The annual Flash Fiction Contest challenges students to produce and submit a short piece of fiction to be judged anonymously. The contest is taking place this year in the spring instead of its usual programming in the fall. 

The English department sponsors the contest, and faculty members are typically in charge of planning its logistics. As assistant Professor of English, Jennifer Gilmore is currently the only creative writing faculty member on campus. Other professors in the discipline are on sabbatical or teach as visiting professors. Therefore, Gilmore took charge of running this year’s contest and selecting the judge, who is typically a writer from the region.

Stephanie Powell Watts, creative writing director at Lehigh University, is judging this year’s competition. Gilmore described Watts as “a very well-known novelist and story writer” and added, “We’re really lucky to have Stephanie judge.”

Gilmore herself has also served as a judge for the Flash Fiction Contest back when she first started teaching at Lafayette. 

“It was one of my first experiences with Lafayette writers, so it was really great to sort of see not only the range of styles but the range of subjects,” she said. “The thing about a short short is you can write about anything.“

In her own writing endeavors as a novelist, Gilmore said that flash fiction pieces can also be beneficial exercises for writers to establish “a bridge to a story” that can be built upon to create a larger work.

While writers have creative freedom over the topic they address in their flash fiction piece, it can be really challenging to get the point across in such a small space. Flash fiction pieces are also referred to interchangeably as vignettes, short shorts, or prose poetry and can only contain up to 500 words including the title. 

“Distilling something down into one image that is emblematic of something is really difficult,” said Gilmore. She shared that she likes to give flash fiction prompts to her students in class and will often write alongside them to see if she, too, can rise to the challenge. 

“Word economy” is especially crucial in the flash fiction writing process. “You’re taking a big story and putting it in a small space,” she said. “It’s really about word economy and only using the words you need.” 

Therefore a good entry typically relies upon vivid imagery and small details. “It’s really about capturing something small, but in a big way,” Gilmore explained, so these strict guidelines make flash fiction challenging for all types of writers.  

“Poets have a great sense of imagery…their challenge is putting it into a narrative,” said Gilmore. Other types of writers face different challenges in the process. Longer-form writers must cut down on their word usage to have their story fit within the word count. 

In her writing endeavors as a novelist, Gilmore said that flash fiction pieces can also be beneficial exercises for writers to establish “a bridge to a story” that can be built upon to create a larger work. 

She added that her time teaching has allowed her to get to know her students on a personal level through their writing since her first days at the college.

“I didn’t know the students yet. I bet if I were to read [the entries] now, I’d be able to identify most of [the writers] because you can tell their styles, especially if I’ve had the pleasure of having them in more than one class,” she said.

Students in creative writing classes were especially encouraged to submit work for consideration, but Gilmore shared that submissions come from students all over campus, regardless of major. Because the common course of study requires three writing classes, including one from both inside and outside of the major, Lafayette offers a wide range of writing courses each semester, from nature writing to advanced poetry. This allows a great variety of students to gain exposure to the discipline. 

Signs posted in Pardee Hall in tandem with announcements via Lafayette Today also encouraged participation in the contest. Gilmore expressed the value of creative writing competitions in encouraging students all over campus to engage with the arts. 

“It’s really great to get writers involved,” she said. “Anyone can do it.”

2024 Flash Fiction Contest winner – Madeline Marriott

The winning writer earns a prize of $100 along with the opportunity to read for an audience. The chance for writing students to have their work considered by a judge with real-world experience in the field is also an invaluable learning experience.

Members of the community are invited to attend the Flash Fiction Reading in Skillman Library’s Gendebien Room at 4:10 pm on February 28th, where contest winner Madeline Marriott ‘24 and honorable mentions Zubair Ali ‘24 and Paige Mathieu ‘24 will give readings of their distinguished entries. The event will also feature a reading from judge Stephanie Powell Watts, followed by a reception.