand, did Plotinov’s wife have to throw chair at Mister Mayor while he played revered village anthem on his saxophone? The poor instrument will never sound the same. How was it possible chair leg knocked the reed straight down Plotinov’s throat, like a mama bird feeding her baby? For two days, every word Plotinov spoke sounded like he was duck hunting.” And how many times in all of English-language writing do you think goats and Rimsky-Korsakov appear in the same paragraph? I’m guessing this is the first.
Third Place ($100): Untitled by Tasha Huebner
Comments from Pam Belluck: I liked how she said a “bucket list” is an “asinine term.” I liked the late-in-the-essay poignant surprise of her cancer and the way she deals with it realistically and neither over-sentimentally nor glibly. Goat reference, for those keeping track: “A goat-weighing contest in Bhutan.” Plus it has the Corn Palace, which is surely one of the seven wonders of, well, South Dakota.