Every summer for the last four years, Vita.Mn has prompted local writers to submit a work of short fiction on a theme. The top submissions are then invited to compete in a live performance for two coveted prizes: the audience choice award, consisting of $400 and admission to the Loft’s three-day Nature and Environmental Writing Conference in Sandstone, Minnesota, and the grand prize (chosen by a private panel of judges), which amounts to $750 and publication in bot Vita.Mn’s print and online editions.
So it was that the Loft Literary Center, Vita.mn, and Hell’s Kitchen teamed up to present the fourth annual “Best of Summer Stories” competition on Wednesday, July 25 2012. Hell’s Kitchen—a multifaceted subterranean downtown Minneapolis venue—was a spacious, unconventional, and ultimately perfect setting for this year’s theme: the Seven Deadly Sins. With dungeon-esque candlelight and low wattage fixtures, and the looming presence of a fallen angel providing the stage’s backdrop, the classy yet macabre environment lent just the right tone for an evening of lust, greed, gluttony, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride.
A powder-blue-suited John Jodzio emceed the event, delivering the audience through nineteen impressive writers reading nineteen exceptional stories—seriously, whoever did the vetting either had a really easy job or did really good work with a difficult one. Twenty writers were invited, but Betsy Rathburn couldn’t attend to read her story “Fireworks.” Too bad—she missed out on a supportive, enthusiastic audience at the ready to hoot, laugh, and squeal for their favorite short-short stories.
Ben Barnhart started things off with “Breaking Down Silos,” and the night never looked back. Brian Beatty’s eleven-year-old narrator ranted against an unidentified antagonist in “My Wrath” (in order to help the audience imagine him as an eleven-year-old, Beatty instructed us to imagine him “shorter, fatter, and with less grey in my beard”). I would point out the highlights, but the writing on display was of such consistent quality that there simply weren’t any low points to distinguish them. What did stand out, though, was how each of these readers performed their original works with boldness and confidence, adding sass and character to each voice we heard. Jocelyn Hale of the Loft presented the audience choice award to the much deserving Brian Judd, whose epistolary historical
fiction yarn “Fox and Foxibility” was rendered with an actor’s commitment to craft—Judd read the whole piece in what I understood as a mock-historical affect, though this theory weakened when he graciously accepted his prize in what seemed to be a continuation of the persona… For what it’s worth, Judd gave a stellar performance and wrote a stellar piece, but I voted for Erin Boe, who’s authentic rendering of her story “The Painter” won me over with the line, “I’ll give you some clam chowder… but it’s not vegan.” (Maybe you had to be there.)
The fourth annual Best of Summer Stories was a thorough success on every front—entertaining, rewarding, novel, and inspiring—from start to finish. I’ll make a point to attend next year, and every year after that. My only question is, why stop at “Best of Summer”? There are four seasons to a year, and clearly there’s more than enough talent to go around.
Were you There? Have something to add, or a different take on this event? Chime in on the comments below, or send us an email at LitSeen.Mpls@gmail.com! Be sure to check the schedule to the right and the Twin Cities Literary Calendar and be at the next LitSeen attended event. See you around!