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"Vividly imagined story" by Macalester Student Is Winner of ACM Nick Adams Short Story Contest

Published: April 23, 2009

Kokoro Lee, a senior at Macalester College, has been named the winner of the ACM Nick Adams Short Story Contest. Her story “A Flawed Vivarium” was selected from the 40 stories submitted by students from ACM colleges. The Nick Adams Contest carries with it a first prize of $1,000, made possible through a generous gift from an anonymous donor.

Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife, served as the final judge for the contest this year. In commenting on Ms. Lee’s story, Ms. Niffenegger wrote:

“This is an understated, vividly imagined story that combines elements of Southern Gothic and Darwin gone awry. I appreciated the writer's control and restraint. The protagonist, Maya, is a lovely creation, very serious and sincere, but on the edge of knowledge. This is an unusual coming-of-age story, a beautiful example of science fiction in a realistic setting.”

Kokoro Lee

Kokoro Lee

Kokoro Lee is a double major in Japanese and English with a focus on Creative Writing at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. Ms. Lee, a native of Portland, Oregon, will be graduating this spring and plans to stay in the Twin Cities. Next year, she hopes to apply her English and Japanese majors to the JET (The Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme, a program funded by the Japanese government that places native English (and other language) teachers throughout Japan. Someday she would like to write and publish novels, short stories, and screenplays. 

As a child, Ms. Lee was a voracious reader, which led “into frantic scribblings of my own stories, which mostly featured talking animals, elves and fairies.” In middle school, Ms. Lee was selected as her school’s delegate for a citywide writer’s fest, and since then she has pursued writing in one way or another. Ms. Lee would like to thank Peter Bognanni, visiting instructor in the English Department at Macalester College, whose Crafts of Writing: Fiction class spurred her to write “A Flawed Vivarium.” Ms. Lee said, “without the feedback of Peter and the entire class, the story would never have become what it has.” 

Two stories awarded Honorable Mention 

 In addition to Ms. Lee’s winning story, honorable mentions were awarded to “A Collective Approach,” by Adam Soto of Knox College, and “Eleven Kinds of Lonesome,” by Taylor Eagan of Coe College. Ms. Niffenegger was impressed by Mr. Soto’s “empathy for and handling of the characters, and by the writer's rendering of their complex, intertwined situations.” Ms. Niffenegger referred to Ms. Eagan’s story as “an ambitious, clever piece with many moving parts, a real juggling act. The writer has a relaxed, wry voice that made the story very pleasurable.”

Professors Shawn Gillen of Beloit College and Melissa Sodeman of Coe College served as initial faculty readers for the contest, selecting six finalists from which Ms. Niffenegger selected the winning and honorable mention stories.

Three other stories were selected as finalists by the faculty judges:

  • “Hangman” by Sam Martone of Knox College;
  • “Blizzard” by David Rysdahl of St. Olaf College; and
  • “View from the Tower” by Erik van Mechelen of St. Olaf College.

Audrey Niffenegger serves as Final Judge for 2009 contest

Ms. Niffenegger’s debut novel, The Time Traveler’s Wife (2003) has been translated into over thirty languages. Warner Bros./New Line Cinema expects to release a film version, starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams. A love story about a “temporally challenged” man, the novel features vivid Chicago settings, including the Newberry Library, and compelling meditations about marriage, loss, free will, and change.

Her second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, will be published in October. Harry N. Abrams has published two of her visual novels, Three Incestuous Sisters (2005) and The Adventuress (2006). Other visual books include Spring (1993), The Spinster (1986), Aberrant Abecedarium (1986) and The Murderer. Recently, her graphic novel The Night Bookmobile (2008) was serialized in the London Guardian and can be viewed at http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/series/nightbookmobile.

Ms. Niffenegger received several awards and fellowships including a Union League Art Scholarship from the Union League Civic Arts Foundation, a George D. and Isabella A. Brown Travelling Fellowship from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and an Artist Grant from the Vogelstein Foundation. She has also been a Ragdale Fellow numerous times and has received funding from the Illinois Arts Council. Her art work has appeared in group exhibitions at the Spertus Museum at Chicago’s Institute of Jewish Studies, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Cultural Center, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Read more about Audrey Niffenegger

The Nick Adams Short Story Contest has been held annually since 1973 by the Associated Colleges of the Midwest. Any student at an ACM college is eligible for the contest. Students submit stories to their English department, and each department selects the four best to send to ACM. A small committee of faculty drawn from ACM colleges selects the finalists, and the winner is chosen by the contest's final judge. Final judges in past years have included Jane Smiley, Saul Bellow, Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike, Anne Tyler, Maya Angelou, Barbara Kingsolver, Jane Hamilton, and Stuart Dybek. Read more about the Nick Adams Contest

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