At Desi Writers’ Lounge (DWL), we are incredibly humbled to have completed five years of our annual short story contest. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all the writers who have participated in the contest at one time or another since its inception and helped us make it a successful project. When we began the contest in 2012, we had no money and no idea where this was going to lead us. All we wished for was an incentive for emerging writers to have their voices heard and be rewarded for their efforts. As a community of writers and poets, we felt we understood the creative struggle and wanted to contribute towards its recognition. So we say thank you to this year’s participating writers and the ones who went before them for accompanying us on this wonderful journey. We would also like to thank our team members at DWL and Papercuts magazine, who have always stood by the project and supported it by devoting their time and energy. Most of all, we thank the Dastaan Award patrons for their vision and generosity. The Dastaan Award provided the first monetary prize for the contest and inspired the way for further contributions from the DWL team, which have led to $300 in cash prizes for the second year running.
This year, we received just over 320 stories, with representation from all parts of the world. Our winning authors span three continents and are separated by thousands of miles, but share the characteristics of excellent storytelling. The contest’s shortlisted stories had themes as diverse as the colonization of planet Mars and a daughter’s attempts to honour her dead mother’s memory by making the perfect Daal. The competition was so fierce that for the first time in our history we ended up with a three-way tie on points, with an evenly split jury.
In the end, we believe the 2016 winning stories provide us heartfelt glimpses of what it means to love, understand and cope with loss, and experience the everyday struggles of a life that rushes past us with casual indifference.
We’re also announcing the winner of the 2016 Dastaan Award, which is a cash prize given annually to one of the three overall winners of DWL’s Short Story Contest. Click here to read the Dastaan Award 2016 announcement.
Without further ado, here are the winners of the 2016 short story contest:
Notes from a Passing by Rijula Das
Rijula Das was born in small town West Bengal and has since gone on to live in different parts of the world. She has recently completed a PhD in Creative Writing from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, where she also taught writing classes for two years. She currently struggles daily with her recalcitrant first novel in faraway New Zealand.
Judges’ note: A father-son relationship marked by distance and a lack of communication might be a commonplace theme in fiction, but in Notes from a Passing, Rijula Das makes it extraordinary through her treatment. Rijula’s diction is poetic and graceful, and her narrative is filled with wisdom and insights that are at once heartrending and satisfying. Notes is a wonderful example of meticulous writing. The descriptions seem to have been forged with care and precision. Notes will hold your hand and take you along on an exploration of grief as its narrator begins to anticipate and understand the immeasurable dimensions of the loss of a parent. Read Notes from a Passing
As if it Were by Anam Sufi
Anam Sufi is a fiction writer who is currently based in Lahore. Her short stories have previously been published internationally, including issue 2 of Maker’s Movement (Canada), The Madelyn Lamont Print Anthology (Egypt), and the London-based, Late Night Tales label —contributing a short story for a collaboration with instrumentalist Olafur Arnalds and actor David Tennant. Anam acquired an undergraduate degree in English and Comparative Literature from the American University in Cairo, followed by a graduate diploma in Refugee Law from the same institution. She then acquired a Masters Degree in Creative Writing and Publishing from City University, London. She is currently working on her first book, while also managing her @clickstories Instagram account; established as a platform to share her flash fiction.
Judges’ note: As if it Were impressed the judges with its story, an intelligent plot point, and realistic characterization in a familiar setting. Anam Sufi’s attention to detail helped her impart a complexity and authenticity to her characters. As if it Were presents a cross-section of contemporary society and the manic pace of everyday existence in and around the bustling city of Lahore. As the lives of these characters intersect briefly, we see them sometimes stuck, sometimes trying to escape, as their struggles get overshadowed by oppressive reality, and the sense that both life and their struggles will go on ceaselessly gives As if it Were its punch. Read As if it Were
The Opposite of Lovesick by John Maki
John is a short story writer who studies at Hugo House in Seattle. He holds a BA in English from Lewis and Clark College and a Technical Writing certificate from the University of Washington. He works for The Boeing Company. His short story The Dream of Bigger Things was recently published by Jam Tarts Magazine. He is honored to receive this recognition from Desi Writers’ Lounge.
Judges’ note: The Opposite of Lovesick is a bittersweet snapshot of adolescent love and rejection, masterfully captured. Writing natural dialogue is a challenge, and most stories we received this year struggled with it, but John Maki’s skill is reflected in how he effortlessly holds the dialogue and uses it to advance the plot towards a memorable life lesson. Read The Opposite of Lovesick
Congratulations to the winners! Rijula Das receives the PKR 50,000 Dastaan Award while all three winners receive $100 for their stories.
The Cat Killer by G. H. Finn – This murder mystery offered the jury a welcome change from the serious stories they usually get to see in the shortlist. Finn deserves appreciation for a unique mix of humour, mystery and plot twists that lead to a dark and thrilling finale.
Also on the shortlist:
Aji by Praveena Shivram
Daal by Harj Dhillon
Karma Garden by Randall G. Arnold
The Big Finale by John Wright
Najwa by Mehreen Sohail
Don’t forget to read winning entries from previous editions of DWL’s annual contest.