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Catherine Johnson


 Winner of the 2019 Nick Adams Short Story Contest

Read the story: Coming of Age in the Modern Midwest

Final judge Audrey Petty wrote:

"In ‘Coming of Age in the Modern Midwest’ the author achieves an electric sense of place. The action of the story—the heart of the story—is the annual summer carnival in a small Illinois town. With tenderness and inquisitiveness, the narrator (and hometown girl) returns again and again to the event and the adventure of this summer gathering. Here we witness the narrator's tender friendship with Max. Through leaps of language and rich sensory detail, the story generates remarkable tension and awe. A ride to the top of the Ferris Wheel allows a view of the world, evoking intimacy and distance all at once. A mysteriously rocking porta-potty inspires intense curiosity and delight. An ode to the lemon shakeup (“sweeter and tangier” than basic lemonade) pays tribute to what can’t be found anywhere else: “summer in a straw.” The time-traveling in the story is accomplished with delicacy and élan, and the narrative gathers to explore the protagonist's complicating loyalties and commitments. ‘Coming of Age in the Modern Midwest’ is a resonant love story in more ways than one.”


More about Catherine Johnson:

  • Junior at Carleton College

  • Major: Political Science  
  • Hometown: Galesburg, IL

ACM: What sparked your interest in writing, and how did you get started writing fiction?

Johnson: I have always loved reading, and I think that interest naturally segued into an interest in writing. I largely use writing to process things that I see or experience, and I think fiction is great because it is both very personal and naturally separated from reality.

ACM: Are there people (teachers, friends, authors) who have particularly influenced your writing?

Johnson: My Oma has always guided me towards rich literature. My parents have always had good books lying around the house, which has also significantly impacted me. They have also never been shy about correcting my grammar, which I now appreciate. Lately I’ve been inspired by a lot of my friends who write (particularly Harper Lee Colclasure, Gillian Allison, Haley Bosse, Sarah Lieberman, and Sonali Mehta), and reading their work and talking to them has led me to take my writing more seriously.

ACM: In addition to fiction, are there other types of writing you are particularly interested in?

 Johnson: I have started getting more interested in writing poetry, but I typically write about whatever I’m thinking, which sometimes comes out as fiction and sometimes doesn’t. 

ACM: Is there anyone you would like to thank?

Johnson: I feel very lucky to have so many amazing people in my life who challenge, love, and support me. In particular I’d like to thank my family, because they have always assumed I’ll be good at whatever I do and that has rubbed off on me in the best way. I am related to a lot of my role models, which is really special. I’d also like to specifically thank anyone who has ever been to a fair with me, because our experiences provided so much material for this story.

ACM: How have you developed your writing while you've been at Carleton?

Johnson: The sheer volume of writing I have done at Carleton has helped me grow as a writer and has increased my confidence in my abilities. I hope I will be able to take a creative writing course at some point.