I left New York City in mid-March on a beautiful springlike morning with temperatures in the seventies. Fortunately, it was an equally lovely afternoon when I arrived in Orlando, Florida. As usual, I was attending the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts where I would bestow the Dell Magazine Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing on a lucky winner. The award, which includes a five hundred dollar first prize, is co-sponsored by Dell Magazines and the International Association for the Fantastic and is supported by the School of Mass Communications, University of South Florida.
My co-judge, Rick Wilber, and I choose the finalists from a blind read of the stories submitted to the contest. I was greatly relieved that we have this procedure in place when I discovered that this year’s winner, Rachel Sobel—a junior at the University of Washington (Seattle)—was a student I’d met last summer at the Alpha Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Workshop for Young Writers that takes place each July in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Rachel is tiny, vivacious, and smart. Her talent shone through at the workshop and it shone through again in her beautiful story about “The Dead Star, the Satirist, and the Soldier.” This painful story about the aftermath of a lost cause will appear on our website next year. Last year’s award-winning story, “We Were Real,” by Josh Eure should be up on our site soon. Look for it at asimovs.com.
Miah Saunders, a sophomore at High Point University in North Carolina, was this year’s first runner-up. Having just turned twenty, Miah was disappointed to learn that she was ineligible to attend the Alpha workshop, but “Lilith,” her compelling story about artificial intelligence, was a strong indication that she would be an excellent candidate for Clarion, Clarion West, or the Odyssey writers workshops.
It turned out, though, that most of our other finalists were veterans of the illustrious Alpha. The workshop’s alum included our second runner-up, Rebecca McNulty, a sophomore from The College of New Jersey and author of the evocative “Sister’s Hands.” Rebecca also received an honorable mention for her moving tale about “Scales for Ivan.”
Our third runner-up was Rachel Halpern, the author of the amusing “Lucky Stiff” and another alum of the workshop. In addition to having a bevy of Alpha students, we seemed to have a run on college sophomores. Rachel was a sophomore at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. Since the Rachels and Rebecca were all very good friends, I found myself tripping up over their names. Rachel Halpern tried to help me out by referring to herself as the “evil Rachel,” but since both she and Rachel Sobel seemed like “good Rachels” to me, I was hopelessly baffled all weekend and mostly called them both Rebecca.
Fortunately, the name of the final Alpha alum did not start with an “R.” Another sophomore, Lara Donnelly of Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, who received an honorable mention in last year’s contest, put in a repeat performance this year with her chilling “Family Ties.” Lara, who had been studying abroad, flew in from Cork, Ireland, for the conference. Much to her delight, she discovered her good friend and Wright State University junior, Anthony Powers was also in Florida receiving an honorable mention for his enigmatic story, “Left.” Alas, one of our honorable mentions, Eugenia Lily Yu of Princeton University, could not be on hand to receive her award for “An Aureate Earth.”
As usual, the students were warmly welcomed by a number of leading authors. They met conference guest of honor Nalo Hopkinson and rising star N.K. Jemison. They also had a chance to spend time with Marie Brennan, Suzy McKee Charnas, Ted Chiang, Stephen R. Donaldson, Andy Duncan, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Kij Johnson, Joe Haldeman, James Patrick Kelly, John Kessel, Patricia McKillip, Sandra McDonald, Kit Reed, Peter Straub, and many other writers.
We are actively on the lookout for next year’s winner. The deadline for submissions is Tuesday, January 4, 2011. All full-time undergraduate students at any accredited university or college are eligible. Stories must be in English, and should run from one thousand to ten thousand words. No submission can be returned, and all stories must be previously unpublished and unsold.
There is a $5 entry fee per story and a special flat fee of $15 is available for an entire classroom of writers. Instructors should send all the submissions in one or more clearly labeled envelopes with a check or money order. Checks should be made out to the Dell Magazines Award/ RWilber. There is no limit to the number of submissions from each writer. Each submission must include the writer’s name, address, phone number, and college or university on the cover sheet, but please do not put your name on the actual story.
You can also submit your story at our award website: www.dellaward.com and send your entry fee by separate mail, or you can mail the story to the address below along with your submission fee, or you can send the story as an attachment to RWilber@usf.edu and mail the entry fee separately.