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The Carletonian

Olson Wins ACM Short Story Contest

<nother recognition of the creativity that Carleton fosters, Sarah Olson ’15, was recently selected as the winner of the 41st annual Nick Adams Short Story contest for “Truth in Lies,” a piece that she wrote in an introductory level creative writing class during fall term.

The Nick Adams Short Story Contest is a literary competition among the fourteen small liberal arts schools that comprise the Associated Colleges of the Midwest. According to the competition’s website, “Any student currently enrolled with good academic standing at an ACM college is eligible to enter the Nick Adams Contest and may submit up to two stories to their English department. The story need not have been written especially for the competition, but it cannot have been previously published off-campus.”

Each school selects four stories to be sent to a committee of judges drawn from ACM faculty, which selects a list of finalists. The qualifying essays are then read by a prominent fiction author who selects the winning essay. Peter Geye, who wrote The Lighthouse Road (2012) and Safe from the Sea (2010), was the author who selected Sarah Olson’s story.

In Olson’s tale, the protagonist Allan goes through a gallery of his ex-girlfriend’s artwork in the hopes of winning her back. Throughout the story, Olson focuses primarily on two themes: first, deception and the concealment of truth, and second, the concept that a person may be in the “right place at the right time, but may be the wrong person.” Olson uses a very personal third-person perspective to distinguish Allan’s understanding of the situation from the broader information to which readers are privy.

One of the most surprising elements of Olson’s victory is that she originally wrote it for a 100-level creative writing class. Indeed, Olson said wouldn’t have submitted her story without having been prompted by her professor, Greg Hewett.  She said that the peer-revision process, in which other students offered her feedback and pointed out potentially weak areas, was a valuable source of help. 

Hewett noted that creative writing classes at Carleton can be difficult because of the confines imposed by the ten-week term. It puts potentially creativity-stifling pressure on the students, he said, but by the end of the term they “produce a body of work” that is important for developing writers.

An additional twist to Olson’s success is that before this class, Olson hadn’t really explored writing creatively. As a child, she honed her creative powers through recitations of stories she had read and of tales that she had composed herself.  The stories she had created before Truth in Lies were “mostly in my own brain that I haven’t shared with anyone,” but she now intends to write more.

As a participant in theatre and drama during high school and at Carleton, Olson notes the importance of acting to her success as a writer. “Being able to visualize how things would play out with real people helps,” Olson said.
Olson will receive both the award and a $1,000 cash prize at a symposium in Chicago on Friday, April 12.

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