It should feel disconcerting to enter a dimly lit room with four projection screens illuminating the figures of the crowd. (For me, something Orwellian comes to mind.) Last Thursday night, there was nothing else in HUB 302 North but rows of chairs and students mingling with each other and, every now and then, sparing a glance at the imposing screens.
To any passerby who happened to peek into the room, this scene would look like an odd congregation with seemingly nothing to do. However, as words started to appear on the projection screens, it dawned on me how perfect the simple setting was for the English Majors Association’s Second Annual Writing Contest.
Allowing students of all majors test their creative minds and fast-typing fingers, the event had contestants respond to bizarre writing prompts, ranging from “an author trapped in his own novel regrets not writing more interesting female characters” to “an alien biologist is horrified to discover that the human mating season is year-round.” Yet, here’s the interesting bit — while the contestants worked up a finger cramp in another room for seven minutes, the crowd in HUB 302 was able to see the progression of their writing as it was displayed on the bright screens. The panel of judges was anyone who had a pair of eyes and a willingness to discuss.
During the first round, the contestants were concentrated on their computer screens, trying to flesh out the impromptu narrative in their heads. As the minutes passed by, one contestant fidgeted his feet in a spastic rhythm; another placed a fisted hand over her mouth in thought; the last simply stared at the screen with nothing more to write. Once the seven minutes were up, they sat, waiting for the results, which took several minutes per round.
Events coordinator and fourth-year English major Jesse Altamirano’s earlier statement of “I really enjoy having the participants suffer and have to go through the anticipation of their work being critiqued for however long the amount of time,” came to mind as I observed the contestants make small talk as the crowd read and voted on the final pieces; the contestants were merely left in the dark about the proceedings, left to guess if their peers favored their flash fiction or not. Yet the nervous energy produced by the event was welcomed by many.
“I enjoyed the rush of it,” remarked contestant and second-year English major Jan Rodil. “I really want to feel that again; I want to harness that rush into something good.” When asked what he meant by something good, he replied that this rush was the key to writing pure emotion. “I hope that … whenever someone reads my writing I want them to be moved.”
As the rounds passed and the crowd dwindled, I read a number of prompt responses that evoked both creativity and hilarity, with one prompt being “Everyone has always said you have an infectious personality. It turns out it’s true. Everyone is becoming you and it’s spreading,” a contestant responded with a narrative on how a character’s love to “shove my fingers in and mix the gloopy lukewarm ingredients (of ketchup and eggs) and shovel them into my mouth” was how said character realized the spreading personality disease. Another was “A love story between a woman who takes everything literally and a man who speaks only in metaphors,” resulted in a tragic love note brimming with references to natural beauty. One of the last prompts, “You become best friends with a talking snail. Describe how you spend time together,” caused many readers to laugh as the contestant proceeded to type out the first stanza of the Spongebob Squarepants theme song.
No matter the caliber of the contestants (even if one wrote strange albeit amazing fanfiction for that Batman prompt) or the critics of the crowd, the event was truly, as President of the English Major Association and fourth-year English and gender studies double-major, Kirsten King stated, a chance “to share their creative ideas in a space that’s safe and welcoming and nonjudgmental.” The ease that contestants had in becoming part of the voting crowd after writing their flash fiction demonstrates King’s statement.
“The crowd is chill,” stated fourth-year media and cultural studies major and English minor Kelley Ramirez.
As a lover of the written word myself, the Second Annual Writing Contest was a nice change of pace not only because of the event’s focus, but the crowd and the conversations that took place that Thursday night.