Congratulations to Zahra Hadi! Zahra was the big winner in our Junot Díaz Contest, which we sponsored with our friends at the National Writing Project. Junot—author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao—said of Zahra’s story “I’ll Clean It When I Want To“:
“The winner had a human scale that worked best in a small piece and had a sharp, compelling voice. Set about immediately describing a relationship and that’s always a way to bring character to the fore. I connected with this piece because it felt sincere and personal and I like the writer’s verve.“
Great writing teacher that he is, Junot also had some final gems of advice for all of us on developing our craft and creating short but sweet stories:
“In general I’m always pushing my student writers to scale their tales correctly. If they only have two pages it might not be so good to tell a story about a murder—though there are some geniuses that can make a murder work in two pages, it’s usually mad hard. Two pages calls for something smaller usually. Half the battle for an artist is picking something that will actually fit on their canvas.
“Also when you’re a young writer first putting on your narrative muscles it’s important to focus on the smaller dramas of people’s lives—to get a handle on those mundane, day-to-day shifts and surprises and disappointments–before tackling more spectacular topics like death, illness, crime and war. If you can’t accurately describe what it’s like to love a neighborhood that you’re always being taught to dislike; if you can’t capture what it means to be rejected by someone you thought your friend—if you can’t take on those very small but immensely human moments, I’d think twice before writing about WW3 or being the drug lord of a criminal empire. Which is not to say that folks can’t do it. I’m sure there are; I’m just not one of them and I can only speak from my limitations and abilities. I was never much of a genius so I had to develop my talent in logical increments. At a narrative level I never just jumped up and ran nine miles. First I built my talent up to one mile, then two, then three, etc. It’s a slow, onerous method but it’s the one that worked for me. I recommend it.“
Zahra is the lucky winner of an awesome prize pack that includes a signed copy of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a boxed set of J.R.R. Tolkein books, a Dr. Who t-shirt, and an evil eye pendant. The other nine finalists will also receive signed copies of Junot’s books. Thanks to everyone who entered!