The 2003 Nashville Scene<$> Short Fiction & Poetry Contest 

"Write what you know.” It’s the gold standard of composition class, the Rosetta stone of every poetry workshop, the bulwark of writing retreats the world over. Unless you happen to be J. R. R. Tolkien or George Lucas, creating your own worlds deep in Middle-Earth or the Dagobah system, you’d better play it safe and stick with what you know.

What a relief, then, that the winners of the Nashville Scene’s short fiction and poetry contest have refused to play it safe. Pablo Tanguy is not a suburban housewife, and Michael McKerley has never been to Kosovo. Jeff Shearer is neither a square dancer nor a convict, Louisa-Flynn Goodlett hasn’t once visited the Mütter Museum, and Meredith Gray has never killed a rabbit in her life. Even the manuscripts that emerged from direct experience are marked by flights of fancy. Jamie Givens’ poem about her failure as a jazz saxophonist is a jazzy riff in its own right. Susannah Joy Felts has worked as a substitute teacher, although “pretty much everything else in that story is made up,” she says.

We at the Scene, limited by our journalistic obligation to The Truth, gladly take this yearly opportunity to salute the fine art of making stuff up. As Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “The world is but a canvas to our imaginations.”

Fiction and Poetry Judges

Marc Smirnoff is the founder and editor of The Oxford American, a magazine about Southern culture that began in 1992 but is now in hibernation while Smirnoff seeks new investors. He has written for the New York Times Book Review, the Washington Post Book World and others. He says that the best writing advice he’s come across is from William Faulkner: “Be better than yourself.”

Diann Blakely, author of Hurricane Walk (BOA Editions, Ltd., 1992) and Farewell, My Lovelies (Story Line Press, 2000), is also poetry editor of The Antioch Review. She writes frequently about the arts for the Scene. Blakely says that the best writing advice she’s ever come across is also from Faulkner: “If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the 'Ode on a Grecian Urn’ is worth any number of old ladies.”


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