McSweeney’s first-ever student short story contest

(Courtesy of McSweeney's)
(Courtesy of McSweeney’s)

Calling all staggering geniuses: McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, the journal founded by Dave Eggers, has launched a short story contest for college and graduate students. The cash prize sounds nice — $500 — but the real reward is a chance to appear alongside the hipperati in McSweeney’s next summer.

Managing editor Daniel Gumbiner says, “We want very badly to help nurture and promote young writers, and we’re hoping that this annual contest will serve as a springboard for several talented young people.”

He’s also hoping that the submissions will give him and his colleagues “a look at the literary landscape of American schools right now — to discover writers that we might not have encountered otherwise. Introducing emerging writers to the world has always been a fundamental ambition of the magazine, and we see this contest as a new chapter in that tradition.”

Students enrolled in college or graduate school may submit manuscripts up to 7,500 words from now till Aug. 31. The entry fee is $55. (Rules and details here.)

Managing editor Daniel Gumbiner (Courtesy of McSweeney's)
Managing editor Daniel Gumbiner (Courtesy of McSweeney’s)

“We’re looking for something with a propulsive narrative,” Gumbiner says, “something that pushes the limits of the form as we know it, something fearless and honest and new. We’re looking to be surprised, to have our expectations challenged, to learn something.”

Otherwise, the subject matter and form are wide open — with one exception: “Let it be known that we are not looking for any more stories about nuptial girdles. We are not interested in those anymore,” Gumbiner says.

When I was teaching, I routinely advised students not to enter writing contests with hefty entry fees. (It was often the sign of a scam.) But this one passes the smell test because everyone who enters gets a year-long subscription to McSweeney’s, which normally costs $60.

“So by entering the contest,” Gumbiner points out, “you actually get a discounted subscription along with the chance to win and get published in the magazine. We think it’s a pretty excellent deal.”

I agree. (I’m reading an advance copy of the fall issue now, and it’s great. More on that later.)

The celebrity judge for this year’s contest hasn’t been chosen yet, but Gumbiner promises it will be “someone very special.”

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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