The Envelope, Please…

In Contests on September 15, 2013 at 12:12 am

Krznaric 170The judge of the Second Annual Work Stew Essay Contest was Roman Krznaric. Named by The Observer as one of Britain’s leading lifestyle philosophers, Mr. Krznaric is a founding faculty member of The School of Life in London, which offers instruction and inspiration on the important questions of everyday life. He studied at the universities of Oxford, London, and Essex, where he gained his PhD. He has taught sociology and politics at Cambridge University and City University, London. He speaks regularly at public events and is the author of several books, including How to Find Fulfilling Work, part of a new practical philosophy series edited by Alain de Botton.

I’m very grateful to Mr. Krznaric, not only for tackling the difficult task of choosing the winners but also for sending along the thoughtful note below. Jump straight to it if you haven’t already.

Kate Gace Walton, Work Stew Editor

Work Stew Essay Contest 2013 – Judge’s Report

By Roman Krznaric

There was a fascinating rattlebag of essays amongst this year’s shortlist of ten entries. Full of wonderful prose combined with surprisingand often disturbinginsights into the world of contemporary work, it seemed a little unfair to be forced to choose only three winners. Certain themes kept cropping up, such as the struggles to deal with financial insecurity, and there were thoughtful essays on more unusual jobs, such as being unemployed and motherhood. Overall, what really struck me was how important every worker is for making the world go around, how we are dependent on so many professions, from the doctor who will come out and deliver a baby in the middle of the night to pre-school teachers and wait staff. I’m reminded of a poem by Bertholt Brecht called ‘A Worker Reads History,’ which tells us that history is made not by the powerful, but by everyday people:

Who built the seven gates of Thebes?

The books are filled with names of kings.

Was it the kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?

And Babylon, so many times destroyed.

Who built the city up each time? In which of Lima’s houses,

That city glittering with gold, lived those who built it?

In the evening when the Chinese wall was finished

Where did the masons go? Imperial Rome

Is full of arcs of triumph. Who reared them up? Over whom

Did the Caesars triumph? Byzantium lives in song.

Were all her dwellings palaces? And even in Atlantis of the legend

The night the seas rushed in,

The drowning men still bellowed for their slaves.

So, now for the winners. Coming in third place is #16: Impermanent as Everything Else: A Day in the Life of an Adjunct Professor. This essay, as the title implies, takes us through a typical day in the life of an adjunct college professor. It was playful and funny, and its experimental form giving snippets of moments throughout the day really gave a good sense of the disrupted or staccato nature of modern working life that so many people feel, flitting from this task to that, juggling work and family and social life, keeping all the balls up in the air at once.

Second place goes to #10: Untitled. This was a behind-the-scenes look at life as a member of the wait staff in a popular restaurant chainand you may not like what you see. The author talks about how the staff ‘checked our ethics at the door’ and then embarked on a cut-throat struggle to earn enough from their tips to survive on, doing everything from altering the credit card slips of bad tippers to licking the silverware. But this writer managed to survive and maintain her dignity.

And in first place, the winner is…#3: Connecting the Dots. I absolutely loved this piece written by a legal secretary about her time working on criminal cases for a top defense attorney. I don’t want to give away too much, but it somehow manages to combine blood-splattered walls and dancing. It’s macabre, amusing, and extremely insightful about the way many workers find ways to survive the traumas and trials of their working lives. And more than that, it’s a superb piece of prose, full of literary panache.

Kate again, returning just to say:

Now that the winners have been picked, we can re-attach names to the entries cited above. Congratulations to:

Anne Muccino, First Prize Winner ($1,000)

Helen Tosch, Second Prize Winner ($400)

Ellie Stanford, Third Prize Winner ($100)

(Interestingly, even with a different judge and no names attached to the entries, Ellie Stanford managed to make the winner’s list again. Remember the goats?)

Congratulations also to the other finalists: Dan Madden, Julie Hall, Tasha Huebner, Tisha Deutsch, Rene Saenger, Jenny Hough, and Delcie Pound. I enjoyed all of your entries, but I would be remiss not to acknowledge the enormous popularity of Tisha Deutsch‘s piece. I’d also like to tip my hat to Delcie Pound. As I try to pack Work Stew with a wide variety of voices and experiences, it was a thrill for me to receive her (totally delightful) submission, reminiscing about a day on the job back in 1937, more than seventy years ago.

Thank you, too, to everyone who entered…thank you to all who read the submissions and shared them around…and special thanks to Michael T. Heath and Paula Kiger for taking the time to comment so consistently and thoughtfully.

And finally: thank you a million times over to Steve Karan, who so generously donated the prize money for this contest. Steve is a musician, an investor, and a friendand he excels at all three. In case you haven’t heard him at the piano before (or even if you have), let’s have him play us out.

  1. Congratulations to each of the winners! The essays were enlightening and fun to read. Also, thank you for allowing me to participate in your contest, given the fact that in most circles motherhood is not counted a ‘real’ profession. Though I’m not out there making a living, even as a home educating mom of 7, I thoroughly enjoy your site for working folks!

    • Tisha! Your essay was absolutely beautiful (it brought tears to my eyes and memories to my mind). Not a real profession? It is THE profession. It’s the hardest, most thankless, yet most rewarding job in the world. I love being a mom more than anything else, and you did an incredible job of putting unconditional love into words. You are a working folk. You are a mom (of seven no less). And you are a writer. Thank you.

  2. The best part of the contest was in sharing stories and commentary with the other writers. Learning, taking criticism and making progress are hallmarks of intellectual pursuit – and endearing qualities to nurture. Even though my personal favorites didn’t win this time, they did get an airing: better than mouldering unread in your notebook.

  3. Such a nice tone to this. I replayed Steve’s piano in Times Square too and loved it again. Love Mum

    Sent from my iPad

  4. I really enjoyed all of the entries. I know that writing my entry was cathartic (and isn’t that one of the main reasons we write?). I appreciate all of the effort that was put into coordinating this and commend the winners!

  5. […] contest per year, but that one—involving 800-word entries and $1,500 in prize money—wrapped up in September. This new contest unfolded over the last few days of […]

  6. […] so for two years now—in an attempt to introduce the site to new contributors—I’ve held an essay contest complete with wonderful judges and actual prize money. I go to sponsors, like my generous friend […]

  7. Hello. When will you have more contests?

  8. Probably over the summer–but I still need to firm that up! If you’re interested in publishing an essay in the meantime, please get in touch:

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