Story by NICOLE Cooke, Copy Editor
While some students were building snowmen on last Friday’s snow day, one UCM student was celebrating winning a national writing competition sponsored by National Public Radio.
Katie Camlin, an English education major, found out she was one of two people that were selected out of 4,000 entries to have her short story read on-air on an NPR program.
She got the email just a week after she submitted her entry, which had started as an assignment for her advanced fiction class.
Professor Phong Nguyen used the prompt from NPR’s “Three-Minute Fiction” contest, which was to submit a short story in the form of a voicemail message.
His students weren’t required to enter their story in the contest, but they could if they wanted to since the assignment met the contest requirements. Only about half of his students submitted their stories.
“I decided to submit mine because if you’re going to write it, you might as well try,” Camlin said. “There was no reason not to.”
Camlin’s story focused on a young woman named Kelsey coming out to her mother through a voicemail message. Camlin said the idea started when she came up with a metaphor she wanted to use for a story.
“I got this great idea for a metaphor using the game chubby bunny,” she said. “I thought it would be a great metaphor for someone feeling really stifled by a secret, and I built my story off of that. I’m not sure where the idea of coming out came from. It just kind of happened.”
Camlin said she didn’t think that the metaphor was her best story, so she was surprised when she found out the story had won. She began getting compliments from several professors, including some that weren’t even in the English department.
“I’ve been so giddy about the whole thing,” she said. “Professors not in the department were saying congratulations. English professors were saying they loved it. My family was really excited, and when I shared it on Facebook everyone was really excited about it.”
A portion of the story, titled “Chubby Bunny,” was read on-air last week, but unfortunately Camlin and her family didn’t get to hear it live.
“I was driving and couldn’t find the station,” she said. “I called my mom to see if she could help but she couldn’t find it either. We ended up listening to the mp3 that was posted on the website.”
The full story is posted on the NPR website, which has comments enabled. The comments are both negative and positive, but Camlin seems to be taking them well. Nguyen said that he was impressed with how she was handling her recent win.
“What I find most extraordinary about this whole thing is how humble Katie is in regard to her story,” Nguyen said. “In this format, where it is on the national radio, and there is a comments section online where readers respond instantaneously and without consideration to the author, it would be easy to take the criticism too much or too little to heart.
“What’s extraordinary about Katie is that she agreed with some of the public comments, but was able to ignore the gratuitous feedback. That is the mark of a serious and mature writer, and far more important than either the quality of the story or the recognition it receives.”
Camlin’s entry is now moving onto another contest with the 10 entries that have been selected for the various “Three-Minute Fiction” contests. Of those 10 entries, one will be published in “The Paris Review,” a publication where many writers have gotten their big break.
The win is a major achievement for Camlin, something that she and Nguyen both agree on.
“Being featured on NPR is a great achievement for any writer, in that it earns you exposure to a national audience, but particularly so for a student writer,” Nguyen said.
Camlin also saw the potential success it could bring her when she begins looking for teaching jobs next spring.
“This win will look good in interviews if the school is looking for a creative writing teacher,” she said. “National recognition is good in general for schools to see. It’s another thing that you can put on your resume.”
Although the national recognition is something to be proud of, Camlin, who is a community advisor on campus, said that the reaction she got from one of her residents was the best part of the whole experience.
“One of my residents messaged me on Facebook saying my story was on the Queers and Allies Facebook page,” Camlin said. “She said it made her more comfortable about the idea of coming out and that the story gave her a lot of hope for her parents accepting it. Knowing that something I wrote helped someone was the best part.”