“Reception Theory” by Nathan Alling Long: Read the story that won the 2017 OWT Short Fiction Prize 2

Nathan Alling LongProfessor Max Ludlow has been losing hair for some time, and not being a person oblivious to style —unlike some of his colleagues who groomed their remaining strands into a semblance of a youthful do—he has begun to shave his head.  This gives Ludlow a clean, meditative look, cosmopolitan and ageless—his grey hairs now nearly invisible—but it also exposes a star-shaped scar over his right ear, of which he is self-conscious.  Or perhaps more accurately, of which he is self-aware—that is, not embarrassed, but cognizant that it is there, though he can only see it when looking in a mirror and turning his head to the left.

When he does see the scar, he often thinks how much it resembles an asterisk, which makes him imagine that in his head is a thought and that the scar is marking an informal footnote, offering a caveat or explanation, there at the bottom of the page—or, in this case, literally at his feet.  Sometimes he even glances down at his toes when he thinks this, to see if an explanation might be there. But of course there is never any explanatory note, which he always feels is unfortunate.
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Congratulations to the winners of the 2017 OWT Short Fiction Prize 3

Competition is harsh. Today, we’re pleased to announce that three people will receive prizes, but sorry that 297 people have been disappointed along the way. We’ve tried to make our decisions as fairly and diligently as possible, but disappointing news isn’t nice to receive or deliver. While many authors may have been disappointed not to make the longlist, and 28 of those longlisted may have been disappointed not to make the shortlist, it may be that the most disappointed are those who made the shortlist but aren’t among our three winners. To those who didn’t make the longlist, that may seem greedy, but it’s fair and proper to want to win – that’s what competition is for. If you’ll indulge us for a moment, we’d like to repeat a few thoughts on competition that we typed when awarding the inaugural OWT Short Fiction prizes last year:

In our society, competition is often championed for economic reasons. An investment-based economy requires perpetual growth, and a major stimulant to growth is to create situations in which individuals and institutions have to compete. In many ways, this is obstructive to human happiness. It has given us hundreds of thousands of cold callers whose misfortune it is to cajole consumers into switching mobile phone operator or utility provider. It has left us unprecedentedly unequal, alienated from each other, working for more hours than ever before, and seeking treatment for mental health problems from depression to anorexia. Its main achievement has been to produce loads of stuff, much of which has value only when accrued competitively.

I’d go so far as to suggest that competition damages relations within a community. This is why, for thousands of years, civilisations have created designated times and spaces for competitions. The social function of pankration, duelling, jousting, boxing, rugby, chess, and writing contests is to allow people to practice competition in ways that don’t have negative effects on the wider community. A recurring theme of the etiquette associated with competition is that when the competition is over, regardless of the result, the contestants cease to view each other as competitors and treat each other as friends and colleagues. The competition has to stay in a designated space because anybody who devoted their life to “the activity or condition of striving to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others” would be behaving like a total dick.

We continue to hold that the above is true. But this year the judging has been even tougher – with more than double the entries, and still only three prizes, we’ve had to disappoint even more deserving authors. Sorry! We wish you all luck with placing your stories elsewhere.

But, now, here’s the happy bit…

On this occasion, our three winners are:

3rd place (£25): Douglas W. Milliken

2nd place (£50): Krystal Song

1st place (£100): Nathan Alling Long

Congratulations to all of the above, who will receive their prize money this week. In a close contest, Nathan Alling Long clinched first place with his short story “Reception Theory,” a hilarious, clever, and multi-layered tale of a love-struck semiotician. Nathan, who teaches Creative Writing at Stockton University, has published stories and essays in over 100 journals. “Reception Theory” is an absolute delight – funny and clever and ultimately poignant. We are thrilled that we will be publishing it on this site next week.

Thank you again to everyone who entered – judging hasn’t been easy, but it has been a treat.