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2021 Contest

Natalie Marsh

Natalie Marsh, a senior at Carleton College, was named the winner of the 49th annual Nick Adams Short Story Contest for her short story “Underwater, I Am Weightless.”

The winning story was selected from six finalist stories by final judge Sandra Cisneros, bestselling author of The House on Mango Street. Cisneros also awarded an honorable mention to “Blackberry’s Blues,” by Bren Davis, a student at Ripon College.

Natalie Marsh

Winner: “Underwater, I Am Weightless” by Natalie Marsh

In her comments on Marsh’s story, final judge Sandra Cisneros wrote:

“This story stayed with me long after I put it down. The protagonist calls herself ‘a passenger in my body,’ and I too felt I was riding weightlessly on subtle currents, noting everything little and large, especially the unnameable. For its power of perception and its ability to capture that shimmering age between childhood and adulthood, I congratulate this writer. I admired how delicately the writer approached the scene of abuse; so much was exquisitely said by not saying. A beautiful and brave voice.”

Natalie Marsh, who is from Glencoe, IL, is majoring in religion and minoring in French at Carleton College. After her graduation from Carleton, she will pursue a Master of Arts in Religion degree at Yale Divinity School and hopes to develop skills for community organizing in faith-based contexts. “From a young age I was drawn to the way fiction can tell us about ourselves in unexpected ways,” said Marsh, who has always loved reading. “Writing has long felt like a comfortable place to process the world around me, but it wasn’t until I began taking creative writing workshops at Carleton that I felt moved to begin pursuing fiction writing in a more devoted way.”

Bren Davis

Honorable Mention: “Blackberry’s Blues” by Bren Davis

Cisneros commended Davis for their story’s “succinctness, verbal acrobatics, and poetry. A taut, dreamlike, innovative tale told in astonishing language.” Davis, who is pursuing a major in English and a minor in Women and Gender Studies at Ripon College, said, “writing in all forms has always been a space of safety for me, and fiction became very important as I grew older because it gave me the opportunity to express my personal feelings and the feelings of others like me in a way that could be appreciated or empathized with.”

From left: Lily Lauver, Sarah Lohmann, Samantha Stagg, Ben Short



Thirty-six stories were entered in the 2021 Nick Adams Contest through the English departments on ACM campuses, with each campus allowed to enter up to four stories in thecompetition. David McGlynn, Professor of English at Lawrence University, and Megan Gannon, Associate Professor of English at Ripon College, served as initial faculty readers, choosing six finalist stories from which Cisneros selected a winner and honorable mention. The finalists were:

Cisneros said the finalists “proved they were all exceptionally good writers, and I hope they will continue their journey on their craft…. Felicidades to all these writers.”

Sandra Cisneros

Photographer: Keith Dannemiller

Final Judge: Sandra Cisneros

Writer Sandra Cisneros served as final judge for the 2021 Nick Adams Short Story Contest.

Sandra Cisneros is a poet, short story writer, novelist, essayist, performer, and artist whose work explores such themes as Chicana identity, cultural hybridity, and social position. Born in Chicago, her time living in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago served as inspiration for her classic, coming-of-age novel The House on Mango Street (1984), which has sold more than six million copies.