The Inspiration: The contest celebrates longtime Gotham student and friend Norma Crosier, who died in July, five days shy of her 91st birthday.
Writer, musician (piano and drums) and longtime arts volunteer with the Fountain Gallery, Norma was not only a student at Gotham, she embodied its ideals of fostering both creativity and community. She befriended writers of all ages, from their 20s to their 70s, and was known for her sly, playful wit. Once, she even led a walking tour for fellow writers through the West Village, ending at the smallest house in New York City, which she lived in at one time and wrote about in an essay.
Most of all, she wrote. She began crafting her stories when she was in her 80s, and never stopped. She published several essays in The Goose River Anthology; her final piece appeared posthumously in its fall issue.
The Challenge: Tell a story of your life in 91 words or less.
The Winners: More than 764 writers submitted micro-essays for this contest, and an overwhelming number of them were moving, funny, poignant or heartbreaking. There were so many good entries, in fact, that we added a Runner-Up prize and selected several Finalists, as well. Their names are below.
A Word From Norma Crosier's Niece, Nancy Peck
Norma Crosier did not take up writing her life stories until she was in the last semester of her life. Yet she went at it with vigor. She delighted in reading the works of her classmates, too. It is an intimacy between group writers and readers that cannot be found elsewhere.
I am thrilled that so many, with so few (91) words, took the challenge, produced, and shared in my Aunt Norma's name. She would be as delighted as we are now.
Cops, cashiers and railroad men: my people sprang from the Bronx. My parents used college like a pole vault, soft-landing in the burbs.
At 23, having horrified my family by salmoning back to that borough, I hung on the roof of a tenement building with Hector and Luis. I wanted a sharper life with guys like them, who dealt Mexican weed and stripped junkers on the Mosholu Parkway service road. They were like brothers until one caught the other with his woman. Out came the knife.
Too sharp. I moved.
Date: May 21st 1956; Time: 0500 hours; Ship's location: 25 miles from Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands, South Pacific. As the countdown progressed we put on goggles and covered our eyes with our forearms. We heard: 10, then 5, and 3, 2, 1. A blinding flash of light occurred. The brightness was such that I could see through my closed eyelids, through the dark goggles, through the skin and flesh of my arm, and actually see the outline of my arm bone.
A Tale of Two Felines by Jean Auerbach (Garrett Park, MD)
I came to DC from London to work and stayed with a friend.
Her landlord said he had a cat. I missed mine. He said I could visit whenever I needed feline company. “In fact,” he added, nonchalantly, "I'm going away next weekend. Perhaps you can come and keep her company; you know, hang out in the apartment."
He went away a few times.
One morning I knocked on his door and he said, "I'm not dressed."
"It's ok", I said, "I'm here to see the cat."
Now we're married.
High Desert by Patricia Hansen (Seattle, WA)
My worldly belongings included seashells and driftwood, stones, books, blankets, clothes. It was 1972, I was 20, so there was also a dog, a lover, his dog, his possessions. I'd paid one hundred dollars for "the Turd", a two-toned brown 1954 Chevy wagon. We packed it perfectly, tight but with enough space for wide smiles and unobstructed eye contact. We were young vagabonds, leaving the city to cross rivers and mountains for a life in the sun, free amid sand and sage and balsamroot.A life of our own, together.
Fly Ball: the Park Slope Plane Disaster by Jane Lane (New York, NY)
I met a man recently who was born the same year as I and grew up blocks from me in Brooklyn. "You remember the plane crash?" I asked. December 16, 1960, United Airlines 826 fell from the sky onto Seventh Avenue at 10:21 a.m. We were both nine. "Sure, I caused it. I hit a fly ball that morning and the plane came down. I ran in the house and told my mother."
"Charlie, it was a mid-air collision. Didn't you know?"
He looked at me, uneasy. Sure, he said, quietly.
Family Heirlooms in the Age of Glasnost by Warren Firschein (Safety Harbor, FL)
Before the Berlin Wall fell, I visited my great aunt in Moscow. I was 20; she was 90 or more. Reagan was president.
She gave me some family heirlooms--mostly silver goblets, plates, and utensils--and asked me to take them home with me.
At the airport, I was caught and told it was illegal to export antiques. KGB agents strip-searched and interrogated me. Eventually they let me board my flight, empty handed. They probably kept the silver for themselves.
Since then, I've occasionally seen similar pieces in museums.
When I Was Your Wife by Karen Arbogast (Cincinnati, OH)
The first night that I was your wife, you held me in your arms and called me missus.
But our marriage did not go well. In the summer, the neighbors heard our arguments.
Then your leukemia changed everything.
On that last day when I arrived home, your nurse called.
I returned. Curtains were drawn around your bed.
I touched your arm. Your body wasn't cold yet. I crawled in beside you and held you - like you held me -- the first night that I was your wife and you called me missus.
Best Cab Ride Ever! By Kristen Ferreira (Dighton, MA)
There was a bunch of trash leftover from White Castle in my seat so I put it in a bag and gave it to my driver. He appreciated the gesture and started discussing music with me. Next thing you know, the dude whipped out two different flutes and is serenading me. He's literally driving and playing the flutes at the same time. The live show while driving was so impressive that I didn't have time to worry about the possibility of crashing. Best cab ride ever.
Fishily a Writer by Judy Irvin Kuns (Sandusky, OH)
Watching me pack for my last residency, my young son asked, "Then are you going to be fishily a writer?" I smiled, knowing I could never stake a claim so lofty as "official" but "fishily" a writer? Maybe I could be that. Maybe I already was that. I remembered the quote by Ovid, "Let your hook be always cast. In the pool where you least expect it, there will be a fish." Into the pool of his deep blue eyes I plunged."Yup" I assured us both,"fishily a writer."