The Palo Alto Weekly is seeking student writers for its annual Short Story Contest, which grants aspiring authors an opportunity to earn prizes and recognition for their work. The deadline for all submissions is Friday, March 29.
This is the 33rd year that the Weekly has hosted the contest.
“The contest began out of [The Palo Alto Weekly’s] desire to encourage local writers to share their work with the community and to pursue their writing,” Palo Alto Weekly publisher Bill Johnson said in an email. “We got the enthusiastic support of local bookstores and the writing community.”
Ben Stein, a sophomore at Palo Alto High School, has submitted to the contest several times, placing third in 2016 and 2018 and winning first place in the 2017 Short Story Contest with his piece “The Walking Man.”
“It takes much longer to think of an idea or story to write than to actually write it,” Stein said. “I will usually start looking for stories up to a couple months before I actually start writing. After I find something to write about, it usually takes only a couple of hours to write a rough draft.”
Another Paly student, senior Christina O’Konski, placed first in the 2018 Short Story Contest with her piece “The Queen of Lost Things.”
“Before submitting to the Weekly, I felt my writing was something very personal, something for me and maybe a few others to enjoy, but not something a lot of people, especially complete strangers, would be interested in,” O’Konski said. “However, so many people in my life reached out to me after ‘The Queen of Lost Things’ was published in the Weekly. I feel like a lot of them were surprised by this writer side of me, one I don’t flaunt very frequently.”
According to O’Konski, submitting to the contest helped her reach new heights as a writer.
“Since my experience with the Weekly, I’ve submitted my writing to several other contests, with positive results,” O’Konski said. “Finally putting my writing out there and having people notice and appreciate it removed a huge mental roadblock for me, opening up so many new possibilities.”
O’Konski shared a few words of advice for those who are seeking to submit this year.
“Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there,” O’Konski said. “Even if you don’t win, it’s all about putting your writing into the world. Just getting over that initial barrier is a big step forward. If you write, you should share your writing. You’ll be surprised by how many other people will want to read it. The only way to know what others will think of your writing is to show it to them. Be prepared for people to love things about your work you hardly even noticed.”
Students are encouraged to submit work they have completed for classes or create something just for the contest.
Contestants are limited to one entry per person, with a limit of 2,500 words. Writers are free to pursue any subject they choose, as long as it is their original work and it has not been previously published, according to this flyer from Palo Alto Online.
The contest is open to writers of all ages living in the areas surrounding Palo Alto, judged in three separate categories: Adult, Young Adult (Ages 15-17) and Teen (Ages 12-14). Children under 12 who choose to submit will be judged in the Teen category. According to contest coordinator Kali Shiloh, the judging panel is comprised of local published authors.
“Each of these artistic endeavors require a lot of creativity, practice and experimentation, and each year our judges are amazed with the quality of the work submitted, especially by high school students,” Johnson said.
Adults can win up to $500 in cash, while Young Adults and Teens can win up to a $100 gift certificate. According to Johnson, the winning entries in each category are published in the Palo Alto Weekly in June, and the writers will be honored at a reception at Kepler’s Books in May.
More information about the Palo Alto Online Short Story Contest can be found here.